Benedict XVI on faith in the public square, politics

Yesterday the Holy Father spoke to bishops from Brazil gathered in Rome for their ad limina visit.

Some of his comments pertain to the upcoming US midterm election next week and the role of the Church in shaping the consciences of the faithful as they weigh the merits of candidate when going to the polls.

Be sure to read the Holy Father’s comments on transcendence.

From VIS with my emphases and comments:


VATICAN CITY, 28 OCT 2010 (VIS) – Prelates from the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (Northeast region 5) who have just complete their five- yearly “ad limina” visit were received this morning by the Holy Father.

“I wish to speak to you today”, the Pope told them, “about how the Church’s mission to serve as the leavening of human society through the Gospel teaches human beings their dignity as children of God, and their vocation to the unity of all mankind, whence derive the need for justice and social peace in accordance with divine wisdom”.

[he makes a distinction about the vocation of lay people and that of bishops.] “First, the duty of direct action to ensure a just ordering of society falls to the lay faithful who, as free and responsible citizens, strive to contribute to the just configuration of social life, while respecting legitimate autonomy and natural moral law“, the Holy Father explained. “Your duty as bishops, together with your clergy, is indirect because [NB] you must contribute to the purification of reason, and to the moral awakening of the forces necessary to build a just and fraternal society. Nonetheless, when required by the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls, pastors have the binding duty to emit moral judgments, even on political themes“.

“When forming these judgements, pastors must bear in mind the absolute value of those … precepts which make it morally unacceptable to chose a particular action which is intrinsically evil and incompatible with human dignity. [Such as promoting abortion or unnatural sexual relations.] This decision cannot be justified by the merit of some specific goal, intention, consequence or circumstance, Thus it would be completely false and illusory to defend, political, economic or social rights which do not comprehend a vigorous defence of the right to life from conception to natural end. When it comes to defending the weakest, who is more defenceless than an unborn child or a patient in a vegetative or comatose state?”

“When political projects openly or covertly contemplate the depenalisation of abortion or euthanasia, the democratic ideal (which is truly democratic when it recognises and protects the dignity of all human beings) is betrayed at its very foundations. For this reason, dear brothers in the episcopate, when defending life we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] rejecting all compromise and ambiguity which would conform us to the mentality of this world“. [An echo of St. Paul to the Romans.]

In order to help lay people live their Christian, social and political commitments in a unified and coherent fashion it is necessary, said the Holy Father, to ensure appropriate “social catechesis and an adequate formulation of Church Social Doctrine. … This also means that on some occasions, pastors must reminds all citizens of the right, which is also a duty, freely to use their vote to promote the common good“.  [Imagine.  The Holy Father is daring to say that people should use their vote well!]

“At this point politics and faith come together“, [But NCR catholics assert that politics and faith must not come together when it comes to abortion and unnatural relations.  They should only intersect when it has to do, perhaps, when passing legislation for funding to community organizers, perhaps.] he went on. “The specific nature of faith certainly lies in the meeting with the living God, Who opens new horizons far beyond the sphere of reason. … Only by respecting, promoting and indefatigably teaching the transcendent nature of the human being can a just society be built. … ‘God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions‘”, said the Holy Father quoting his Encyclical “Caritas in veritate”. [One of the important things here is Benedict’s mention of the transcendent.  This is where catholic liberals go off the rails, because they are for the most part modernists, stuck in the tar of immanentism.  Because of the transcendent dimension, we Catholics know how precious a human being is.  If you turn your focus away from the transcendent, you can justify setting aside the right to be born or the need for relations to be natural in favor of arguably important but logically secondary issues which, in truth, depend on a sound foundation for their trajectories to aim at the correct outcome.]

Benedict XVI concluded his discourse by joining the Brazilian bishops’ appeal for religious education and, “more specifically, for the pluralistic and confessional education of religion in State schools”. He also indicated that “the presence of religious symbols in public life is both a recollection of man’s transcendence and a guarantee of its respect. They have particular value in the case of Brazil where the Catholic religion is a component part of the country’s history”.  [Again, Benedict refers to the transcendent.]

