A Catholic Approach to American Politics

Catholics are constantly being told to keep our religion out of politics. For that matter, Evangelicals are being told the same thing too. Upon hearing such admonitions, we should consider the source, and we should also consider that if we are truly Catholic, and I mean truly Catholic and not just giving lip-service, then it is impossible to separate our religion from politics.

Every four years, the US Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issues an “election guide” of some type, which is usually long and difficult to understand. While I can’t tell you what to do with them, I can tell you what I do with them. I ignore them. As I said, they’re difficult to understand, so I don’t bother. Instead, I follow some basic principles of Catholic teaching on religion and politics. They have guided me in every election since I converted to the Catholic Church in 2000, and I’ve found they tend to work quite well. The purpose of this essay is to share those principles with you, in the hope that in learning them, you will become a well-educated and well-balanced Catholic citizen and voter in the United States.

The very first thing we need to understand is that God calls us to be responsible citizens in our respective nations. Saint Paul, the Apostle, lays this out for us in his Epistle to the Romans…

Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. Wherefore be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For therefore also you pay tribute. For they are the ministers of God, serving unto this purpose. Render therefore to all men their dues. Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear: honour, to whom honour.

Romans 13:1 DRA

So the gist here is that we are to obey the government and not be lawbreakers in any way, because whether good or evil, God allows these governments to exist, and it is by his will that they govern. Therefore, to resist the government is to resist God himself. The only exception to that rule would be if the government is requiring you to do something that is against the commandments of God. In that case, God always comes first.

This may all seem rudimentary and common sense, but in the history of American politics, it’s not so clean cut. The nation itself was founded on rebellion against the English crown, and while God obviously does not approve of armed insurrection, he allowed it to be prosperous in this case. This was not because the colonial rebels (hereafter referred to as “founders”) were necessarily just, but rather because the British Empire was exceedingly unjust, not only in its treatment of the American colonists, but also in its previous treatment of its own Catholic citizens, and its war against Catholic France. The French Empire was trying to uphold its territorial integrity by expelling British colonists in 1754, who were illegally encroaching into the Ohio Valley. This led to the Seven-Years War, or French-Indian War (1754 – 1763), which resulted in the British acquisition of French colonial territory in North America. As a result of that, the American Revolutionary War quickly followed just twelve years later, with the seeds of that war planted by colonial agitators as early as 1765.

We could say here that God allowed the British colonists to secede from the Empire in the American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783) not because of favor to the colonists, but rather to breakup a global Protestant Empire that was encroaching into Catholic regions. Washington (both the general and the capital) proved to be more tolerant of Catholics in comparison to the British parliament and the crown. Thus, Washington’s acquisition of French and Spanish Catholic regions in North America was permitted by Our Lord as well. This takes us back to the point that God allows governments to exist, good or evil, and all of them remain solely at this allowance. Thus, violently resisting them, is to violently resist God himself. This explains the saying of Jesus in the New Testament…

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence.

John 18:36; DRA

Jesus was speaking of the legitimate and lawful government of his time, which consisted both of the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman Procurator. “The Jews,” meaning the Sanhedrin, wanted Jesus tried and punished by the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. This was the will of the government, in that region, at that time. Jesus commanded his disciples not to resist it (Matthew 26:52). This goes back to what Saint Paul said above. Likewise, Jesus also told his disciples…

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.

Matthew 22:21; DRA

Basically, this means give the government what it wants, after you give God what he wants. However, it also sets up a principle. When the government demands things that directly oppose the will of God, it is lawful to resist it, just so long as that resistance does not involve violence. For example: in the Old Testament we are treated to the stories of Saint Daniel, the prophet, during the Babylonian Captivity of the Nation of Israel (597 – 538 BC). In these stories, the government made unjust laws, both commanding the worship of a statue of the king, and forbidding prayer to anyone but the king. On both cases, Daniel rightfully resisted these laws, and in both cases he was unjustly sentenced to die. Also in both cases, God spared his life through miraculous intervention. Now, Daniel was a prophet of God, so he got a little special treatment from our Lord which resulted in his life being spared. The early Christians were not so fortunate when they were commanded to worship Caesar. Even the apostles eventually got caught as well, with all but one paying the ultimate price. They’re martyrdom, however, resulted in the growth of the early Church, which in turn eventually resulted in the conversion of the Roman Empire from Paganism to Christianity. In both the Old Testament era, and the Early Church period, God wins. The evil governments that persecute the faith end up tolerating it, or adopting it, in some capacity. In both cases, it’s due to the faithful and peaceful witness of his followers.

