CATHOLIC GUIDELINES FOR POLITICIANS & OTHER BELIEVERS
Reports by the Vatican (2003) and
Catholic Leadership Conference's (2005)
The Vatican's 2003 doctrinal note:
On 2003-JAN-16, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an
17 or 18 page document (sources differ) titled: "Doctrinal Note on Some
Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life." It
was approved by Pope John Paul II and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. 1
It instructs Catholic politicians to not support any legislation
or government regulations which contradicts the church's "nonnegotiable
ethical principles" concerning abortion,
physician assisted suicide, same-sex marriage and other ethical issues. The note
states that "Scientific progress has resulted in advances that are unsettling
for the consciences of men and women, and call for solutions that respect
ethical principles in a coherent and fundamental way. Catholics, in this
difficult situation, have the right and the duty to recall society to a deeper
understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this
regard." The document declares that: ''John Paul II, continuing the
constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are
directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a 'grave and clear obligation to
oppose' any law that attacks human life. For them and for every Catholic, it is
impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.''
According to the official Vatican web site, the Congregation was "Founded in 1542 by Pope Paul III...[as]
Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition. Its task was to defend the
Church from heresy. Its current assignment is "to promote and safeguard the
doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world...The
congregation is now headed by Prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. 1
Associated Press reported that: "The Vatican said it was publishing the document now because of medical and
scientific advances and because of the 'emergence of ambiguities or questionable
positions in recent times.' " 2
Vatican officials stated that the release of the guidelines was not timed
principally in reaction to any specific events. 3 However, the
note was released just before the 30th anniversary on
the U.S. Supreme Court's 1972 decision Roe v. Wade. That ruling removed
restrictions on early abortions throughout America. JAN-22 is also the start of the
Church's five day World Meeting of
Families in Manila, Philippines.
The document covered many ethical topics:
||In an apparent
reference to physician assisted suicide,
stem cell research, and
therapeutic cloning, the document stated that laws "...must
defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same
way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the
human embryo." The guidelines state that "Those who are directly involved
in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law
that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible
to promote such laws or to vote for them."
||It stated that traditional marriage between one man and one woman must be
protected and promoted: "The family needs to
be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous
marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and
stability in the face of modern laws on divorce."
||In an apparent rejection of common-law marriage and unions by same-sex committed couples,
the doctrinal note states: "In no way can other forms of cohabitation
be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal
recognition as such."
||On matters of peace, the document sated that Catholics should
not confuse the church's promotion of peace and rejection of violence with
"secular" pacificist and ideological visions."
||On matters of politics, the doctrinal note stated: "The church
recognizes that while democracy is the best expression of the direct
participation of citizens in political choices, it succeeds only to the
extent that it is based on a correct [i.e. Roman Catholic]
understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life
cannot compromise on this principle.'' It rejected the idea that
ethical pluralism -- the belief that all religious beliefs have
validity -- "is the very condition for democracy.'' Believing
that there is only one valid truth in matters of morality, the document
attacked moral "relativism" -- the belief that "every possible
outlook on life [is] of equal value". It said that "Democracy must
be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical
principles, which are the underpinning of life in society." 4
||In an apparent reference to Roman Catholic parochial or separate
schools, the note stated that politicians must give parents the
right to educate children as they wished.
The document suggested that St. Thomas More, the 16th century lawyer and
diplomat who was recently made the patron saint of politicians, is a model for
emulate. St. More refused to renounce the pope and recognize the king as head of the
English church, and was beheaded for his stance. The document suggested
"He taught by his life and his death that 'man cannot be separated from God, nor
politics from morality.' "
Reactions to the Vatican's 2003 doctrinal note:
||Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the document "addresses some of the
profound challenges faced by Catholic politicians and voters who are confronted
with various moral and social issues in the context of a democratic society."
||Dario Franceschini, a Roman Catholic center-left member of the Italian
Parliament, said that he viewed the document as a set of suggestions. He
said: "It's good advice. But it would be a mistake to look at it as an
obligation. Italy is also a lay state, a lay society. When a Catholic is
called to public office, he must represent the public." 5|
||Rev. Augustine Di Noia, the undersecretary for
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said: "Although
we don't mention cloning or stem-cell research, in general, these
developments will pose challenges for Catholics." 6|
||Professor Scott Appleby, at the University of Notre Dame said
that there is no longer a coherent voting bloc among American Roman
Catholics. He said: "Catholics who attempt to follow both the church's
teachings on pro-life issues as well as the church's teachings on economic
justice are politically homeless," He noted that the Republicans have
championed the former, while Democrats have promoted the latter.
He also said the scandal of child sexual abuse by
American priests had undermined the credibility of some bishops in the
||The Boston Globe referred to several American politicians who
are Catholics and who do not support the church's policies:|
||Senator John F. Kerry, (D-MA), a leading candidate for the
Democratic nomination for president, supports abortion access.
||House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA),
supports equal rights for gays and lesbians.
||Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma and current head of
the Roman Catholic national review board on sexual abuse, supports
capital punishment. 7
||Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) said that ''As a Catholic, I have
enormous respect for the words and teachings of the Vatican, but as a
public servant I've never forgotten the lasting legacy of President
Kennedy, who made clear that in accordance with the separation of church
and state no elected official should be 'limited or conditioned by any
religious oath, ritual, or obligation.' I represent all the people of
Massachusetts, and they expect me to speak with respect for all of their
views and values.'' His apparent reference was to John F. Kennedy's
statement to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960
while he was running for president. He said: ''I believe in an
America ... where no public official either requests or accepts
instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of
Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source.'' 7|
||Senator Edward M. Kennedy, (D-MA) stated: ''I continue to agree
with the clear position taken by President Kennedy. It is important to
maintain the separation of church and state. I've always done that, and I
will continue to do so. It's part of the oath every senator takes, to
defend the Constitution.'' 7|
||One of the leading pro-life groups, the American Life League
(ALL) is mounting a Crusade to Defend Our Catholic Church. This is
an advertising campaign that will feature what it terms "The Deadly
Dozen" -- twelve U.S. Roman Catholic senators who support abortion
access. Included will be Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and John
Kerry (D-MA). Later, the campaign will highlight other "Deadly Dozens"
from among the ranks of representatives and governors. Judie Brown,
president of ALL, said: "For 2,000 years, the
Catholic Church has steadfastly defended the sanctity of all human life.
