ROME (CNS) -- The moral values taught by the world's main religions form the only ethical code with enough depth to help people judge what is right and wrong in a modern, increasingly technological society, said Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.
The archbishop, who will host Pope Benedict XVI in Washington April 15-17 and who will join him for an interreligious meeting, spoke April 4 at Rome's Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Inaugurating the university's Pope John Paul II lecture on interreligious understanding, Archbishop Wuerl called for greater dialogue to defend "the essential role of faith in public life and human affairs."
While religion often is seen as a source of conflict or is "abused and misused" for political purposes, for centuries it has been a key source guiding people to act righteously and promote the common good, he said.
"The past 30 years have seen a very sustained effort to marginalize religious faith in an effort to establish an ethical system that would be acceptable to a wider number of people," he said.
But more and more people are realizing that "purely secular philosophy cannot offer the answers; it cannot provide a foundation deep enough" to respond to questions about right and wrong in an increasingly technological world, Archbishop Wuerl said.
Without a reference to enduring moral values, which are both reasonable and confirmed by the constant teaching of the world's religions, "personal preference becomes normative," he said.
Christians, Muslims and Jews, he said, must enter into dialogue, identify "common threads" of moral and ethical teaching and encourage their members to hold fast to that teaching and ensure it is reflected in public policy.
The "common threads" will ensure that legitimate pluralism is protected while also promoting greater respect among peoples and a concerted commitment to the common good, he said.
"Ultimately for a truly lasting peace among peoples," Archbishop Wuerl said, "there must be a generally understood and deeply held common grounding for the complex structure of human relations at the level of national states and in the relationships among states."
"The understanding of what we have in common, as articulated in the various religious traditions that sustain the deepest held convictions of many, can provide substantial and fruitful ground for us in our efforts to build a world that better reflects a truly good and just society," he said.
Archbishop Wuerl said, "The voice of religion has to be a moderating voice that calls people to be the best they are capable of being," and while common values must be identified in dialogue with other religions, they must be taught "in parishes, synagogues and mosques."