Letting Catholic Politicians Be Catholic

Ave Maria Professor Jane Adolphe on Faith and Public Life

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ANN ARBOR, Michigan, FEB. 6, 2003 (Zenit.org).- How does the recent Vatican doctrinal note "On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" look to an expert on civil and canon law?



Jane Adolphe, assistant professor of Law at the Ave Maria School of Law, shared her insights on Catholics and public life with ZENIT in this interview.

Adolphe began her legal career clerking for the Alberta Court of Appeal and Court of Queen's Bench, in Canada. She has also worked as a legal consultant with the law firm of Capua, Varrenti e Associati in Italy.

She holds common-law and civil-law degrees from McGill University. She also earned a licentiate and a doctorate in canon law from the Università della Santa Croce in Rome.

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Q: Many people say that President John Kennedy set the pattern for Catholic politicians: The state comes before creed. Is that an accurate assessment of the U.S. situation? Is it justified?

Adolphe: Many Americans might agree with that statement. However, the proposition "the state comes before creed" is unacceptable for any Catholic serious about his or her faith.

Indeed, everyone should know the basics of Christian doctrine that man, made of a body and soul, is intended by God to exist as a living whole. In other words, there must be a unity of life, an indivisible reality where one's family, leisure and work are informed by one's values, principles and religious beliefs.

Moreover, through baptism one is called to be another Christ, a light to the world, and professional life is an essential vehicle to enlighten colleagues and friends.

In our day, an American president living out his or her Christian faith means that a beacon exists for not just one country, but other states, as well as the international community as a whole.

Q: Some politicians say their function is to represent the views of their electors, and therefore that they are not able to obey the Vatican or Catholic doctrine. Is this just an excuse, or is there a real conflict here?

Adolphe: This question is addressed in the recent doctrinal note on "Some Questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life," published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An authentic democratic system requires more than the direct participation of citizens in political choices through political parties and legislative assemblies but "succeeds only to the extent that it is based on the correct understanding of the human person ... it is respect for the person that makes participation possible."

Authentic democracy cannot be neutral or indifferent as to what is good for the human person. Morally objective principles about the human person are rooted in human nature therefore "do not require from those who defend them the profession of Christian faith, although the Church's teaching confirms and defends them."

In fulfilling his or her professional duties then, the Catholic politician should not be condemned for being guided by his or her conscience formed by Catholic principles, all of which confirm basic precepts about the human person. To do so would be to engage in a form of "disingenuous tolerance" or "intolerant secularism," where respect is shown for the individual conscience of only some persons.

Q: What about this concept of tolerance? How can Catholic politicians tread the line between being faithful to moral principles, without being seen as intolerant?

Adolphe: Turning again to the CDF's note, respect for a person's religious beliefs is something fundamental. This is why the state, on the one hand, cannot interfere with one's worship, theological doctrines, and so forth, and on the other hand, cannot provide benefits to certain citizens solely because of their religious beliefs.

Following one's properly formed conscience to come to the truth about the human person and the common good has nothing to do with either of these situations. Perhaps clarification of the notion of tolerance would be helpful.

Q: Could the situation of pro-abortion Catholic politicians realistically change? Can other members of the lay faithful assist?

Adolphe: I do not see why not. The key is education. Catholic politicians need to continually form their consciences as well as learn how to deal with tough questions put to them by their detractors, i.e., tolerance, democracy, etc. The issue, however, is not only relevant for politicians.

In his address to the Roman Rota last January, the Pope spoke to all civil lawyers and judges of good will about their responsibilities toward the natural family in cases of divorce. Every member of the lay faithful: singer, poet, athlete, garbage man, postman, etc., ought to embrace their vocation.

In order to do so, they should understand that they have a call to holiness, which is to be lived out in the world. To understand this vocation, recommended readings are: [the] Second Vatican Council decree "Apostolicam Actuositatem"; John Paul II, apostolic exhortation, "Christifideles Laici"; and the writings of St. Josemaría Escrivá, who devoted his life to the question.

Q: What lesson can we learn from the example of St. Thomas More, which is mentioned in the CDF note?

Adolphe: Your question brings to mind a statement on the role of lay faithful in Apostolicam Actuositatem: "They strive to please God rather than men, always ready to abandon everything for Christ (see Luke 14:26) and to endure persecution in the cause of right (see Matthew 5:10), having in mind the Lord's saying: 'If any man wants to come my way let him renounce self and take up his cross and follow me' (Matthew 16:24)."

St. Thomas More -- husband, father, lawyer, politician -- lived these principles to the full and in so doing left a brilliant example of what the CDF note refers to as living the "Christian faith in an integral unity."