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Giving Politics a Faith Lift

Interview With Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix

PHOENIX, Arizona, OCT. 16, 2006 (Zenit) - All Catholics have a duty to bring faith to the forefront of political debates, says the bishop-author of a new booklet entitled "Catholics in the Public Square."

The publication, written by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, challenges Catholics to take a more active part in influencing the nation and the political process.

Published online by Basilica Press, the booklet is the first of The Shepherd's Voice Series, designed to feature the current teaching of cardinals and bishops on key topics facing the Church.

In this interview with us, Bishop Olmsted, 59, who worked for nine years in the Vatican Secretariat of State, comments on why Catholics should be more active in the public square, and some of the most important issues for Catholic voters.

Q: Is this booklet intended for just politicians, or are there others who are also responsible for bringing a Catholic voice to the forefront of public debates?

Bishop Olmsted: This booklet is intended for all Catholics because we all have a mission in the public square, even if it differs according to our state in life. Christ told us: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden." These words are intended for all the baptized.

At baptism, Christ calls each of us to engage in the Church's mission in the world. Our responsibility as followers of Christ is to let the gift of faith influence every part of our daily life, not just what we do on Sunday.

A willingness to engage the culture is important for the Church's mission in the world. It is also a service to society.

Q: Why is the Catholic voice struggling to make itself heard in the public square?

Bishop Olmsted: With the influence of modernity and Enlightenment philosophies, many voices in secular society today contend that religion is pure subjectivism and has a role only in people's private lives.

If we let our faith impact on the way we practice a profession, engage the culture, or become involved in political struggles, then we are accused of imposing our faith on others. These voices have become increasingly strident in the United States over the past 50 years; and they can intimidate believers, making them afraid or uneasy to let their faith influence their involvement in the public square.

False notions about the separation of Church and state have also been put forth, contending that the Church must remain silent in the public square. These contentions are often based on false understandings of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which in fact protects the practice of religion from coercion by the state, rather than limiting the religious voice.

Q: How has this secularization of public life affected public policy, and society in general?

Bishop Olmsted: Secularization can be understood in more than one way, as is evident in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, especially in the foundational document of the council, "Lumen Gentium."

The council fathers, wishing to show the difference between the role of clergy and the role of the laity, taught in No. 31 of "Lumen Gentium": "Their secular character is proper and peculiar to the laity … by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will. … It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that these may be effected and grow according to Christ."

We see, then, that secularization can be understood in a positive sense, when we understand it to mean that there is necessary distinction between the Church and the state, and between the roles of the clergy and the laity.

Thus, Christians do not believe in establishing a theocracy, but rather see distinct yet complementary roles for both the Church and society. Benedict XVI speaks eloquently about this in his encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est." The Church also insists on the vital role of the laity in the family and society.

At the same time, some secularizing trends in society are seriously problematic. In fact, these have arrived at such extremes that they deny the spiritual and religious dimensions of the human person. In addition, the right of the Church to engage in public discourse is denied or at least serious attempts are made to marginalize it.

Under these extremist influences, a kind of secularism that is anti-sacred and anti-religious has arisen. Not only does this hinder the work of the Church, it has opened the door for grave evils to develop in our society.

No longer are all persons seen as made in the image of God. Some persons, then, begin to be seen as less ...

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