In the know with Fr. Joe >> Dear Fr. Joe: Can I be a politician and a Catholic?
Q. I’m thinking of going into politics someday. Am I obligated to assure that my political opinions all reflect the church’s teaching exactly? What if I disagree about something such as abortion or the use of our military?
A. I think it’s wonderful that you are thinking of going into politics. As much as we joke about politicians and are often saddened by the public sins of some politicians, there always is the possibility and call of public service done in the spirit of Jesus. You should make sure to be preparing yourself for this great and noble calling. Begin now by reading all you can on the Catholic Church’s teachings on social justice. Our Catechism of the Catholic Church has a great many teachings on who we are called to be. This can be your guide. It’s a sad reflection of our country that the Catholic Church is often criticized for “using its influence” to tell politicians how they should vote. I believe that the official way to respond to that kind of statement is, “That’s garbage.” No one tells people that their family or their upbringing shouldn’t affect them as politicians until it conflicts with what they want their politicians to do. The fact is, if our faith is not an integral part of our lives, then it’s not faith, it’s something else. The church has a right and a duty to share its wisdom with its children. Add that wisdom to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and you’ll find that the church can be a great guide in our decision-making. When we get to abortion, we’re hitting on one of those subjects where there simply is no wiggle room. The church says that the right of every human to exist never can be reduced to the choice of another person. On this issue, there can be no compromise and no equivocation; abortion is immoral and a crime and we can never support it in any way, shape or form. When we get to the issue of war, if the church tells us it is an unjust war, then the same principle applies for the same reason: The taking of a human life is always a huge issue for us, as every person in the world has a right to his or her God-given dignity. A Web site, http://www.ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/ capolvot.htm, has a great article from Bishop Michael Sheridan on the duties of Catholic politicians. He starts off strong and it only gets better; I highly recommend reading it. Due to space limitations, I’m just going to quickly summarize the beginning of his article, share a couple of his great quotes and then ask you to read the rest on your own time. One of the key points Bishop Sheridan makes is the idea that our well-formed conscience is to be our highest guide and that the phrase “well-formed” is an important one. A well-formed conscience is tied to objective truth and must always be in union with the good that God wills and has given through natural law and divine revelation. Our own judgment cannot be placed higher than that. Sheridan next points us to number 2302 in the catechism, which states: …to the church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls. He then states: When Catholics are elected to public office or when Catholics go to the polls to vote, they take their consciences with them. … Anyone who professes the Catholic faith with his lips while at the same time publicly supporting legislation or candidates that defy God’s law makes a mockery of that faith and belies his identity as a Catholic. That’s all I have room for, but it’s a dynamite letter. Let’s pray that our Catholic faith always is reflected in our actions so our “light will shine before the world that others may see our conduct and glorify God”. (Mt 5:16) Enjoy another day in God’s presence!