The simple fact is you cannot actively support abortion and be a faithful
Catholic. You can't have it both ways. The Church's teachings on this
matter are very clear....This crusade and the ad campaign are
designed to identify those public officials who are flagrantly ignoring
this truth, to bring this to the attention of both their bishops and the
public at large, and demand that these public officials either recant
their openly pro-abortion stance or cease claiming to be Catholic."
Their choice of the term "Crusade" may well reduce the
effectiveness of their campaign. The word is a painful one for many
Muslims, because of the massive death toll during the actual Crusades when
Christian armies attacked Muslims in the Middle East. It is also painful
for some Jews, because of the hundreds of thousands of Jews that were
slaughtered by Christian armies on their way to the Crusades. 8
The Catholic Leadership Conference's 2005 statement:
LifeSiteNews.com reported on 2005-OCT-28:
The Catholic Leadership Conference, an annual gathering of the
leaders of over 100 Catholic organizations representing in their memberships
over 2 million Americans has released a statement on political action.
Quoting the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope John Paul II, and
Cardinal Ratzinger - now the current Pope, the Catholic leaders assert that
"The ultimate political goal for Catholics must be the achievement of
public policies and laws that result in the legal protection of all innocent
human life and that promote the dignity of each human person without
exception and compromise."
The Conference's full statement is:
STATEMENT ON POLITICAL ACTION:
We Catholic voters acknowledge the following ten obligations and
guidelines. These principles should be a part of Catholic educational
programs at every level utilizing all the means of social communications.
1. "In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue;
participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Every believer
is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active, and
responsible participant in the political process." An informed vote by a
Catholic is one that is guided by the authentic moral and social teaching of
the Catholic faith.
2. Catholics should recognize that not all moral and social teachings
have equal weight in determining how to cast their vote. Some teachings are
directly binding and some are guided by individual prudential judgment.
3. The first obligation of government is the protection of innocent human
life from conception to natural death. The Church teaches that justice
requires this protection. This truth can also be known through reason
unaided by revelation. On the specific "life issues" in law and public
policy - direct abortion, euthanasia, and the killing of unborn life for
medical research, Catholic teaching is unequivocal; the defense of innocent
human life is an imperative.
4. Catholic voters must first make decisions about their votes based on
the moral issues that are non-negotiable. First among these are the life
5. On prudential matters that affect the common good, Catholics of
goodwill can disagree. Though there are Catholic principles such as
compassion, justice and charity that we should share, there is no single
"Catholic" policy on issues like taxes, education, foreign policy and
6. A similar distinction was made by the then Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, His Emminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now
Pope Benedict XVI, to the American Bishops when he stated: "There may be a
legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and
applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and
7. Catholic priests and bishops first and foremost are shepherds of
souls. The role of these shepherds is to instruct and to remind voters,
candidates and public officials of the moral obligations and social
principles that should guide their political action.
8. All Catholics, especially the laity, have a right and duty to be heard
in the public square. Catholic moral teachings should be publicly espoused
in such a way that they can inform law and public policy and not be
artificially limited to the private domain of individual belief.
9. In their political participation, Catholics must not compromise these
principles even though, at times, prudential judgment will require accepting
imperfect legislation as a means of incremental progress.
10. The ultimate political goal for Catholics must be the achievement of
public policies and laws that result in the legal protection of all innocent
human life and that promote the dignity of each human person without
exception and compromise.
 Faithful Citizenship, USCCB
 Conception, as the Church traditionally teaches, means the earliest
moment of biological existence.
 Direct abortion is any procured abortion whether chemical or surgical.
 There are other non-negotiable matters that are not a part of the
current political debate. For example no serious candidate is advocating
decriminalization sexual assault.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Letter to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick for
 Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae
The doctrinal note does not appear to have been posted on the Vatican web
site. Rather, it was distributed to the various bishops' conferences
throughout the world and to individual bishops. They decided how to
distribute the guidelines.
"Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," The Vatican,
"Vatican Gives Catholic Pols Guidelines: Vatican Urges Catholic
Politicians to Vote Along Church Lines," Associated Press,
Frank Bruni, "Vatican says politicians should oppose abortion,"
International Herald Tribune, 2003-JAN-17, at:
Daniel Williams, "Toe the line, Catholic politicians told,"
2003-JAN-18, The Age (an Australian newspaper) at:
Victor L. Simpson, "Vatican Takes Aim at Catholic Lawmakers,"
Austin-American-Statesman, 2003-JAN-16, at:
Frank Bruni, "Vatican Issues Guidelines to Politicians Regarding
Some Hot-Button Issues," The Salt Lake Tribune, 2003-JAN-17, at:
Michael Paulson, "Catholic politicians warned on dissent,"
The Boston Globe, 2003-JAN-17, at:
"Group to unveil 'The Deadly Dozen' senators: Ad campaign IDs
Catholic lawmakers who support abortion," WorldNetDaily.com,
Copyright © 2003 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-JAN-16
Latest update: 2006-OCT-22
Author: B.A. Robinson