At the end, the Pope speaks again of the transcendent.  At the end he does so through a reference to the Cross of the Lord.

Looking at the Cross is a way to remind us of the transcendent.

On the surface of it, it is a horrible image, all too earthly and cruel.  But we Catholics learn to move from the outward sign to the deeper mystery.

This is why our orientation and the Cross is so important in our liturgical worship.

For a while now I have been thinking through the intersection of politics and worship.   There is a connection.

In fact, the Holy Father here is aiming here at something I have been aiming at for a while, particularly after the Notre Dame Debacle.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. pyrosapien says:

    I love being Catholic! What a Pope!!

  2. The Pope’s speech to the bishops of NE5 was extraordinary. It read in several parts like vintage BXVI, rather than the frasi precotte from the 3rd loggia to which bishops during ALGAs are often treated.

    BXVI is no sheltered academic. He has arguably the greatest theoretical intellect of the past hundred years, and this informs his keen pastoral sense, which in turn manifests itself through a carefully disciplined faculty of prudent judgment.

    He has given us another fine example of how to make the Christian proposal to the world: clearly, fearlessly, joyfully.

    Benedictus est benedictio!

    Why, oh, why, do you have to drag ND into this, again?

    Your point about the need for authentic worship is too important to be tied to that sad episode. [That should be obvious, considering my comments and the link I provided.]


  3. Sid says:

    I lament that the Jeffersonian party in the USA, supported by the Catholic ethnics of the day, was changed by Woodrow the Worst into a socialist party. I lament even more that the USA has no Catholic Centrum, no Christdemokraten, no Christian Social Union, no Mouvement Républicain Populaire, no Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e di Centro — that is, a party attempting to implement Catholic social teaching (and welcoming Protestants and Jews in its ranks). Gringos mock Italian politics; but the Italians have choices, or at least more than two. We could do well in America with five or six political parties, one of which ought be an Amerikanische Zentrumspartei.

    Ludwig Windthorst, Luigi Sturzo, Robert Schuman, and Alcide De Gasperi, pray for us!

  4. mike cliffson says:

    God bless our Pope!

  5. Prof. Basto says:

    The Holy Father’s speech to the Brazilian Bishops is probably directly related with the fact that Brazil’s runoff presidential election is taking place this Sunday. But of course what the Holy Father says also apply to the role bishops should play during the current American campaing season leading up to next week’s midterm elections.

  6. trespinos says:

    “He has arguably the greatest theoretical intellect of the past hundred years…”
    Pish tosh … eight hundred, arguably.
    A Doctor Pellucidus.

  7. Jason Keener says:

    I find this part of the Pope’s speech to be troubling (for what it left out):

    “’First, the duty of direct action to ensure a just ordering of society falls to the lay faithful who, as free and responsible citizens, strive to contribute to the just configuration of social life, while respecting legitimate autonomy and natural moral law,’ the Holy Father explained.”

    I find it problematic that the Pope did not say that the laity and governmental leaders have not only a responsibility to order society according to the natural moral law but also to the divine positive law. As Pope Pius XI taught in “Quas Primas,” “His [Christ’s] empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.”[28] Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, IN HIM IS THE SALVATION OF SOCIETY.”

    I hate to disagree with the Holy Father, but it is very difficult to order a just society based on the natural moral law alone. As we all agree, the natural moral law is often confusing and open to many different interpretations. Also, Christ revealed things that are beneficial to society that go above and beyond the natural moral law. Can a society even reach its happiness without recognizing Christ or the supernatural society of the Catholic Church and her right to interpret the whole moral law, even for states and civil governments?

    Simply, I wish the Church would drop this notion that the state must be organized only by the natural law alone. Of course, there is a place for arguing by the natural moral law alone in situations where the population is entirely pagan, etc. Brazil is about 73% Catholic, however. Why isn’t the Pope asking them to recall their duty to implement Christ’s social kingship?

