Church Teaching For Politicians

Tuesday, July 13, 2004




I have stated repeartedly that a Catholic politician is morally bound to uphold the law of the land, and in a representative democracy, such a politician is also simultaneously bound to uphold Church teaching and morally bound to represent his or her constituents.

How the politician balances these competing obligations is hard to judge. Here are some Church teachings I think support this view.

God Works in Goverment Through Democratic Processes:
It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens. (GS 74)

On the Moral Goodness of Democracy:
It is in full conformity with human nature that there should be juridico-political structures providing all citizens in an ever better fashion and without any discrimination the practical possibility of freely and actively taking part in the establishment of the juridical foundations of the political community and in the direction of public affairs, in fixing the terms of reference of the various public bodies and in the election of political leaders. All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good. (GS 75)

On Politics as a Vocation:
All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgment are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good. (GS 75)

Those who are suited or can become suited should prepare themselves for the difficult, but at the same time, the very noble art of politics, and should seek to practice this art without regard for their own interests or for material advantages. With integrity and wisdom, they must take action against any form of injustice and tyranny, against arbitrary domination by an individual or a political party and any intolerance. They should dedicate themselves to the service of all with sincerity and fairness, indeed, with the charity and fortitude demanded by political life. (GS 75)

On Freedom of Speech:
All this [the proper development of culture] supposes that, within the limits of morality and the common utility, man can freely search for the truth, express his opinion and publish it; that he can practice any art he chooses: that finally, he can avail himself of true information concerning events of a public nature. (GS 59)

On Proper Respect for the Opinion of Laity vis-a-vis Religious Authority:
Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laymen. (GS 43)

On Respect for Diversity of Political Opinion Within the Church:
Often enough the Christian view of things will itself suggest some specific solution in certain circumstances. Yet it happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intentions of their proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church's authority for his opinion. They should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good. (GS 43)

On Limited Powers of Government
Citizens, for their part, either individually or collectively, must be careful not to attribute excessive power to public authority, not to make exaggerated and untimely demands upon it in their own interests, lessening in this way the responsible role of persons, families and social groups. (GS 75)

[Moreover}, it is inhuman for public authority to fall back on dictatorial systems or totalitarian methods which violate the rights of the person or social groups. (GS 75)

On the Church's Willingeness to Compromise:
She [the Church] will even give up the exercise of certain rights which have been legitimately acquired, if it becomes clear that their use will cast doubt on the sincerity of her witness or that new ways of life demand new methods.

On Separation of Church and State
It is very important, especially where a pluralistic society prevails, that there be a correct notion of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and a clear distinction between the tasks which Christians undertake, individually or as a group, on their own responsibility as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and the activities which, in union with their pastors, they carry out in the name of the Church. The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. (GS 76)

On the Obligation of Representative Leadership and Citizenry to Obey Proper Judiciary:
It follows also that political authority, both in the community as such and in the representative bodies of the state, must always be exercised within the limits of the moral order and directed toward the common good--with a dynamic concept of that good--according to the juridical order legitimately established or due to be established. When authority is so exercised, citizens are bound in conscience to obey. (GS 74)

On Making Judgments of Others:
God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone. (GS 28)
The last point is important in judging whether John Kerry is in a state of persistent sin that would make him ineligible for Communion. He has not denied Church teaching (see below), and it is very difficult to judge his conscience when we do not know how he votes as a private citizen. his public vote does not necessarily represent his own views. Rather, it represents the views of his constituents.

The Bishops seem to recognize and have basically shown in their recent statement that most of them feel canon 912 is more applicable than canon 915 when it comes to John Kerry and his public voting record on abortion.

Peace and blessings!

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posted by Jcecil3 3:03 PM

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