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Vatican 'Note on the participation of Catholics in political life'

 Made public today by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was a Doctrinal Note On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. It is addressed to the bishops of the Catholic Church and to all the lay faithful called to participate in the public and political life of democratic societies. The Note, dated November 24, 2002, Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, is signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., respectively prefect and secretary of the dicastery. The text has been published in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese and consists of four chapters and a conclusion. Following are excerpts from the document: "I. A CONSTANT TEACHING. The commitment of Christians in the world has found a variety of expressions in the course of the past 2000 years. One such expression has been Christian involvement in political life. ... Among the saints, the Church venerates many men and women who served God through their generous commitment to politics and government. Among these, Saint Thomas More, who was proclaimed Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, gave witness by his martyrdom to 'the inalienable dignity of the human conscience'. ... He taught by his life and his death that 'man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality'. ... By fulfilling their civic duties, 'guided by a Christian conscience', in conformity with its values, the lay faithfully exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order. ... The present Note does not seek to set out the entire teaching of the Church on this matter, which is summarized in its essentials in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but intends only to recall some principles proper to the Christian conscience, which inspire the social and political involvement of Catholics in democratic societies." "II. CENTRAL POINTS IN THE CURRENT CULTURAL AND POLITICAL DEBATE. A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defense of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law. Furthermore, it is not unusual to hear the opinion expressed in the public sphere that such ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy." "Such relativism, of course, has nothing to do with the legitimate freedom of Catholic citizens to choose among the various political opinions that are compatible with faith and the natural moral law, and to select, according to their own criteria, what best corresponds to the needs of the common good. Political freedom is not, and cannot be, based upon the relativistic idea that all conceptions of the human person's good have the same value and truth. ... If Christians must 'recognize the legitimacy of differing points of view about the organization of worldly affairs', they are also called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism. Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society. ... 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." "Scientific progress has resulted in advances that are unsettling for the consciences of men and women and call for solutions that respect ethical principles in a coherent and fundamental way. ... John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a 'grave and clear obligation to oppose' any law that attacks human life. For them and for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them. ... In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine." "When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands ... what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such." "Regarding the education of their children, it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society's protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example). In addition, there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity. ... Finally the question of peace must be mentioned. ... Peace is always 'the work of justice and the effect of charity'. It demands absolute and radical rejection of violence and terrorism and requires a constant and vigilant commitment on the part of all political leaders." "III. PRINCIPLES OF CATHOLIC DOCTRINE ON THE AUTONOMY OF THE TEMPORAL ORDER AND ON PLURALISM. While a plurality of methodologies reflective of different sensibilities and cultures can be legitimate in approaching such questions, no Catholic can appeal to the principle of pluralism or to the autonomy of lay involvement in political life to support policies affecting the common good which compromise or undermine fundamental ethical requirements. ... The appeal often made to 'the rightful autonomy of the participation of lay Catholics' in politics needs to be clarified. ... For Catholic moral doctrine, the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the Church ? but not from that of morality - is a value that has been attained and recognized by the Catholic Church and belongs to the inheritance of contemporary civilization. ... The right and duty of Catholics and all citizens to seek the truth with sincerity and to promote and defend, by legitimate means, moral truths concerning society, justice, freedom, respect for human life and the other rights of the person, is something quite different. The fact that some of these truths may also be taught by the Church does not lessen the political legitimacy or the rightful 'autonomy' of the contribution of those citizens who are committed to them, irrespective of the role that reasoned inquiry or confirmation by the Christian faith may have played in recognizing such truths. ... It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church." "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. ... Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism." "IV. CONSIDERATIONS REGARDING PARTICULAR ASPECTS. In recent years, there have been cases within some organizations founded on Catholic principles, in which support has been given to political forces or movements with positions contrary to the moral and social teaching of the Church on fundamental ethical questions ... [that] are not compatible with membership in organizations or associations which define themselves as Catholic. ... It is insufficient and reductive to think that the commitment of Catholics in society can be limited to a simple transformation of structures, because if at the basic level there is no culture capable of receiving, justifying and putting into practice positions deriving from faith and morals, the changes will always rest on a weak foundation. ... In a society in which truth is neither mentioned nor sought, every form of authentic exercise of freedom will be weakened, opening the way to libertine and individualistic distortions and undermining the protection of the good of the human person and of the entire society." "In this regard, it is helpful to recall a truth which today is often not perceived or formulated correctly in public opinion: the right to freedom of conscience and, in a special way, to religious freedom, taught in the Declaration 'Dignitatis humanae' of the Second Vatican Council, is based on the ontological dignity of the human person and not on a non-existent equality among religions or cultural systems of human creation. ... The teaching on freedom of conscience and on religious freedom does not therefore contradict the condemnation of indifferentism and religious relativism by Catholic doctrine; on the contrary, it is fully in accord with it." "V. CONCLUSION. 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." Source: Vatican Information Service