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Catholicism and Culture: Responsibility in Public Life

By Fr. Willam F. Maestri
Director of Communications
Archdiocese of New Orleans

As we move deeper into the election season, the rhetoric is rising so as to produce more heat than light. This is especially true when it comes to the moral responsibilities of Catholics in the public life.

Recent teachings by the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are clear: there are certain life issues (abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem cell research) that transcend the political process and require a Catholic politician to defend innocent human life. These fundamental life issues do not lend themselves to a prudential judgment as to right and wrong. The obligation to protect human life is an intrinsic moral duty which cannot be changed by circumstances or political expediency.

The American bishops have written the following: "We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin." (Living the Gospel of Life, #32)

The American bishops clearly reject the often advanced notion that there is a distinct separation between the public and private sphere of moral life. The obligation of the bishops to teach, and the Catholic politicians to have one's conscience formed by authentic Catholic teaching, is not put on hold simply because one is an elected official. The Catholic politician does not cease being a Catholic, nor does one's election to political office supersede one's obligation to be faithful to Catholic teaching on the life issues.

The Vatican Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith issued a Doctrinal Note on Catholic Participation in Political Life. In this Doctrinal Note we read, "For them (Catholic politicians), as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them...It is...the Church's right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when it is required by faith on the moral law." Those laws talked about touch directly on the sacredness of all human life. While requiring a proper sphere of autonomy for the political process and the various political strategies used to achieve legislative ends, there can be no support for the taking of innocent human life.

The responsibility to support legislation which respects human life, and to oppose laws which do not, is a grave moral obligation facing Catholic politicians. Catholic politicians who support anti-life legislation should not present themselves for Holy Communion. Such politicians are not in communion with the Church on those life issues which are fundamental. To receive Holy Communion is to act against the truth and can be a cause for scandal. The obligation to refrain from receiving Holy Communion falls to the Catholic politician who must be accountable before God.


Archdiocese of New Orleans LA, US
Fr. William Maestri - Director of Communications, 504 596-3023



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