Skip to comments.CONFUSIONS ABOUT POLITICAL JUDGMENT AND THE MORAL LAW
Posted on 07/31/2003 10:13:34 AM PDT by NYer
For over 30 years, many Catholics have been scandalized by Catholic politicians who have worked to promote legal abortion, while using their advocacy for the welfare state as proof of their fidelity to Catholic teaching. The recently published Doctrinal Note On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith helps to explain how these politicians have their political judgments confused. Simply put, they have made doctrinal issues into ones of prudence, and prudential issues doctrinal.
All political action must begin with a respect for the precepts of the moral law. They are the indisputable first principles of political life. As the Doctrinal Note states, Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society. First among these is the respect for human life, expressed in the command You shall not kill.
Pro-abortion Catholics attempt to turn this fundamental moral matter into one of prudential judgment. By promoting laws that allow abortion (and euthanasia), Catholic politicians make the defense of life a contingent issue that individuals can decide, each for himself. The Doctrinal Note, however, explains that 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 (4'1).
On the other hand, many Catholic politicians have embraced the welfare state as the principal means for society to fulfill its obligation to assist the poor. Their defense of government-sponsored programs is laden with the language of the Gospel, as if such programs were a necessary conclusion of Christs command to serve those most in need. While Catholic social teaching affirms a preferential love for the poor, government assistance is neither the sole nor the principal means of caring for the disadvantaged. Indeed, it is a question of prudence whether the needs of the poor are best fulfilled by private institutions such as the Church, or some combination of these with the government, or one level of government as opposed to another.
In this area, where Catholics disagree not about the moral principle (assisting the poor), but rather on the best means to fulfill the principle, Catholic teaching allows for a diversity of views. As the Doctrinal Note explains, such diversities of opinion arise because of the contingent nature of certain choices regarding the ordering of society, the variety of strategies available for accomplishing or guaranteeing the same fundamental value, the possibility of different interpretations of the basic principles of political theory, and the technical complexity of many political problems (3'2).
It is therefore completely upside down to make the welfare state mandatory and the defense of innocent life optional. In doing so, many Catholic politicians reject fundamental precepts from the moral law, while substituting their personal judgments about contingent matters as a new kind of orthodoxy.
The Doctrinal Note offers welcome clarification on the priority of principle over means, and the binding character of the moral law versus the legitimate diversity of political opinion.
(Dr. Arthur M. Hippler is the director of the Office of Justice and Peace in the Diocese of LaCrosse, WI).
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
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.
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