Church and politics
Author: Staff | Source: Zenit.org
ROME, Saturday, 5 February 2005 (ZENIT.org).-Church-State tensions have a long history, as the Compendium of the Church's Social teaching in its introduction to the chapter on politics makes clear. Already in Old Testament times, the prophets regularly denounced the kings for not defending the weak and not securing justice for the people.
David is the prototype of a king of the Old Testament, and when Israel ceased to have kings, the books and psalms of the Bible still await a ruler who would govern with wisdom and justice a hope that culminates in the figure of Christ.
The compendium notes that Jesus criticizes oppression and despotism, but does not directly oppose the civil authorities of his time. The famous line on the payment of taxes to Caesar rejects the efforts of the temporal power to become absolute, but also grants him the due place. Jesus teaches that human authority, tempted by the desire to dominate, finds "its true and complete meaning as a service" (No. 383).
In the first Christian community, Saint Paul recommends the payment of taxes, the prayers for the rulers, and the submission to the legitimate authority. But, when human authority goes beyond the limits dear to God, the Book of Revelation has harsh words for such authority "he makes himself a God and demands absolute submission" (No. 382).
In describing the nature of the political community, the compendium once again places the human person at the center. The person is a social and political being by nature, which needs the interaction with others to achieve their full plenitude. The political community, therefore, exists in order to facilitate "the full growth of each one of its members, called upon to cooperate firmly in achieving the common good" (No. 384).
This does not mean that "people" are some kind of crowd to manipulate or exploit. It means rather that they are a group of people, able to form an opinion on the public issues, and with the freedom to express their political options.
The compendium also has something to say about the issue of minorities within a political entity or nation. The Magisterium of the Church affirms that these minorities have rights, and duties, but above all the right to exist. Minorities also have the right to maintain their own culture, language and religion. At the same time, minorities in their quest for autonomy must rely on dialogue and negotiation; terrorism is unjustifiable. Minorities should work for the common good of the state in which they live.
Putting the human person as the foundation of the political community leads the compendium to consider also the issue of human rights. The rights and duties of the person "contain a concise summary of the main moral and legal requirements that must preside over the construction of the political community", establishes the text (No. 388).
In addition, friendship and fraternity play a role in political and civil life. Civil friendship implies disinterest, detachment of material goods and acceptance of the needs of others. Unfortunately, laments the compendium, too often this is not put into practice in modern political life. Christians can also find inspiration in the evangelical principle of charity. This can help establish community relationships among people.
Every community needs a regulatory authority and there can be different ways by which it is constituted, observes the compendium. But this authority must also take into account the freedom of individuals and groups, "guiding this freedom, by respecting and defending the independence of individual and social subjects, in order to achieve the common good" (No. 394).
The authority, recommends the text, should be exercised within the limits of morality and within the framework of a legally constituted legal order, it must also be oriented towards the common good. If these conditions are fulfilled, then “citizens are obliged by conscience to obey”.
The compendium also stipulates that the authority lies ultimately in the people who constitute the political community. This authority is transferred to the elect to govern, but the people maintain the possibility of affirming their sovereignty and replacing those who govern if they do not carry out their task in a satisfactory manner.
However, merely obtaining the consent of the people is not enough to consider the exercise of authority as “fair“. "The authority must be guided by the moral law"(No. 396). It must also recognize and respect human and moral values, which cannot be overridden by a majority of votes. The laws, therefore, must "correspond to the dignity of the human person and what the straight reason requires" (No. 398). And when a law is contrary to this reason, it is unfair and "ceases to be law and becomes an act of violence."
In this context, "the citizens are not obliged in conscience to follow the provisions of the civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of the people or the teachings of the Gospel" (No. 399 ). In fact, there is a duty not to cooperate in morally bad acts, which civil law should recognize and protect.
The compendium adds that cooperation with law is unfair cannot be justified by saying that it is done to respect the freedom of others, nor can it be legitimized by pointing out that it is an action required by civil law. "No one can escape the moral responsibility of the actions exercised and all will be judged by God himself on the basis of this responsibility" (No. 399).
The text then goes on to consider when it can be possible to resist the authority that is not exercised in a fair way. The compendium is careful to point out that passive resistance is much preferable, and lists a number of conditions that must be given before any form of armed resistance can be considered as a legitimate option.
A substantial part is devoted to democracy. It begins by recalling the words of the encyclical of John Paul II «Centesimus annus», in which the Pope expressed his appreciation for democracy as the system that allows the active participation of the citizens. But for democracy to be authentic, it must respect human dignity, command the common good, and respect a correct hierarchy of values.
The compendium recommends that those who have authority exercise their power with a sense of service to people, avoiding the temptation to seek prestige or personal gain. It also condemns corruption as one of the most serious deformities of the democratic system.
Several numbers are devoted to explaining the importance of the media in democracy. The compendium supports the media being put at the service of the common good, and information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity is provided. The problems arise when the media are concentrated in the hands of a few, or are dominated by an ideology or a desire for profit.
The chapter concludes with a consideration of the relationship between the state and the religious communities. The state is called upon to respect the right to freedom of conscience and religion. However, this freedom can be regulated according to the demands of prudence and the common good.
The compendium asks that the state guarantee the church sufficient freedom of action to carry out its mission. For its part, the Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and enters into issues of political programs only with regard to its religious or moral implications.
The frequent debate on religion and politics would be very beneficial if the participants took a moment to reflect on the principles presented by the Compendium.