In the centuries following the Roman Imperial persecution of the Early Church, a new form of government arose — Christendom. This involved a loose association of European states, some of which were united politically, others remained independent. From these Catholic-influenced governments came the idea of public representation (parliamentary monarchies) and finally the concept of the modern republic. Author Timothy Gordon explores how the US Constitution was itself a Masonic ripoff of Catholic ideology in his bestselling book Catholic Republic. This was done by the Masons to appease the Protestant majority in the early United States. Up until that point, the Protestants had known no form of government besides parliamentary monarchies (originally inherited from their Catholic roots). So the Masons had to borrow from Catholic thinkers to come up with something different, but they couldn’t let America’s Protestant majority know that it came from Catholicism. So they dressed it up as Masonic.

Knowing that the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, have many conceptual ideas that came from Catholic thinkers, helps us to appreciate the connection Catholics have to the origin of these United States and their ongoing governance. And this leads us to something very, very important. These United States are not one country. They are a Union of fifty (originally thirteen) different countries. The word “state” itself means “country” in this context, and it should be understood that way. Each state is a country in and of itself, with its own government, laws and polity. The US Constitution is the document they all agree to, which delegates some of their own authority (not sovereignty but authority) to the federal government. These authorities can be expanded or revoked depending on the will of three-fourths of these states. We call this the constitutional amendment process. So it’s important to understand that the United States federal government has no sovereignty in and of itself. It’s an artificial government, of sorts, created by the various states that are sharing some of their own authority with it. The authority comes from the states, and is shared with the federal government, under the agreement all the states have signed onto — the US Constitution. This is why our federal government seems so neurotic at times. It has to follow the specific, limited powers granted to it by the Constitution, and if it fails to do that, its laws can be struck down by the US Supreme Court (Article III), nullified by the states individually (Amendment X, Bill of Rights), or cancelled by the various states meeting in convention (Article V). Understanding the limits and constraints on federal power is essential to the Catholic citizen/voter. We shall see more about this below.

Now, with this basic foundation of understanding, we can begin to explore what the Catholic Church actually teaches us about our involvement in modern governments. We should begin with the teachings of the popes in around a century of their founding. Specifically, we should look at their unanimous position on the relationship between the Church and the State.

Catholics cannot be too careful in defending themselves against such a separation [of Church and State].

Pope Leo XIII
Au Milieu des Solicitudes
(On the Church and State in France), Februrary 16, 1892

ERRORS CONCERNING THE CHURCH AND HER RIGHTS: “The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.”

Pope Blessed Pius IX
Quanta Cura
(Condemning Current Errors), December 8, 1864

That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error.

Pope Saint Pius X
Vehementer Nos
(On the French Law of Separation)
February 11, 1906

The unanimous position of the popes is that the Church should not be absolutely separate from the state. In fact, Catholics are to resist this idea. They were primarily addressing the radical separation of Church and State that existed in France at the time. These United States had not yet converted over to this way of thinking, and would not until 1947, with the Supreme Court decision in Everson v. Board of Education, using the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the First Amendment to the states.

Prior to 1947, the so-called “wall of separation” between Church and State only applied to the federal government and not the states themselves. This is because at the time the First Amendment was ratified, many states already had their own state churches, recognized by state governments, and this remained the case well into the nineteenth century. The purpose of the anti-establishment clause in the First Amendment was to prevent the federal government from imposing another religion upon those states that already had their own. Thus, the original American idea of the separation of Church and State only applied to the federal government, while state governments were free to be more intimately connected to various churches, or at the very least make some general recognition of Christian religion. So, at the time these popes made these proclamations, they applied mainly to France not these United States. However, in 1947, the popes’ position on the separation of Church and State began to apply to these United States as well. This is another important principle that Catholic citizens/voters need to understand. As Catholics, we are required by Church teaching, to resist the radical separation of Church and State. This has led many Catholics to advocate for the repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“Ah, but that was a long time ago,” some might say. Some might ask if the position of the Catholic Church has changed at all on the separation of Church and State, especially after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The answer is no, not really. While Vatican II clarified some things, and eliminated a good deal of misconceptions about Church-State relations, at the same time it reiterated what the Church has taught all along, which is mainly that Catholics should resist the separation of Church and State. This is stated in the new Catechism. While it doesn’t specifically call on Catholics to recognize the Catholic Church as the state religion, it nevertheless recognizes that such polities can exist and do exist, as is the case in Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Malta and Monaco. Furthermore, eleven more countries give the Catholic Church special recognition, while not officially declaring it the state church. It is in these circumstances that the Church calls upon its members, as citizens/voters in these states, to protect the religious freedom of non-Catholics as well.

