Keeping Politics Outof Church?
January 18, 2013
parishes throughout the country will distribute postcards to help Catholics
communicate with their elected representatives in Congress. This Project Life
and Liberty campaign will encourage Congress to make sure that taxpayers are
not forced to subsidize abortion, and that Catholic (and other) individuals and
institutions are not forced to violate their moral and religious convictions when
they provide or purchase health care.
The bishops of the
United States have seen a need to sponsor this kind of campaign in times of
urgent necessity before. Events provoking this campaign include a federal
mandate forcing even many Catholic institutions to include female sterilization
as well as contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in their health
plans, and new trends that force Catholic agencies and health care
professionals to either stop serving the needy, or start violating their
conscientious respect for human life.
As in the past,
some pastors and parishioners may react to this invitation with discomfort,
saying that "politics should be kept out of church."
carries a grain of truth.The Church
must not let itself be swallowed up in partisan politics. At election time,
Catholic dioceses urge their parishes not to distribute "voter scorecards" from
outside groups trying to garner votes for or against a candidate. And on many
policy issues, the Church does not claim to have one settled position or to be
an expert on the details.
Yet many policy
debates give us an opportunity to transcend mere "politics," to raise up the
moral principles that should help guide those debates to resolution. For
example, the bishops support an electronic postcard campaign that urges
Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform, and offers basic
priorities on just and compassionate treatment of immigrant families (www.justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml).
The issues of
religious freedom and conscience rights present an added dimension. Here we are
not talking about the Church injecting itself into the political sphere.
Rather, political forces have injected themselves into the lives of Catholics
and Church organizations, substituting their own secular ideology for the
Church's values. Some will say the Church should leave politics alone and
concentrate on teaching the Catechism and serving the needy – but what if a
political initiative says the Church may not follow the Catechism, even in its
own institutions? What if it says a Church agency may not serve needy people
regardless of those people's faith, because then it will not be "religious
enough" to be exempt from a mandate to provide morally objectionable drugs and
procedures? What if it says your neighbor, a devoted Catholic nurse, has no
right to her livelihood because she will not help perform abortions? At that
point we must resist, or we will have nowhere to go with our faith except the
hidden recesses of our own minds. "Politics" of an especially intolerant kind
will take over everything else.
Jesus said: "Give
to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." At
his October 2011 Mass dedicated to the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict
recalled a comment on this text by an anonymous early Christian: "Caesar's coin
is gold, God's coin is humanity…. Therefore give your riches to Caesar but keep
for God the unique innocence of your conscience, where God is contemplated."
Every once in a while, we may have to remind Caesar that we don't owe him our
Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of
Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more about Project Life and Liberty see www.nchla.org.