Principles of Public Engagement

Why and how should Catholics be involved in the public sphere of influence? One of the reasons Catholics have been persecuted down through the ages is that they have insisted that the Catholic faith speaks on moral issues not just to Catholics, but to the whole human race. Our moral principles are not just a matter of personal religious belief. They are moral principles for the whole of humanity. Therefore Catholics have an obligation to speak out against immorality and injustice wherever and whenever it appears.

Do Catholics always do this properly?  No. Do we sometimes makes mistakes? Yes. Do we make errors of judgement and offend people? Sometimes. However, there are principles of why we engage in debate on the public square and how we should do so.

Marcel Lejeune highlights a recent speech by Archbishop Cardinal Dolan of New York in which he very clearly and capably addresses the issue. Go here for an outline of the speech and the YouTube of Cardinal Dolan’s address.

This issue is one which every thinking member of our society should consider. It is all well and good saying one wants complete separation of church and state, but is that really what everyone wants? When people are upset that the Catholic Church speaks out against abortion or same sex marriage they should also remember that the Catholic Church speaks out against war, genocide, capital punishment, economic injustice and dictatorships. Catholic social teaching repeatedly defends the rights of workers, the dignity and respect for the poor, the responsibilities of employers towards their workers and the rights and responsibilities of all citizens.

There are shared moral principles for the whole human race. Catholics say those principles are given by God. Whether a person believes they are given by God or simply part of the natural order–they should all unite in gratitude that the Catholic Church takes risks to defend them.

The critic of Catholicism may complain that Catholics are hypocrites and that we fail to keep the principles we defend. No doubt. Welcome to the human race. We don’t throw out the Ten Commandments because nobody keeps them all. We don’t say lying is good because everybody is untruthful.

A principle that is true and good is true and good whether anybody observes it or not.

  • Glenn Juday

    “The critic of Catholicism may complain that Catholics are hypocrites and that we fail to keep the principles we defend.”

    I just thought this addendum might be helpful. What is described above does not meet the definition of a hypocrite. What is described is the process of sin, of failing to fully conform one’s actions to beliefs and principles held. The Church is a great source of instruction, admonishment, assistance, and ultimately penance for those who find themselves in that situation – in other words, all people.

    A hypocrite is one who claims a certain set of values and does not actually believe them. This is quite different and much more serious, because it gets to something deep in the human soul. It is psychologically destructive because of the tension it produces between the inner, true self and the outward actions, often causing a self-loathing reaction that can range from subtle to screamingly obvious.

    In my experience I meet relatively few Catholic hypocrites. There are certainly some, but the tension is extreme, and the measures they undertake to deal with it are often extreme. I strongly recommend that Catholics in the public sphere reconsider their easy acceptance of the rhetorical charge that most Catholics are hypocrites – not least because it is not true, but also because it encourages self-styled enemies of the Church in their furry and prevents them from rationally considering her Faith proposition.

    Again, in my experience (I work in a strongly agnostic/atheist cultural environment) I encounter a relatively greater number of non-believers than who are dabbling in hypocrisy, so to speak. They have not been able to to resolve the tension between at least a vague notion and rudimentary experiences of goodness and the incomplete or mistaken understanding and the sense of alienation they feel from the God and the Catholic Church. Their solution is to leave things there, but live and perhaps even proclaim definitively on such matters as if God was a non entity, all the while something inside them gives them a sense of the Almighty – in fact even serves as the one fixed point of reference that organizes their rebellion and makes it really matter.

    I generally refrain from both making, and certainly easily accepting, the rhetorical charge of hypocrite. Occasionally the rules of logic get so bent in some exchanges that it does have an appropriately clarifying effect.

  • Chris

    Father,
    Can you point me to books or other resources to counter the “Spirit of Vatican II” types who run the programs for most of the parishes in my area? I’ve found many of those who argue for liturgical dance (ugh) and other innovations cite the council, when they’ve never read any of the documents. Is there a way to counter there claims that the Council required altar girls, Eucharistic ministers, even — not kidding — a Mass on the beach?
    Thanks.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy should correct this, but they will not listen to you. They think they know best.

  • jcd
    • newguy40

      jcd — Voris nails it.

      Why would Cardinal Dolan allow such a foolish invitation to occur?

      • newguy40

        Ooops never mind, all. I forgot that this is a Patheos site. Go back to sleep liberals Catholics. All is well. Let’s all chant “Community…. Inclusivity….. tolerance….”

  • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

    A separation between Church and State hasn’t existed since the high middle ages. Christian churches haven’t put up effective resistance to state policy since before the Protestant Reformation (at least not without becoming the state). It’s not a separation if one is clearly under the jurisdiction of the other.


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