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On Catholics and politics

Below is the introduction to the Doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Nov. 24, 2002. The Denver Catholic Register is running the doctrinal note in a series to help faithful as they approach the upcoming elections. Read the full document here.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having received the opinion of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, has decided that it would be appropriate to publish the present “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life.” This note is directed to the bishops of the Catholic Church and, in a particular way, to Catholic politicians and all lay members of the faithful called to participate in the political life of democratic societies.

Part I. A constant teaching

1. The commitment of Christians in the world has found a variety of expressions in the course of the past 2,000 years. One such expression has been Christian involvement in political life: Christians, as one early Church writer stated, “play their full role as citizens.” Among the saints, the Church venerates many men and women who served God through their generous commitment to politics and government. Among these, St. Thomas More, who was proclaimed Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, gave witness by his martyrdom to “the inalienable dignity of the human conscience.” Though subjected to various forms of psychological pressure, St. Thomas More refused to compromise, never forsaking the “constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions” which distinguished him; he taught by his life and his death that “man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.”

It is commendable that in today’s democratic societies, in a climate of true freedom, everyone is made a participant in directing the body politic. Such societies call for new and fuller forms of participation in public life by Christian and non-Christian citizens alike. Indeed, all can contribute, by voting in elections for lawmakers and government officials, and in other ways as well, to the development of political solutions and legislative choices which, in their opinion, will benefit the common good. The life of a democracy could not be productive without the active, responsible and generous involvement of everyone, “albeit in a diversity and complementarity of forms, levels, tasks, and responsibilities.”

By fulfilling their civic duties, “guided by a Christian conscience,” in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order, and cooperating with other citizens according to their particular competence and responsibility. The consequence of this fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that “the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in ‘public life’, that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.” This would include the promotion and defense of goods such as public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity.

The present note does not seek to set out the entire teaching of the Church on this matter, which is summarized in its essentials in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but intends only to recall some principles proper to the Christian conscience, which inspire the social and political involvement of Catholics in democratic societies. The emergence of ambiguities or questionable positions in recent times, often because of the pressure of world events, has made it necessary to clarify some important elements of Church teaching in this area.

Read the entire document, including the footnotes, here.

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Roxanne King
Roxanne King is the former editor of the Denver Catholic Register and a freelance writer in the Denver area.
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