If because of the circumstances of a particular people special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional organization of a state, the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom must be recognized and respected as well.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2107

Likewise, while the Catholic Church has always taught this, as is evidenced by European history, the new Catechism seeks to clarify the position of the Church as independent from the State. So while, as Catholics, we are to seek closer relations between the Church and the State, we are not to go too far, in merging the Church and the State into one.

The Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. “The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2245

The Church does not assume responsibility for every aspect of life in society, but speaks with the competence that is hers, which is that of proclaiming Christ the Redeemer: “Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order; the purpose he assigned to her was a religious one. But this religious mission can be the source of commitment, direction and vigor to establish and consolidate the community of men according to the law of God”. This means that the Church does not intervene in technical questions with her social doctrine, nor does she propose or establish systems or models of social organization. This is not part of the mission entrusted to her by Christ. The Church’s competence comes from the Gospel: from the message that sets man free, the message proclaimed and borne witness to by the Son of God made man.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 68

This is a vitally important distinction about a Catholic approach to politics in general, which applies worldwide, but also to American politics. The Catholic Church seeks a middle ground, that avoids to two opposing extremes of Theocracy and Secularism.

THEOCRACY <-<-<- INTEGRALISM/SECULARITY ->->-> SECULARISM

The Catholic position is always the middle ground of Integralism/Secularity, as opposed to the opposite extremes of Theocracy and Secularism. To understand, we must define terms…

Theocracy is a form of government in which a church itself, meaning its leaders or appointed representatives, is recognized as the supreme ruling authority, giving divine guidance to human intermediaries who manage the day-to-day affairs of the government. Under Theocracy, religious law is also civil law, and what is a sin is also a crime. Also under Theocracy, religious leaders are also civil leaders, or else religious leaders appoint civil leaders to act on their behalf.

Integralism is the principle that the Christian faith should be the basis of civil law within society, wherever the preponderance of Christians within that society makes this possible. The operative function being that Integralism happens via the participation of ordinary Christians in public life. There is a structural separation of Church and State (Secularity, see below), but the State finds itself influenced heavily by the Church, via the operation of ordinary Christians.

Secularity means that the State is autonomous with respect to Church laws. The Church may inform the State as to the morality of certain laws, but the Church does not control the inner functions of the State. This falls along the order of Integralism (see above) as opposed to Theocracy.

Secularism claims absolute independence of the State from the Church, and tends to restrict religion to the sphere of a purely private pursuit. This falls along the line of political atheism, wherein religion has no place in public policy and law, and religious people are expected to stay our of politics. At the very least, religious people are expected to create a mental compartmentalization of their thoughts, which is both artificial and unnatural, wherein their religion must not affect their political thinking.

So what the Catholic Church calls all Catholics to, in the realm of politics is Integralism and Secularity. We are called to Integralism/Secularity while opposing Theocracy and Secularism. We are called to the middle ground, of close relations between Church and State, without blending the two or radically separating them entirely.

Ever since 1947, the law of the land in the United States has been radical Secularism. This has led to such things as banning prayer in public schools, imposing functional atheism on state governments, removal of religious symbols on public property, and persecuting Christians for failing to comply with non-Christian practices in business or government. Today, Secularists apply the term “Christian Nationalist” not only to conservative Evangelicals, but also to any Catholic who holds to the teachings of the Catholic Church on relations between Church and State. The term “Christian Nationalist” is meant to be derogatory and a smear against anyone who doesn’t hold to radical Secularism.

