Appeared in 1997-1998, Vol. XXIII, Nos. 3 & 4

American politics over the past few years has focused on two major issues: the family and the legitimate role of government. Ever since Dan Quayle’s famous few words about unwed mothers, the “family values” debate has been a national pastime. Further, in 1994 the Contract with America questioned not just specific government policies but the very meaning and purpose of government itself. The “family issue” figured prominently in the 1996 presidential race. Ironically, the two issues of family and government are usually treated separately as different matters related only when people choose to address both.

Catholic social teaching, however, regards questions of the family and the government as inseparable because the two depend upon each other. John Paul II’s Letter to Families, written as these concerns were coming into the public forum in the united states, examines the respective roles of family and state. He maintains that the family and the government are intrinsically tied not only to each other, but also to the very nature of the human person.

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