    Incidentally, the SSPX also finds it troubling that the recent Popes have not called for the implementation of Christ’s social kingship. It does appear to be an area of rupture, requiring further explanation of how the present practice is not in contradiction to the past.

    (In the end, I will submit to whatever judgment the Roman Pontiff makes.)

  8. terryprest says:

    On 5th September 2010 Pope Benedict visited Carpineto Romano, the birth place of Pope Leo XIII

    In his homily he referred with approval to one of Pope Leo`s Encyclical “Sapientiae Christianae” (January 10, 1890), the concept of “Christian wisdom” and the duty of “Every Pastor … to pass on to the People of God “wisdom” not abstract truths; in other words a message that combines faith and life, truth and practical reality”

    In the context of elections, “Sapientiae Christianae” is quite a powerful and challenging document. See the whole document but in particular paragraphs 10, 15 – 18, 29 -32, 33 -36

    Would it seem that from his message to the Brazilian Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI is adopting a more Leonine position in regard to the Church`s position on State action on abortion and “action which is intrinsically evil and incompatible with human dignity.” ?

    And more akin to that of Cardinal Burke ?

    See for ease of reference:

  9. Jason — You don’t know whether the Holy Father left that out or not. You’re reading an article about his speech, not his speech itself. Nor is it necessary that every possible topic be covered in a single homily or speech, or even a single encyclical.

    I’m puzzled that you think B16 hasn’t covered Christ as king of the whole world and society, because frankly he talks of nothing else. It’s like saying you’re disappointed that he never learned to speak Italian or German.

  10. I think that the point you’re concerned about is Catholic governments doing Catholic things. Well, if you can find an exclusively Catholic government anywhere in the world, including San Marino, obviously the teachings about Christendom would come into play. But at the moment, the only demonstrably all-Catholic sovereignty on Earth is Vatican City, which indeed conducts its civil government on the relevant principles.

    There’s not a lot of call today for promulgating Catholic teachings about the use of crossbows in warfare, either. If crossbows come back big, I’m sure we’ll get plenty of homilies about ’em.

  11. ghp95134 says:

    Suburbanbanshee: …There’s not a lot of call today for promulgating Catholic teachings about the use of crossbows in warfare, either. …

    Well … actually the ban was against using the crossbow against other Christians; it was all right to use it against “others.” [Tantamount to me, as a young infantryman, being taught that the 50 calibre machine gun (M-2, aka “Ma-Deuce”) was illegal to use as an “antipersonnel” weapon. The Geneva Conference (so our drill sergeant said) decreed it was to be used against ONLY equipment. Therefore, soldier …. aim your Ma-Deuce at the enemy’s belt buckle, rucksack, and any other equipment he may be carrying.]

    CANON 29

    Summary. Slingers and archers directing their art against Christians, are anathematized.

    Text. We forbid under penalty of anathema that that deadly and God-detested art of stingers and archers be in the future exercised against Christians and Catholics.

    Comment. The reference seems to be to a sort of tournament, the nature of which was the shooting of arrows and other projectiles on a wager. The practice had already been condemned by Urban II in canon 7 of the Lateran Synod of 1097, no doubt because of the it involved. [[41]]

    41- Hefele-Leclercq, V, 455-
    The comment above does not explain why Hefele-Leclercq posits Canon 29 addresses tournaments or “contests of skill.” Hefele-Leclercq was writing in the early 20th century.

  12. I don’t actually know much about the Church’s rules of war in the Middle Ages. (Big complicated study subject, probably very interesting if you could get good info.) But the primary focus was on getting Christians to fight each other less and less often, by creating more mandatory non-warfare periods, and by cutting down on permissable weaponry. Since a lot of civil war, raiding of neighboring lords under different sovereignties, and so forth was often going on, this was an important reform of “casual war” and “political war”.

    As I understand it, defense of Christendom against Islamists, pagans, and enemies of mankind was in a different category. You weren’t likely to kiss, make up, and marry your daughter to those guys, so bans on certain weaponry or on fighting on Fridays were not likely to happen.

  13. Jason Keener says:

    Hi, Suburbanbanshee.