A growing number of Evangelicals are beginning to embrace the term, however, and the same goes for a growing number of Catholics. When considering the term, we must also consider the source. The people who use it are radical Secularists, who espouse a theory of government that is diametrically opposed to what the Catholic Church teaches. In order to appease these Secularists, and get the “Christian Nationalist” label expunged from our record, we would have to renounce what the Catholic Church teaches. Some Catholics, especially Democrat politicians, are more than eager to do just that. It began with John F. Kennedy, in his September 12, 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. It continues today with the radical pro-abortion agenda of Joe Biden, Dick Durban and Nancy Pelosi. Good Catholics must resist this. As Pope Leo XIII wrote: “Catholics cannot be too careful in defending themselves against such a separation [of Church and State].”

The real question at hand is this. Do we want to be good Catholics?

Being a good Catholic means following the teachings of the Church. And while the Church does not interfere with the inner workings of politics, that doesn’t mean Catholics are free to do whatever they want, however they feel, willy-nilly, when it comes to politics. We Catholics still have to follow certain guidelines, certain principles, and certain parameters. There are some basic “rules of the road” that we all have to abide by, in our trip from one political agenda to the next.

The first political guideline is what I described above, which is that Catholics must reject radical Secularism, and accept the idea that the Church and the State should have much greater cooperation. What, however does that mean? For starters, it means that Catholics need to participate in modern governments, and this most especially means that Catholics need to vote in the United States of America.

There is a growing mindset emerging among some more conservative and traditional Catholics, both clergy and laity, that shirks the responsibility of voting in elections. Some Catholics just don’t want to “dirty their hands” with politics in general. Others are of a more extreme mindset, thinking absolute monarchy is a “more Catholic model” of government (it isn’t, but that’s another story), and that we should just wait for democratic republics to collapse so that a Catholic monarch can take over and set everything right. While there are plenty of medieval prophecies concerning the rise of a future global monarch in Catholic France, and I address this issue in my book The Last Days, the Catholic Church has never had a theological problem with democratic republics. The problem the Church has is with radical Secularism, which was initially a French problem following the French Revolution, but then spread to the United States in 1947. Radical Secularism is not synonymous with democratic republics, and is easily demonstrated with nations like Costa Rica, a democratic republic that is simultaneously a confessional state that names the Catholic Church as its national religion.

To be a good Catholic, you must vote! I’ve given this great thought, and having vacillated myself between voting and non-voting, I’ve come to the conclusion that part of “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” in a modern government means voting on a regular basis, in addition to paying taxes and other duties. Sometimes I don’t like it. Sometimes I just want to stay home on Election Day, but as a Catholic it is not only my civil duty, but it is my religious duty as well.

So I order a sample ballot ahead of time, pull out my laptop, and start researching both the candidates and issues at least a week in advance. I fill out the sample ballot according to my studies, make a copy for my mother, father, wife and son (who don’t want to do the work themselves), then take it with me to the polling station on Election Day. That’s how a good and faithful Catholic renders unto Caesar the things that are Caesars, while at the same time rendering unto God the things that our God’s. So, to be a good Catholic, we must vote, but more than that, we must bring our Catholic faith into politics as well. The following is a Doctrinal Note from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) addressing this very issue of why Catholics should vote, and how they ought to participate, just in case there are any doubts…

By fulfilling their civic duties, guided by a Christian conscience, in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order, and cooperating with other citizens according to their particular competence and responsibility. The consequence of this fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in ‘public life’, that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good. This would include the promotion and defence of goods such as public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity…

The Church recognizes that while democracy is the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle, for otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent. The democratic structures on which the modern state is based would be quite fragile were its foundation not the centrality of the human person. It is respect for the person that makes democratic participation possible. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the protection of the rights of the person is, indeed, a necessary condition for citizens, individually and collectively, to play an active part in public life and administration…

By its interventions in this area, the Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead, it intends – as is its proper function – to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good. The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact, every area of the lay faithful’s lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the ‘places in time’ where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others. Every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility – as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture – are the occasions ordained by providence for a ‘continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity’ (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4). Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of confessionalism, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person…

The principles contained in the present Note are intended to shed light on one of the most important aspects of the unity of Christian life: coherence between faith and life, Gospel and culture, as recalled by the Second Vatican Council. The Council exhorted Christians to fulfill their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities; this is to forget that by our faith we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities according to the vocation of each… May Christians… be proud of the opportunity to carry out their earthly activity in such a way as to integrate human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God.

