Why Not a Priest in the White House?

By Donnangelo, John A. | National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Why Not a Priest in the White House?


Donnangelo, John A., National Catholic Reporter


Although various popes have asserted that the Catholic church is not a political entity but rather a spiritual and moral entity that is "in the world but not of it," history suggests otherwise. For example, in the late 19th century, Pope Pius IX vehemently fought against Italian unification and the loss of the remaining papal states, going so far as to retreat into the Vatican and to proclaim himself a "political prisoner" of the Italian unification movement. In the early 1980s, Pope John Paul II outspokenly supported Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement against the Communist Party in Poland.

Today, in the interest of promoting social justice, which the church has publicly avowed to do, the church should proclaim itself as a real political entity and allow all of its constituents, in particular its clergy and religious, to become political actors and more directly effect positive social change. Toward this end, the church should reflect upon the Gospel of John 3:17: "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved."

At present, the Vatican keeps one foot in the earthly political realm simply by the fact that Vatican City is a recognized sovereign state and the pope is its recognized sovereign leader. It also keeps one foot in Plato's "Ideal Plain" by holding that while the pope and the Roman curia may conduct political affairs, the rest of the clergy and religious outside of the Vatican may not.

In the United States, bishops, individually and collectively through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, may rhetorically denounce the existence of legalized abortion in the United States. However, no bishop may run for Congress and, if elected, seek to introduce a constitutional amendment that would ban legalized abortion. Nonetheless, on more than one occasion, individual bishops have threatened to excommunicate from the church Catholic lawmakers who do not support efforts to outlaw abortion.

It is not only in this country that the hierarchy of the church seeks to exert political pressure in order to sway the course and substance of public policy. Around the globe, the church operates as a nongovernmental organization, looking to influence politics indirectly, rhetorically and via the actions of recognized political or governmental actors or entities.

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