    It is true that the Holy Father has talked about the Kingship of Christ; however, the Pope usually stresses the spiritual and eschatological dimensions of that kingship. To my knowledge, there is no evidence in the present teaching of the Holy Father that he has called for Christ’s kingship to be embraced by governments as a whole, by government leaders in their official or public capacity, or by civil states as they carry out their COMMUNAL political activities. If the Holy Father does talk about Christ influencing those in public office, it is always a call for only the individual government leader to guide his or her own political choices by the Catholic Faith. This is a great good; however, there is also a need for government bodies AS A WHOLE when acting on behalf of the civic community to recognize and respect divine revelation. To illustrate the difference, it is one thing for a Catholic Senator to guide his political decisions by His Catholic Faith. It is another thing for a body of Senators as a whole to agree to enshrine Catholic principles as the official guiding philosophy for the actions of the Senate. In principle, both types of actions are required under the teaching of Christ’s social kingship. Please note that Pius XI stated again and again that public leaders must not only be guided by the Faith, but “rulers and princes are bound to give PUBLIC HONOR and obedience to Christ.” This obligation of civic worship is in place because when man acts together in the society of the civil state or together in the body of government, he must also be guided by Christ’s divine positive law. Christ’s kingship does not embrace man only when he acts individually.

    A related point of apparent rupture is the premise that governments as a whole can only be guided by the natural moral law. As Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI told Archbishop Lefebvre in a 1987 Vatican meeting that civil governments cannot know divine revelation. This seemed to be one of the final straws causing Archbishop Lefebvre’s break with the Holy See as Archbishop Lefebvre determined at that time the Holy See and the SSPX were going in two different directions. In this specific case, I do agree with Archbishop Lefebvre. It seems impossible to see how it could be maintained that governments as a whole cannot know divine revelation or enshrine the principles of divine revelation as a guiding philosophy for the life of the state. This was done for centuries in Catholic Confessional States and was in line with the teachings of Leo XIII and Pius XI, for example. This is not say, however, that all Catholic Confessional States were perfect. There certainly were some excesses. Unfortunately, this idea that government leaders as a whole can only be guided by the natural moral law is an error of John Courtney Murray, who pushed the idea often.

    Because much of the world is pagan today, I think a case can be made for making the CONCESSION that governments as a whole should be guided only by the natural moral law. If few individuals themselves recognize Christ, it would be difficult for the Holy Father to say that governments as a whole must embrace Christ’s kingship. It seems, however, that the problems go deeper, and the Church in the post-conciliar era has disbanded with the teaching of Christ’s kingship over governments as a whole IN PRINCIPLE. This is where the clarification is required.

    In any event, let us keep praying for our Supreme Pontiff.

  14. RichR says:

    I’m a little confused about calling all men “children of God.” My understanding has been that we are not children of God by birth, but through baptism. This is why Christ came to die for us: to break the bonds that Original Sin held on human nature and make it possible for us to become children of God in Christ. If we are all children of God, then there is no need to evangelize, we simply must realize our ontological dignity……..distinct from Christ’s salvific work.

    Now I know the Pope does not believe this, but all too often I hear this loose language of the “dignity of man”, and it is usually completely divorced from Christ’s redemptive act. One may start to believe that it is against the dignity of man for God to damn a person to Hell.

  15. mvhcpa says:

    While I do not deny the temporal and social Kingship of Christ, I find it hard to reconcile Jason Keener’s position regarding governments’ obligation “to recognize and respect divine revelation” with the words of Our Savior, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s; render unto God what is God’s.” That statement by Christ Himself seems to me to set up separate realms of the temporal and the spiritual. Of course, the temporal world (including governments) was created from the spiritual world (God the Creator, who pre-existed His creation), but the distinction into two separate “pockets” still seems to be made by Jesus in that particular Gospel episode noted above.