DOCTRINAL NOTE
on some questions regarding
The Participation of Catholics in Political Life

November 24, 2002

The next question, of course, is by what principles should Catholics vote. We know the main bullet points about respect for human dignity, which includes voting Pro-life, Pro-Family and for religious freedom. These, however, are just bullet points. What are the principles that guide them. Again, the Catechism can be of help…

The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.” Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2425

This paragraph from the Catechism may come as a surprise to some. The Catholic Church explicitly condemns communism and socialism. It’s condemned. The discussion is closed. Catholics cannot be communists or socialists — period. There are no “ifs, ands or buts.” If you’re a communist or a socialist, and you claim to be Catholic, you are in violation of the Catholic Faith and you need to reject these things and go to confession — end of story. However, the real question here is: why?

The answer comes in the remainder of the paragraph, because in making a harsh criticism of capitalism (a criticism not a condemnation), it explains its condemnation of communism and socialism. The line that explains the whole thing is “regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds.” There it is! “Centralized planning” is the enemy, and while capitalism is guilty of it to some degree, as we see in corporate collaboration with the state, big-business and big-government go hand-in-hand, communism and socialism are based on it entirely. “Centralized planning” reduces human beings to mere cogs in a machine, and it destroys lives, families and social bonds of all types. The Catholic Church doesn’t have a problem with the free market. On the contrary, the Catholic Church understands that in order for a market to be truly “free” it must be regulated in such a way as to insure that business property is as widely distributed as possible, so as to insure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to have their own business and be their own boss. It also means that in such industries where this is impossible, such as in manufacturing, aerospace and healthcare for example, employees should have the opportunity to own a share of the business, in the form of stock options and cooperatives.

Many Americans are shocked to learn of the Catholic Church’s criticism of capitalism. That’s because America, a capitalist nation, trains its citizens from youth that communism and socialism are bad, while capitalism is good. Such a black and white view of economics is not consistent with Catholic teaching. It’s not that one method of centralized planning is bad, while the other method is good. Rather, it’s that centralized planning of the economy is bad no matter who’s doing it! It doesn’t matter if it’s done by some autocrat in Beijing or some plutocrat in New York, the result is the same. People become mere cogs in a machine, families are impoverished. and social bonds are damaged. If you want economic social justice, get more people involved in the economy. Make small, family-run farms and businesses the backbone of the American system again. Work toward cooperative ownership, and employee stock ownership, of large industries. This is how you address economic disparity. This is how you empower the little people. That requires government regulation, but it requires the right kind of legislation, and it doesn’t involve transferring wealth or setting up state ownership. That just makes everything worse.

To elaborate, the Catholic Church champions the Principle of Subsidiarity, which is often glossed over by most Catholic teachers, but happens to be the central point of all social justice. You just can’t have real social justice without it…

The necessity of defending and promoting the original expressions of social life is emphasized by the Church in the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, in which the principle of subsidiarity is indicated as a most important principle of “social philosophy”. “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them”.

On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help (“subsidium”) — therefore of support, promotion, development — with respect to lower-order societies. In this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place.

Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 186

So the basis of this doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church can be summarized in this simple phrase: “small is beautiful.” The way to achieve a better society, and a better world, is through small churches, small businesses and small government.

Stop and consider this…

Why does the Church say this? The Church says that “small” is the way, because small churches, small business and small government is how social bonds can be strengthened. Think about it. If you personally know you pastor, and most of the people in your parish, and you personally know your grocer, butcher and tailor, and you personally know your state representatives, what do you think is going to happen to the social bonds in your community? Those social bonds are going to radically improve, and all of a sudden, names on paper become faces you actually know. So when things happen to those people, both bad things and good things, you can participate both in their pain and joy, helping each other along the way. THIS is social justice!

The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms. “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending”. An absent or insufficient recognition of private initiative — in economic matters also — and the failure to recognize its public function, contribute to the undermining of the principle of subsidiarity, as monopolies do as well.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 187

Again, small is beautiful. When everything from churches, to businesses, to governments become too big, to the point where you no longer know these people anymore, on a first name basis, you’ve entered into the realm of centralization. Once that happens, the humanity of our society is diminished, and people become mere cogs in a machine again. The key to making society work, is to keep things small and local.

