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What Catholics Should Do About Democracy

A Week of Brainstorming on the Role of Faith in Modern World

BOLOGNA, Italy, OCT. 18, 2004 (Zenit) - The complex and often controversial relationship between politics and faith was the subject addressed in a congress held Oct. 7-10 in Bologna. The 44th edition of the "Social Week," first held in 1907, brought together almost 1,200 participants.

The format mixed speeches and round-table discussions bringing together Church prelates, politicians, economists and academics. Themes examined during the sessions included the role of Catholics in today's political world, politics and power, information and democracy, economics and science.

In his opening welcome to the participants, Bologna Archbishop Carlo Caffarra drew attention to the underlying ethos that should inspire a democracy. Citing the Second Vatican Council's document "Gaudium et Spes," he explained that this ethos can be discovered in the spiritual and moral nature of the person.

Two main enemies hinder the development of the human person and this ethos today, the archbishop said. First is the influence of moral relativism, which denies the existence of objective truths in ethics, justice and politics. Second is the incapacity to coordinate individual liberty with social obligations.

In his introductory speech to the proceedings, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian episcopal conference, spoke about the role of Catholics in Italian society. The faithful, he noted, can legitimately opt to take differing positions in the political spectrum, though not at the cost of sacrificing their specific identity as Catholics.

Cardinal Ruini recalled the words of John Paul II on Nov. 23, 1995, during a meeting in Palermo. The Church, the Pope explained, does not intend to ally itself with individual parties. This does not mean, the cardinal said, that all political and social groupings are compatible with the Catholic faith. Nor does it mean that they all give sufficient weight to key principles of Catholic social teaching on matters such as respect for human life, the family, solidarity, and the promotion of peace and justice.

Defending transcendence

The principal contribution Catholics can make to democracy today, noted Cardinal Ruini, is to defend the transcendence of the human being, notably the transcendence that implies our capacity to know and transform reality. In this sense it is a mistake to imagine that the Church is opposed to scientific progress, as it is often accused of being in conflicts over bioethical questions. But scientific progress should not cut itself off from ethical principles, he added.

Liberty is another important dimension of human transcendence. This liberty, the cardinal said, must respect the principle that the person is an end in himself and should never be reduced to a means. Only by respecting this principle does it make sense to talk of the rights that are common in modern democracy.

Guiding principles

An underlying concern in a number of the Social Week presentations was the search for principles or values that can inspire and guide today's world. Francesco Paolo Casavola, ex-president of Italy's supreme tribunal, the Constitutional Court, drew attention to the centrifugal forces affecting many nations.

Many countries are affected by a combination of globalization, increasing levels of migration, and the force of egoism. Many societies are becoming multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural. Democracy in ancient Greece did not survive when hostile forces overcame the city-state structure, Casavola noted. The challenges to the nation-state model today also bring with them dangers for democracy, he explained.

During a round-table discussion on economics and finance, Stefano Zamagni, a professor at the University of Bologna, explained that there is a diversity of opinions on what the relationship should be between economics, politics and civil society. Some maintain that the market is the solution for all social ills. Others consider that a market-inspired logic is damaging for society. Models range from those inspired by the ideal of redistribution in the welfare state, to the more recent propositions contained in the concept of compassionate conservatism.

Zamagni also drew attention to the difficulties created for democracy by globalization. One of the principles of the democratic model of government is that citizens can exert influence in the decision-making process, and that those who govern are answerable to the voters. But increasingly the nation-state is no longer the author of juridical norms. The norms are more often imposed by global institutions that are not directly answerable to individuals via any democratic process.

Yet, it would be exaggerated to say that democracy is in a crisis, opined Lorenzo ...

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