On January 16, 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, made public a 18-page document, entitled “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life”. In this document, dated Nov. 24, 2002, the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Church urges Catholics, especially those involved in political life, not to be ashamed of standing up for Christian principles. Here are excerpts from this document:
Among the saints, the Church venerates many men and women who served God through their generous commitment to politics and government. Among these, Saint 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, Saint 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”.
Under the pretext of respecting all beliefs (pluralism), governments act today as if there is no definitive truth, no natural moral law to be abided by. Moreover, one will ask Catholics not to impose their values on other people who think differently, in the name of “tolerance”.
Legislative proposals are put forward which, heedless of the consequences for the existence and future of human beings with regard to the formation of culture and social behaviour, attack the very inviolability of human life.
Catholics, in this difficult situation, have the right and the duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this regard. John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.
In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of Faith and morals.
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person.
This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo.
Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such.
The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society's protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example). In addition, there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which “the rights of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged.”
This is not a question of “confessional values” per se, because such ethical precepts are rooted in human nature itself, and belong to the natural moral law. They do not require from those who defend them the profession of the Christian Faith, although the Church's teaching confirms and defends them always and everywhere as part of her service to the truth about man and about the common good of civil society. Moreover, it cannot be denied that politics must refer to principles of absolute value precisely because these are at the service of the dignity of the human person and of true human progress.
Promoting the common good of society, according to one's conscience, has nothing to do with “confessionalism” or religious intolerance. For Catholic moral doctrine, the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the Church – but not from that of morality – is a value that has been attained and recognized by the Catholic Church, and belongs to the inheritance of contemporary civilization.
By its interventions in this area, the Church's Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead, it intends – as is its proper function – to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good.
The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic's duty to be morally coherent, found within one's conscience, which is one and indivisible. “There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called `spiritual life', with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called `secular' life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact, every area of the lay faithful's lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the `places in time' where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others. Every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility – as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture – are the occasions ordained by Providence for a `continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity' (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4)”.
Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism. Such a position would seek to deny not only any engagement of Christianity in public or political life, but even the possibility of natural ethics itself. Were this the case, the road would be open to moral anarchy, which would be anything but legitimate pluralism. The oppression of the weak by the strong would be the obvious consequence.
It is helpful to recall a truth which today is often not perceived or formulated correctly in public opinion: the right to freedom of conscience and, in a special way, to religious freedom, taught in the Declaration Dignitatis humanae of the Second Vatican Council, is based on the ontological dignity of the human person, and not on a non-existent equality among religions or cultural systems of human creation.
Reflecting on this question, Paul VI taught that “in no way does the Council base this right to religious freedom on the fact that all religions and all teachings, including those that are erroneous, would have more or less equal value; it is based rather on the dignity of the human person, which demands that he not be subjected to external limitations which tend to constrain the conscience in its search for the true religion or in adhering to it.”
The principles contained in the present Note are intended to shed light on one of the most important aspects of the unity of Christian life: coherence between Faith and life, Gospel and culture, as recalled by the Second Vatican Council. The Council exhorted Christians “to fulfill their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities; this is to forget that by our Faith we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities according to the vocation of each... May Christians... be proud of the opportunity to carry out their earthly activity in such a way as to integrate human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God.”
+ Joseph Card. RATZINGER
“A nation that will not be ruled by the Ten Commandments, shall be ruled by tyrants.” — U.S. President James Madison