This is where I get back to these United States of America again. As a said above, these United States are fifty countries not one. Each state is its own country, and the United States is merely an artificial Union of countries, created by the consent of the fifty states (originally thirteen), for the purpose of subsidiarity. Now the founders had a different word for it. They called it “federalism.” That’s fine. They can call it whatever they like, but from a Catholic perspective it’s called “subsidiarity.” The founders understood that the entire Eastern seaboard was too big to govern under one centralized government. If the founders understood that back in 1776, then we should understand today that an entire continent is way too big to govern under one centralized government. These men who founded these United States were primarily Protestants and Deists. They hacked Catholic thinkers and produced a semi-Catholic government disguised as Masonic. It’s lasted 234 years so far. God only knows how long it will last, but we Catholics should know at least as much as the founders did, and more so.

We Catholics understand that subsidiarity is more than just federalism. Yes, federalism is where it starts, because you can’t govern a continent under one centralized government, but it doesn’t stop there. Cities and counties must have more decentralized control over their territories. Likewise, industries should be actively regulated to prevent monopolies and oligopolies. People need to become their own bosses again. Likewise, as Catholics, we have to be willing to point the finger at ourselves too. Large archdioceses need to be broken up into smaller dioceses, wherein each large portion of a city should get its own bishop, with his own absolute jurisdiction. The office of archbishop should be a figurehead title alone, so as to prevent the centralization of power within the Church. The principle of “subsidiarity” is the hinge upon which all social justice turns, like a door. Without subsidiarity there can be no social justice. That is a major principle Catholics can take to the bank, and we can apply it universally: to church, state and business.

Catholic involvement in politics isn’t just a checklist of seemingly unrelated issues. In truth, all the issues are related, and it all comes down to the dignity of the human person and family. This is why the Catholic Church is staunchly Pro-Life. It’s also why the Church champions the rights of the traditional family. More than that, however, the Church pushes for the decentralization of business too, so that families can have more control of their financial destiny again. Perhaps the Church should lead the way in decentralizing large archdioceses too. This might send a message in leading by example. It’s something to consider.

In the months and years ahead, we Catholics are going to be treated to an earful of talk by Secularists about “Christian Nationalism” and the “Religious Right.” When we hear these attempted slurs, we should always consider the source. This kind of rhetoric comes from radical Secularists, who want absolute separation between Church and State, in what amounts to freedom from religion, rather than freedom of religion. Such an ideal can never be Catholic, and must be rejected by faithful Catholics entirely. This accusation of “Christian Nationalism” will come primarily from the Democrats, but that doesn’t mean that the Republican Party is perfect. As Catholics, we should reject the idea that one party is all good. That’s not the case at all. For the time being, the message of the Democrats must be rejected, as it involves murder of the unborn and turning people into the cogs of a utilitarian state. Simultaneously, we must be watchful and cautious of the Republican alternative, which while Pro-Life (and that is good), can at times seek to turn people into the cogs of utilitarian monopolies. Both dehumanize the individual and the family. Small is beautiful, and the more we get back to being small (in government, business and church) the better off we will all be.

REFERENCES:

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109; 2244-2246; 2419-2425.
  • Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 49-55; 60-71; 189-191; 238-243; 377-427.
  • Vatican II, Constitution, Gaudium et spes, 74-76; Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae , 1-8; 13-14.
  • John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, December 39, 1988, 36-44.
  • Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, November 24, 2002.
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2246; Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 426; Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 572

8 Comments

  1. Very well presented essay Shane, especially in light of your recent articles regarding States rights and subsidiarity. As a convert, veteran, former seminarian and current deputy sheriff I can say these are much needed essays. We Americans are a woefully uneducated lot, especially in the areas of Church/State relations but also as to the proper role of the central federal government. Keep up the good work sir.

