Catholics and Politics: The Dynamic Tension between Faith and Power

By Kristin E. Heyer; Mark J. Rozell et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

KRISTIN Ε. HEYER AND MARK J. ROZELL

IN EARLY 2003 under the leadership of then-prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” The note asserts, “The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social doctrine does not exhaust one's responsibility toward the common good.”1 As the chapters in this volume indicate, the CDF's call to moral coherence in Catholic politics, reflecting the integral unity of the faith and the issues upon which it touches, both shapes and tests Catholic political engagement in domestic and global contexts. In practice, given the complexities of political realities and the human nature of such institutions as church and government alike, we encounter a more fractured reality than the pure unity depicted in doctrine, disclosing fallible departures from a commitment to Catholic universalism and the transcendent nature of its values.

As social scientists and theologians alike have repeatedly noted, Catholic political identity and engagement defy straightforward categorization.2 This book takes up the political and theological significance of this “integral unity,” the universal scope of Catholic concern that can make for strange political bedfellows, confound predictable voting patterns, and leave the Church poised to critique narrowly partisan agendas across the spectrum. This comprehensive, Catholic scope can be politically beneficial as well as divisive, depending on the context and one's perspective. This volume integrates social scientific, historical, and moral accounts of persistent tensions between Catholicism and politics over the past generation, in the context of the Vatican as well as that of the United States. Its accounts of the implications of Catholic

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