What’s the role of the Church in politics?

In advance of the presidential election, the following is the first of three questions and answers regarding what the Catholic Church teaches about elections.

The Church must not meddle in partisan politics. The Church must not tell people whom or what party to vote for, unless the party in question has an intrinsically evil ideology, such as Communism, Socialist or Nazism. The Church may neither support a particular candidate nor a party. The reason for this is that the mission of the Church is supernatural, its objective is to lead the persons to Christ, so that He can give them eternal life; whereas the mission of political parties and of the state is a natural one, it consists in the search for the common good and the protection of human rights here on earth.

Pope Benedict XVI is greeted by President George W. Bush and Laura Bush at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to begin his weeklong trip to the United States. The Pontiff, selected as the 265th pope on April 19, 2005, will meet with the President at the White House, address the presidents of Roman Catholic Colleges and Universities, and hold mass at the Nationals Park in Washing to D.C. and Yankee Stadium in New York City. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Suzanne M. Day)(Released)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Suzanne M. Day)(Released)

For that same reason, the Church also does not have the right to impose its own ecclesiastical laws on the rest of society that is not Catholic. For example, the Church cannot demand that civil law orders everyone to go to Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation. That would be a violation of the distinction between Church and State. It is only through good example and persuasion that Catholics must convince others of the truth of Catholicism.

The Church does not have a specific authority either to teach about the technical or scientific part of human affairs. However, the Church does have the authority to teach about its moral dimension. That moral dimension is present in all important aspects of human life, including politics. This is due to the fact that morality refers to the respect and the promotion of human rights and values, the attainment of which is guided by principles, laws and norms of conduct [1].

Moreover, the mission Christ entrusted to His Church is to teach the road to salvation, which requires the obedience to the universal moral law, which is called the natural law. The essence of the natural law is expressed in the Ten Commandments. All human beings, be they believers or not, are morally obligated to follow the natural law, which includes the respect of human rights [2]. Otherwise, we could not have a civilized society, in which murder, theft and any other disrespect against the rights of peoples are prohibited. Therefore, the Church teaches that:

The Church, the ‘pillar and bulwark of the truth,’ ‘has received this solemn command of Christ from the apostles to announce the saving truth.’ ‘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.’ [3]

Now, the most fundamental of all values and human rights, as we shall see below, is the right to life. Therefore, the Church has the right and the duty to publicly express herself about the defense of life and all attacks against life, including abortion.

Adolfo Castañeda, S.T.L., is the director of education for Hispanic outreach for Human Life International and HLI's Hispanic outreach arm Vida Humana Internacional. He has a Masters in Theology from St. Vincent de Paul Regional (Major) Seminary, in Boynton Beach, Florida, where he studied as a lay student. He also has a Licence in Moral Theology from the Alphonsian Academy in Rome. From 1989 to 1993 he taught moral theology at St. Vincent’s. Since 1993, he has been working for Human Life International’s Hispanic Division, Miami-based, Vida Humana Internacional (VHI), as Director of Hispanic Education and Research. In that capacity Adolfo is the host of two weekly Spanish radio programs: one live though Mother Angelica’s World Catholic Radio and the other one pre-recorded through Radio Peace of the Archdiocese of Miami. He is the editor of VHI’s email newsletter, and of VHI’s printed newsletter. Adolfo is also the author of books, articles,and reports.
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Dr. Felipe E. Vizcarrondo attended Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia, PA. He completed a residency in Pediatrics at University Hospital, University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus and subspecialty training in Pediatric Cardiology at University Hospital, Puerto Rico and Kings County Medical Center, New York University. An active duty US Air Force officer, he held the positions of Chair, Department of Pediatrics and Program Director, Pediatric Residency, and Chief of the Medical Staff at major medical centers of the Department of Defense and was on the faculty at the Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Vizcarrondo was Affiliated Scholar, Georgetown University Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, DC. He is Associate Professor (voluntary), University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and member of the UM Ethics Programs. He completed a Masters Degree in Bioethics and has written on a variety of issues ranging from freedom of conscience of healthcare workers to the doctor patient relationship.
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