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  2. Small and local is indeed better. But there is much more to this. There are the public/private spheres of life and there are many, many institutions and structures that govern those interpenetrating spheres. The polis as classically understood is the community. Politics does not mean that anymore. What we need is a fairly vicious rolling back of the idea of current political boundaries. Why should roughly one half of the political jurisdiction known as the US enforce its will on roughly the other half when the two no longer have very much in common? Moreover, what about overlapping and sometime competing jurisdictions as developed in medieval times? I am not a revolutionary but we need a fairly radical return to organically formed polis-es – city states, state states, municipalities – whatever organic allegiances are there in the given structure. At the same time, we need the most current understanding of completely non state type ordering structures. Free, voluntary cooperation and contract and basically defined property rights go a very long way to preserving an order that we have become used to – examples such as private arbitration, private security, true insurance organizations, etc, etc.
    Let me give specific example. How is it that we have so many religious orders within the Catholic Church and yet they somehow get along without violence. Yes, of course they are all dedicated to Christ and his life, death and resurrection, but that hasn’t stopped hatred and violence in all cases in the past. Yet none of these orders feels the need to hold a gun to the head of their members to keep them or to fight with members of other orders (I’m sure exceptions can be found but in the main, no violence). There are very few rules/laws ordering across these groups. These are organic relationships both within the orders and without and voluntary allegiances are respected. If an order priest discerns he needs to be in a given diocese, he consults wisdom figures and figures who have some ‘investment’ in the man and if all agree then he incardinates into a diocese (and vice versa).
    We need to allow for more fluid types of organization within our social structure. (I would argue this is what the framers had in mind, but that takes us into a whole historical discussion.) This issue for American politics is that we have a phobia about dissolution because of the 3rd grade version of what the Civil War was about. And we need to get over this and let communities flourish in the way they think they can and be attractive or repellant to the degree to which they inhabit the timeless.

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  3. There are several problematic issues with this woefully misleading article but I will keep my comments as brief and focused as possible. The bigger tensions that occurred over teacher-led school prayers were between and among Christians rather than between Christians and non-Christians. Debates over whose version or style of prayer to use, whether or not to make the sign of the cross and the appropriateness of a teacher invoking elements of his or her own tradition were common sources of contention. Even assuming the US were founded as a “Christian nation” (it was not – nor did the confederation approach referred to by the author last much longer than a decade before intentionally being replaced with an overriding united authority of a national government), the diversity of beliefs among Christians is reason alone to keep religious practices out of state hands and laws heavily weighted to reflect the morality of one particular sect from being imposed on a diverse nation. It seems especially dangerous to pine for the return to any kind of religious based world monarchy. What if that absolute monarch turns out not to be Catholic but Evangelical Baptist or progressive Episcopalian or from some other tradition? Democracy with respect for individual rights is the only governing force that can even begin to engender a diverse, peaceful, co-existing society.

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    1. You wrote: “There are several problematic issues with this woefully misleading article“

      I’m not sure what is “misleading” about it, since I backed all my points with Church teaching.

      “The bigger tensions that occurred over teacher-led school prayers were between and among Christians rather than between Christians and non-Christians. Debates over whose version or style of prayer to use, whether or not to make the sign of the cross and the appropriateness of a teacher invoking elements of his or her own tradition were common sources of contention.”

      Those days are over now. If some states want to initiate school prayers again, they will obviously be ecumenical in nature. It’s far more likely that most schools will simply allow for a time of silence for prayer simply to avoid controversy.

      “Even assuming the US were founded as a ‘Christian nation’ (it was not – nor did the confederation approach referred to by the author last much longer than a decade before intentionally being replaced with an overriding united authority of a national government)”

      That was not my argument. The federal government was founded as secular. Nobody contests that. My argument is that the states themselves were confessional, starting as colonies in the 17th century, and most of them remaining so well into the 19th century, far beyond the “decade” you claim. That’s just historical fact. The federal government was founded as secular so as to prevent the creation of a federal religion that would trump already-established state religions.

      “the diversity of beliefs among Christians is reason alone to keep religious practices out of state hands and laws heavily weighted to reflect the morality of one particular sect from being imposed on a diverse nation.”

      Diversity of belief presents no problem at all when talking about general Christian morality, which most Christians have always agreed upon, and continue to do so to this day.

      “It seems especially dangerous to pine for the return to any kind of religious based world monarchy. What if that absolute monarch turns out not to be Catholic but Evangelical Baptist or progressive Episcopalian or from some other tradition?”

      Who said anything about returning to a Catholic monarchy, or any monarchy at all? I didn’t. In fact, in the article above, I specifically stated that the Catholic faith has no problem with democratic republics. It seems that you’re arguing against somebody else’s point here.

      “Democracy with respect for individual rights is the only governing force that can even begin to engender a diverse, peaceful, co-existing society.”

