The Church and the False Political Divide

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.

Paul Wilson


Paul Wilson is a M.A. Candidate at the Catholic University of America. He is the founder and editor of Gray Matters, and is a regular contributor to The Subsidiarity Times and You can contact him at, and follow him on Twitter at @PaulWilson34.

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  • When will the Church’s message become: Any political party which rejects fundamental teachings of the Church must be in turn rejected by faithful Catholic voters?
    That is the action which is necessary for the Church to take a principled stand against where the Democratic party has gone.
    I agree with your statement on the misapplication of liberal and conservative to the Church. The operative words should be orthodox or heretical. While I would agree that one can be a what was once called a liberal and be an orthodox Catholic, I believe it is impossible to be a supporter of the Democratic party and be one. Just look at their party platform where intrinsic evil is enshrined. Our sitting president once said elections have consequences. Party platforms also matter. They state what a party stands for.
    Fortunately for conservatives, those who hold Ayn Rand’s objectivism as a moral precept are as rare among their ranks as strict constitutional constructivist are among liberals. It is a liberal narrative that conservatives hate the poor. Conservatives consistently donate more to charity than their liberal colleagues. Having to pretend otherwise in an attempt to appear balanced only goes to show how far to the left liberalism has gone. To pretend to be neutral we must compare the fringes of the right with the prevailing median of the left to find unchristian behavior.

  • Dan

    Well said, and I particularly applaud the correction concerning the red herring poised in the article about Ayn Rand.

  • K

    What if a political party lies about being prolife? 8 years of Bush with a republican congress couldn’t stop abortion or save Terri Schaivo. Yes, we had some supreme court nominations. Where did john Roberts get us? I think Republicans either lie about their prolife stance to get our vote or they change priorities when they get elected. I’m not being fooled again. I’m looking at 3rd party candidates or abstaining.

  • I said absolutely nothing about political parties in this article. Also, note the commentary on Paul Ryan.

  • rakeys

    until the Supreme court has a 5-4 majority, Roe v wade will not be overturned. Any pro-life law that is brought before the Supreme court will be declared unconstitutional. Republicans have appointed 4 judges who would overthrow Roe. The Democrats have appointed 4 who will make sure it stays. Kennedy was appointed by Reagan , but is a swing vote and is proChoice.
    Right now we are in the process of trying to pass a Life (and presonhood). Begins at Conception amendment. Any Law can be vetoed by a pro-abort president.
    Unfortunately, voting for a third party candidate will almost ensure Obama gets reelected, and he will continue his culture of death by making us pay for abortions in our healthcare. Contraception and abortion producing drugs was just the beginning! We already pay for abortions world wide through our financial aid since Obama does not follow the Mexico city policy of not funding abortions.
    The current Congress is very prolife, but the Senate and current president will not even discuss Pro-Life bills.
    President Bush followed the Mexico city policy, and pushed his ABC program in Africa. A abstinence, B Be faithful in marriage, C only use a condom in mariage to avoid HIV. and it worked .Pres Bush also funded abstinence education in shools, but Pres Obama stopped the funding and instead pushes the Pill. which only increases STD”s, abortions, and breast cancer.

  • Dan

    Paul what you wrote states that neither candidate should be elected. I find that the conservative movement has help derail this country more than anything. The Last quote any person standing for evil should not get a catholic vote. Based on that only the pope would be electeable.

  • Peter Nyikos

    There was no way to save Terri Schiavo once the original judge made his ruling. Federal appellate courts can only rule on whether correct procedure was followed in the original trial. They cannot take into account any evidence that was not presented at the original trial. Unfortunately, Terri’s relatives who wanted her to live did not have expert counsel in the original trial and by the time they were able to get really good advice on how to present their case, it was too late.