There is an unfortunate tendency to view the Catholic Church as divided into “liberal” and “conservative” wings. This vision results from the modern age’s foolish tendency to view every issue through a binary political prism.
This vision is fundamentally flawed. For the Catholic Church is neither “liberal” or “conservative” – She transcends politics altogether. And the false political divide in the Church, which separates faithful Catholics according to political ideology, is both fallacious and inherently destructive to the unity of Catholicism.
The Church does demand that her followers hold certain fundamental principles, many of which do have political implications. For example, the Church demands that Her followers respect and cherish every life, from conception to natural death – and at every point in between. She demands that Her followers exhibit charity for the poor, the downtrodden, and the disabled.
There can be no legitimate disagreement on these fundamental Christian principles among faithful Catholics. There can be no legitimate debate over whether abortion is permissible – every abortion, without exception, is inherently evil. There can be no legitimate debate over whether or not to take care of the poor – rejection of the poor is inherently wrong.
Oftentimes, Catholic political principles come into conflict with the political principles espoused by the political “left” and “right.” “Liberals” often deny the right of life to the unborn, while many “conservatives” have adopted the atheistic, selfishness-glorifying philosophy of Ayn Rand. Such political principles commonly held among “right” and “left” are contradictions of Catholic thought, which must be rejected by faithful Catholics.
(I am not deliberately ignoring other political philosophies that cannot be categorized as “right” or “left,” such as libertarianism. I merely focus on the common temptation of modern society to view the Church as split between two opposite wings.)
But there are multiple morally permissible methods of achieving desirable political ends. (Whether morally permissible policies are prudentially sound is another question entirely.) For example, there can be legitimate debate among politically-inclined Catholics over the best method to accomplish desirable goals such as the reduction of poverty. “Conservatives” argue that the best way to help the poor is through private charity and encouraging the charitable activities of churches and other such entities, while “liberals” argue that the most effective way to help the poor is through the implementation of government programs designed to assist the poor.
The Church rightly claims no authority in judging such prudential questions, despite the fulminations of politically motivated commentators to the contrary. For example, the claim of one writer that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is a “champion of dissent” for not supporting government programs designed to assist the poor is simply false.
So in the Church, “liberals” and “conservatives” can peacefully co-exist – provided they do not reject basic fundamental principles of Catholicism. But when “Catholic” politicians reject fundamental Catholic principles such as the right to life or the necessity of helping the poor, they cannot in good conscience call themselves Catholic.
Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison made this point admirably in an open letter to his diocese, noting that “the formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.
Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.”
The phrase “ecology of human nature” is taken from a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI to the German Parliament in September 2011, in which the Pope discoursed on what he called the “ecology of man.” Just as the natural world has an order and harmony that cannot be disregarded without grave consequences, “Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.”
The Pope here makes clear the fact that disobedience to the will of God – sin – is not merely a violation of God’s law, but also a violation of human nature. Only when man accepts God’s will and orders his nature accordingly can he become truly free and fully embrace his humanity. Rejections of God’s will – in both private and public settings – cause man to reject his own human nature.
As Bishop Morlino rightly notes, men can violate their own human nature in a public setting by adopting political stances that sanction evil activities. By adopting morally impermissible (and indeed, intrinsically evil) stances on issues such as abortion and care for the poor, politicians wage war on Catholicism – they attack human nature itself.
Thus, faithful Catholics cannot support political candidates who support intrinsic evils such as abortion or rejection of the poor. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore echoed Bishop Morlino’s point: “Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.”
Any candidate who rejects fundamental teachings of the Church must be in turn rejected by faithful Catholic voters, no matter their political inclinations. Political ideology is not a viable substitute for the truth and wisdom of the Catholic Faith.
In Jesus Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female.” (Galatians 3:28) Similarly, in Christ’s Church, there is neither “conservative” or “liberal.” There is merely fidelity to Christ and His teaching.