      On that, we can agree.

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      1. I would agree you state your interpretation of Catholic teaching but your summations are by no means conclusively held by all Catholics. The claims about how and why God allowed the American Revolution or other events to succeed are eye popping, to say the least. The “decade” I was referring to was the period between the original Articles of Confederation (ratified in 1881 but expressing the original loose cooperation among co-equal states) and the Constitution, ratified in 1889 replacing the Articles of Confederation with the intention of creating an overriding Federal government superseding state authority and codifying the non-establishment of a state religion. I’m not aware of any governor having asserted himself as head of a state church until the 1970s when Marvin Mandel claimed to be the head of the Episcopalian church in Maryland to circumvent a corruption conviction. You breeze over the tensions of the past to suggest that, somehow, everyone now is all for ecumenicism and the state prayers for school children will be written that way (good luck on that one). We also have a multi-cultural country such that it would be next to impossible to create a state prayer encompassing Catholicism, other Christian faiths, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, just to name a few, and we can no longer ignore the significant (and growing) population of Atheists and “nones.” Silent prayers have never ceased in schools so I’m not sure what more there would be to accomplish. Finally, “general Christian morality” is an amorphous term that in no way reflects the realities of significant doctrinal differences of the past or present. Whether you want to call them modifications, evolutions or outright changes, doctrines have been adapted, readapted and reworked by different Christian denominations (and that’s setting aside, for now, non-Christian beliefs). No matter what period you might be wishing to freeze in place, using one interpretation of Christian morality as a foundation for secular laws is inherently problematic and inevitably leads to conflict.

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      2. You wrote: “I would agree you state your interpretation of Catholic teaching but your summations are by no means conclusively held by all Catholics.”

        I never said they were.

        The claims about how and why God allowed the American Revolution or other events to succeed are eye popping, to say the least.

        Good. It means I accomplished what I set out to do. History, as told from a Catholic moral perspective, is usually eye popping to say the least.

        The “decade” I was referring to was the period between the original Articles of Confederation (ratified in 1881 but expressing the original loose cooperation among co-equal states) and the Constitution, ratified in 1889 replacing the Articles of Confederation with the intention of creating an overriding Federal government superseding state authority and codifying the non-establishment of a state religion.

        Yes, I understand your assertion. It’s just that it’s factually wrong. The US Constitution in no way “superseded state authority” because the 10th amendment makes clear that all the powers of said Constitution are derived from the consent of the states and the state retain all powers not directly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. Look it up.

        In addition, nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, in said Constitution mandates that states drop their state religions. It’s just not in there. The establishment clause of the US Constitution only mandates that the federal government not establish a federal church that would override state churches that already existed.

        We also have a multi-cultural country such that it would be next to impossible to create a state prayer encompassing Catholicism, other Christian faiths, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, just to name a few, and we can no longer ignore the significant (and growing) population of Atheists and “nones.” Silent prayers have never ceased in schools so I’m not sure what more there would be to accomplish.

        Who says anything about composing state prayers at all. The United States Congress opens every session with sectarian prayers from many religions, and our federal government hasn’t imploded yet. Most states won’t want any controversy to begin with, so their more likely to let local school districts decide how they want to handle it. I guarantee you, these days, most will just opt for a moment of silence for personal prayer.

        Finally, “general Christian morality” is an amorphous term that in no way reflects the realities of significant doctrinal differences of the past or present. Whether you want to call them modifications, evolutions or outright changes, doctrines have been adapted, readapted and reworked by different Christian denominations (and that’s setting aside, for now, non-Christian beliefs).

        Most Christians don’t have a problem agreeing on some standards of morality. I’m sorry that hasn’t been your personal experience. Maybe you should consider the company you’re keeping. As a Catholic, I work with Evangelicals all the time, and we seem to agree on almost everything when it comes to the type of laws the state should enforce.

        No matter what period you might be wishing to freeze in place,

        That’s a typical statement used by Left-wingers toward the right. It’s also inaccurate. I have no desire to “freeze” anything. I would rather move forward toward Catholic states eventually, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

        using one interpretation of Christian morality as a foundation for secular laws is inherently problematic and inevitably leads to conflict.

        Sort of like…

        Thou shalt not murder.
        Thou shalt not steal.

        Yeah. Real controversial stuff there.

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