Appeared in Spring/Summer 1995, Vol. XXI, Nos. 1, 2
This article is part of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists’ research study on “Catholic Political Activ- ity in the United States.” It focuses on the moral obligations of Catholics in the political order.
The term “New things” is a literal translation of the title of the primordial social encyclical of the Catholic church, Rerum Novarum of leo XIII issued on May 1, 1891. Pope John Paul II recently issued another encyclical on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum to try to update the principles enunciated in 1891 to the contemporary scene, called Centesimus Annus. The doctrine taught in these encyclicals has been reaffirmed by both the encyclical Veritatis Splendor and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. An even casual reading of all these documents makes clear to the reader that the Church has a great interest in what goes on in the civil order. Does this mean the Catholic church has a civil mission? What is the exact basis for the authority and responsibility of the church to speak regarding these matters? Would not this be foreign to any real interest in the Gospel, which respects the other world? Or is the doctrine of Christ best served where throne and altar or in our case congress and altar rest as one? Would it not be the best of all possible worlds to have Catholic priests, bishops and committed laymen running congress and government according to Christian principles?
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