Is it time for a Catholic political party

…in England? The question is posed.

The idealistic answer is yes—And yes without any doubt in England, where secularism is much further advanced than here, although one might ask whether, for just that reason, it might not be worth trying to broaden the party into a broader Christian Alliance Party. The answer is yes in the United States, too: It would be splendid to have a party that sought to bring public policy into harmony with all the Church’s teachings to the extent Constitutionally permissable. A party that advanced what Joseph Cardinal Bernardin called the seamless garment or “consistent ethic of life”—all the Church’s teaching, not just policies that comport with some of it and others that clash. (I am aware, of course, that the seamless garment was hijacked as a vehicle for minimizing issues disfavored by liberals, but Card. Bernardin was not wrong in what he said, even if Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was right that some issue are more pressing than others.)

The biggest challenge for a Catholic political party, I should think, would be that even if there was universal agreement on doctrinal principles—in other words, if we could wave our hand and the scales would fall from the eyes of those who dissent on various issues, whether right or left—the line from doctrinal principle to public policy does not run straight and clear, and there would still be legitimate disagreement on how to operationalize our principles. Cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 76 (2d Vat. Council, 1965), but see also Octogesima adveniens, no. 42 (Paul VI, 1971); Pacem in terris, no. 160 ¶ 2 (John XXII, 1963).

It does not follow, for example, that because the Church teaches that one may not use birth control, CCC ¶¶ 2370 et seq.; see generally Humanæ Vitæ (Paul VI, 1968), that a Catholic Party must insist on making contraceptives illegal. I would think that in a properly liberal and tolerant society, a Catholic party could take the position that government should neither promote nor ban contraceptives. It is a legitimate position to say that while Government may not actively promote or favor immoral or sinful behavior, it may be neutral toward it, to the extent that that is possible and when it doesn’t harm third parties. In other words, the state doesn’t regulate your relationship with salvation, but it doesn’t require other people to pay for your choices. But I don’t know that everyone shares my view on that, and it’s a debate that would play out across a broad range of issues were one to form a Catholic party and frame a platform for it.

Similarly, while a Catholic party in the United States today would have to oppose the death penalty, CCC ¶ 2267; Evangelium vitae, no. 56 (John Paul II, 1995), it does not follow that the party must take a “by any means necessary” approach, sinking resources into Constitutional amendments or using policy to indirectly strangle the death penalty into practical desuetude. And while I would suppose that a Catholic governor or President would be obliged as a matter of individual conscience to commute any death sentences over which he had clemency authority, it does not follow that this must be a corporate commitment or platform plank of the party.

So there are some pretty serious challenges that would make it difficult to have such a thing, but it’s a nice dream.

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  1. […] Richard McBrien, The Church 259 (2008); but cf. Pacem in Terris no. 160 (John XXIII, 1963); MP: Is it time for a Catholic political party (Sept. 22, 2011) (discussing the problems of founding a Catholic political party). ↩See […]

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