    Another thing that always makes me wonder is the nature of the implementation of a Catholic Confessional State, within the context of those (who often self-identify as monarchists) who believe that the American Revolution was against Divine Law and the Divine Right of Kings (even if the King of England was already outside the Catholic Church). What would a Catholic Confessional State look like, especially here in the United States? It certainly could not be a democracy, since everyone has their own religious opinions, and the majority could shift at anytime into heresy. The following are put out not as inflammatory posits of what would happen, but I am sincerely asking if these are part of a Catholic Confessional State:

    * Would we lock up Baptists for preaching heresies like “Sola Scriptura” and “Once Saved, Always Saved”?
    * Do we bulldoze Methodist churches into the ground as schismatics?
    * Should we round up the Jews as “perfidious” (I know, that was a cheap shot)?
    * Do we arrest all Muslims as infidels?
    * Do we require Sunday Mass attendance for all citizens/subjects, whether agreeing to be Catholic or not?
    * Do we require mandatory tithing at church, and turn each parish into a tax collector’s office?
    * Do we impose a surtax on atheists as a penalty for not tithing at Church?
    * Do we hunt out, arrest, convict, and punish homosexuals for their derogation of the natural law (I must clarify here that I am disgusted by homosexuality and I am totally opposed to faux marriage and other so-called “gay rights”).

    The things I noted above might not be any part of a Catholic Confessional State–I am pretty sure they are not, and I think there are examples of one or two others currently operating in the world (is Liechtenstein one of them?) that do not do any of the above (at least I don’t think). But other than banning abortion, refusing to recognize homosexual “rights,” and putting official policies in place to promote, protect, and build up true families, what would a Catholic Confessional State actually do?

    The list enumerated above is what goes on in many other “confessional states” to one degree or another (can anyone say Saudi Arabia?) except that Christians of all denominations are on the butt-end of these provisions. Is this what we should expect with a Catholic Confessional State, albeit with more of a sense of and procedures installed for justice?

    Michael Val
    (who does identify as a Traditional Catholic, and prefers the Extraordinary Form, and is distrustful of unbridled democracy, but still wonders how we would ever put a Confessional State into operation)

  16. Jason Keener says:

    Hi, Michael Val. I think you bring up some good points. I will try to address your concerns.

    First, Jesus was, of course, right when He said that man needs to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. This means, for example, that man should pay just taxes to Caesar, obey Caesar’s civil laws when they are not opposed to God’s laws, etc. Caesar is good, and Caesar’s authority over temporal civil society derives from God. Every civil state needs a Caesar to coordinate the temporal affairs of the civil state towards the common good. Without a governmental authority, there would be anarchy.

    Caesar, however, as the leader, has an obligation to make sure that He rules the temporal affairs of the state so that they are in accord with what God has revealed through both the natural law and the divine positive law. What sense would it make for someone to say that Caesar can rule, but in doing so, he has no obligation to recognize Christ’s authority over temporal affairs or the right of Christ’s Church to interpret the whole moral law, etc.? The civil state owes Christ respect and obedience as does any family or individual. Are not all under Christ’s reign?

    It is true that at this point in time, it would be difficult for most civil states to recognize Christ or refer to Him or His Church explicitly in public acts of the state. This is because most civil populations are religiously pluralistic and also because the false idea of a strict separation of Church and state prevails. It is sad to say, but even in countries where Catholics are still in the majority, they hardly attend Mass and are little more than baptized pagans. For these reasons, then, it would be difficult for a Catholic confessional state to emerge today. In the United States, we also would have to contend with the Establishment Clause of our Constitution, which basically forbids the government from showing any preference to one religion or another. It is a shame that under the present Constitutional arrangement of the United States, our civil government will not be able to recognize Christ, the supernatural law, or the rigths of the Church. It truly is folly for a state to think that it will ever be able to progress in any long-term and meaningful ways without making Christ the center of civil life. Christ has much more to offer us than Thomas Jefferson or any natural law ideas about God. Not everything, however, is horrible about the United States. Our Constitution defends many good Christian principles.

