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The Presidential Candidates and the Common Good

By: Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Catholic Online


Yesterday, a new candidate emerged on the American Presidential playing field. Along with only a few others, he has the courage to speak of real first principles at an absolutely critical time, when our beloved Nation is struggling for her soul and attempting to chart a path for a better future. He seems, at least so far, to be unafraid to speak of the fundamental human rights issue of our age, the inalienable right to life and the real first freedom among all of our cherished freedoms, the freedom to be born. In doing so he stands with only a few among those already declared in either major party. This fact reveals how vitally important it is for those of us who understand the truth concerning the fundamental human rights issue of our age to be fully informed and active in the political process. We must review the presidential candidates in light of the common good.

Much of my career as a first amendment lawyer, policy consultant, writer, and activist has been spent in efforts to bring one dimension of the moral teaching of the Catholic Church, what is called her “Social teaching”, into the public policy debate by helping to make it understandable and accessible to others. I have done this in order to influence the building of a truly just society. I believe that the Social teaching of the Catholic Church is not simply for Catholics, other Christians or even just “religious people”, it is for all people. It offers principles with which those who desire to serve and advance the true common good can build a more just social, economic, political, legal and cultural order.

Sometimes, this teaching has remained hidden, like the proverbial treasure in the field. Many Catholics, other Christians and other people of faith and good will, did not even know it existed. Others have attempted to co-opt its intended use as a series of principles intended to guide those trying to govern justly and have offered it instead piecemeal in an effort to bolster their own political agendas, utilizing a sort of “proof text” approach and picking and choosing which part of the teaching they will accept or reject. This does a serious disservice to the teaching by failing to articulate its principles within an integrated vision of the human person, the truly human and just social order. Or, the teaching has simply been dismissed, either by dismissing its normative value its value (e.g. “…it’s for religious people”) or its universal applicability.

I predicted in a series of articles I wrote that the 2008 Presidential campaign would find candidates, campaigns and related interest groups using a phrase which is a part of the patrimony of this body of teaching, the “Common Good”. This is now happening. My concern is who will define the authentic meaning of this concept? Some have written to me, in response to my articles, reminding me that the concept of the “common good” is part of the political patrimony of most great civilizations and was not invented by the Catholic Church. I know that. However, the Church has taken the wisdom derived from every good development of that concept and incorporated them it within an understanding of the human person and his or her fundamental dignity, purpose and social calling. Let us consider now the historic roots of this social teaching and its purpose. .

Roots and Reason

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council referred to the Church as an “expert in humanity” because she “walks the way of the person”. Because of her solicitude for all men and women, the Church offers these social principles because she believes that, as a part of her mission to continue the redemptive work of the Lord, she should assist those charged with the task of civil governance in their work of building a just society. The principles found within this social teaching address every area of social life. These insights and tools for governance are desperately needed in this hour.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Church which is His Body on the earth walks in His footprint. As a society in her own right, she lives in the midst of every age, with one foot in this passing world and another in the eternal. She offers insights for every age, and principles for action addressed to the citizens of every Nation, concerning how to live with one another in a manner that promotes the fullness of social life. She offers wisdom on how to structure human society in order to promote true justice and human flourishing. She exists to serve the various societies within which she resides and is committed to improving the social conditions of all men and women by promoting authentic social and economic justice, both nationally and internationally.

With the publication of the compilation of the Churches Social Teaching ...

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