"Catholics in the Public Square"
Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!!
Recently, we had a very popular discussion regarding issues of politics and morals (under the post, “Excommunication”). As a follow-up to that discussion, here are some excerpts from a book, “Catholics in the Public Square” (Basilica Press), written by Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix. One of his strongest points is found in his last answer below. His Excellency seems to be responding to Catholic politicians who claim that they are following their ‘conscience’ in being actively pro-abortion; he provides a powerful reminder that “Our conscience is not the origin of truth. Truth lies outside us”.
• How should Catholics understand the separation between Church and state?
The separation of Church and state all too often is used as an excuse to silence people of faith and to discourage them from legitimately participating in the public square. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, of course, does not advocate for a separation of Church and state at all, but rather the protection of religious freedom from the state.
Our founding fathers intended all persons to have the equal right to voice their opinions, including those based on religious convictions. Even more, they understood that it was imperative that the state not infringe upon the religious beliefs of its citizens. The Constitution is aimed at allowing all people to have a voice in government, including those whose voice is distinctively religious.
In other words, there is nothing in the Constitution excluding people from bringing their faith into the public square.
• Should Catholics bring the Church's doctrine into the public square?
There are times when the Church's intervention in social questions is needed. As the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (510) teaches, “ The Church intervenes by making a moral judgment about economic and social matters when the fundamental rights of the person, the common good, or the salvation of souls requires it.”
While Catholics are called to bring their faith and religious views into the public square, they are also called to respect the religious freedom and civil liberties of all people. In fact, the Church has genuine respect for secular governments that afford these protections to people of all faiths, as well as those without faith.
In reality, the Church does not impose its doctrine on others in the public square. For example, there is no effort by the Church to compel the public to attend Mass on Sundays or receive various sacraments. Nonetheless, the Church is legitimately concerned about many matters of societal importance and brings its views to bear in proposing meaningful solutions for promoting the common good.
• How do you respond to statements that Catholics should not impose their religious views upon others?
Some Catholics and other believers have been frightened into silence and even confused by charges that they are imposing their morality on others. It is contended that a person's faith should have no impact on his or her public life. This leads the infamous “I am a Catholic but….” syndrome! Of course, if one's faith does not impact on one's whole life, including one's political and social responsibilities, then it is not authentic faith; it is a sham, a counterfeit.
A democratic society needs the active participation of all its citizens, people of faith included. People of faith engage issues on the basis of what they believe, just as atheists engage issues on the basis of what they hold dear; they fight for what they think is right and oppose what they consider wrong. This is not an imposition on other's morality. It is acting with integrity. Moreover, people of genuine faith strengthen the whole moral fabric of a country. The active engagement of Catholics in democratic processes is good for society and it is responsible citizenship.
• Should Catholics take into account their own faith at the moment of voting?
It only makes sense that if Catholics are supposed to live their faith in all of their daily activities that they should also take their faith into account while voting. As noted in the Second Vatican Council's teaching, " every citizen ought to be mindful of his right and his duty to promote the common good by using his vote ." ( Gaudium et Spes , 75)
In preparing to vote, Catholics need to understand their faith so that their consciences are properly formed. Subsequent to this formation, it is important to research all of the important issues and candidates that will appear on the ballot. Only after sufficient preparation and prayer, is a Catholic fully ready to discharge his or her responsibilities as a faithful citizen and cast a meaningful vote.
• Can Catholics honestly disagree in matters of politics, social or cultural issues?
In 2002, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document entitled Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding Participation of Catholics in Political Life , that addresses the existence of political matters in which Catholics may disagree. There are, indeed, many issues upon which Catholics may legitimately differ such as the best methods to achieve welfare reform or to address illegal immigration.
Conversely, however, there are other issues that are intrinsically evil and can never legitimately be supported. For example, Catholics may never legitimately promote or vote for any law that attacks innocent human life.
• What does it mean that Catholics should follow their conscience when making a moral decision?
Before following our conscience, we must form it in accord with the voice of God. Our conscience is not the origin of truth. Truth lies outside us; it exists independent of us and must be discovered through constant effort of mind and heart. This is no easy task for us who suffer the effects of original sin and must contend with the constant temptations of the devil. Conscience receives the truth revealed by God and discerns how to apply that truth to concrete circumstances.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1783) teaches, “ Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-informed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings .”
As we see, to form one's own conscience well and to follow it with integrity is no small task. For a person's conscience cannot invent what is true and good. It must search it out beyond itself. When acting correctly, we discover the truth through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the help of God's word handed down to us in the Church. Then, when we submit our conscience to this objective truth, we act uprightly and grow to maturity in Christ.