    Just because Caesar recognizes Christ’s authority and the teachings of the supernatural law, it does not give Caesar the right to repress all religious error. This is where the development of doctrine as found in “Dignitatis Humane” comes in. People, even if they are in religious error, typically have a prima facie right to be tolerated in their religious errors. All of this is based on the dignity of the human person and the tolerance that God shows to all of us. If God can allow error, the state should also allow some error, where there is a good reason. As the Gospel also tells us, “The weeds will grow with the wheat until the end of time.” Civil governments have not been charged by God with the task of rooting out all of the weeds.

    Malta is a civil state that still recognizes Christ, the rights of the Church, and the supernatural law. Malta’s Constitution even contains a provision that says: “The authorities of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church have the duty and the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong.” (Chapter 1, Article 2) Also, civil divorce and abortion are still illegal in Malta.

    Finally, be careful not to think that monarchy is the only form of government that is compatible with a confessional state. The Church prefers no single form of government and is only concerned that whatever form is chosen that the common good is cared for appropriately. Modern democratic republics with elected leaders are no less under the authority of Christ than are those societies that employ a hereditary monarchy as a form of government.

    Because elected leaders in democratic republics do not typically rule apart from the will of the people especially on big questions, Catholics should give their civil leaders a mandate to recognize Christ and the rights of the Church in the life of the state.

  17. The teachings of St. Irenaeus (who inherited the care of a church that had just had most of its leadership and a good chunk of its laypeople martyred in great violence, in a way sanctioned and caused by the Roman state) was that Christians were to obey the Empire and view the Emperor as a God-given legitimate ruler even if he was some crazy Nero sent to punish the world (since Christ put up with Caesar, and for other reasons). Certainly conversion was something hoped for and which entered into the Church’s prayers; but in the real world, they had bigger fish to fry than preaching Christendom. If St. Irenaeus could keep his own people obeying God faithfully and not giving up Christianity whenever they confronted the world, that was plenty for him.

    People can’t run before they walk. The Pope isn’t going to teach advanced doctrine at a time when getting people to acknowledge “Thou shalt not kill babies” is a hard sell.

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    Rich R,
    Actually, it would be against the dignity of man to force a person into heaven against his will. People do have free will and can choose hell.

  19. mvhcpa says:

    Thanks, Jason–that is exactly the information and explanation that I needed to understand the principals of the Catholic Confessional State. MVH

  20. RichR says:


    My point was that people, in this life who are constantly exposed to “the dignity of man” (a confusing term since it does not distinguish between the natural and supernatural dignity of man, the natural dignity being universal and ontologically inherent, the supernatural dignity being contingent on our state of grace and being in Christ), people may start to believe that we are, by nature, Sons of God at birth. They may also start to believe that we are so “dignified” that damnation is below us… nature. And who is God to be un-dignified.

    It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but yet it isn’t. How many people automatically canonize their recently deceased relatives? “Grandpa’s in a better place.” How do we know that? It used to be that when a Catholic died, the first things out of people’s mouths were, “Did he receive the Last Rites?” or, “Did he get a priest?” Now, it’s, “Did he go fast and comfortably?” No concern for the soul at all because it is assumed everyone’s saved.

    This is my concern about elevating man too highly on a “dignity” pedestal. We start to forget that our supernatural dignity is contingent on our state of grace.

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    Rich R,
    On this, you are completely correct. That’s exactly what they do. It is because they believe that they have a “right” to things that are neither earned nor given by God through the Church. They believe that they are inherently good, and only make a few bad decisions which don’t matter much. For most people, it’s all in the here and now. If you can get away with it and it looks passable, it’s all right to them.

  22. catholicmidwest says:

    When people from our culture “believe” in heaven, they usually think it’s some kind of “amusement park” in the sky where they’ll all meet their relatives and have peace and endless contentment. Many people believe just about everyone but maybe Hitler will be there, and some people think their dogs will be there. For them, there is no “God content” or “rightness content” to heaven. For them, it appears to be morally neutral, which is ludicrous, I know, but true. It’s a sort of “Walt Disney heaven.”

    And wow, are they going to be surprised.

  23. Penta says:


    You mean my dog goes to hell? Penta sobs

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