Can a Catholic be a Politician?

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By Grady Stuckman

Within our country, there arises an important question. Considering all the issues that embattle American politics, can a Catholic, in good conscience and in preservation of virtue, become a politician?  An easy solution is to simply withdraw from everything and live a life of prayer and penance. Some Catholics are indeed called to that by entering a form of consecrated life. But for those of us (the vast majority of U.S. Catholics) who are laypeople and called to sanctify the temporal order, can Catholics be politicians without compromising their beliefs, as many have done already? It seems that, given Church teaching over the centuries, Catholics can participate directly in government and even join political parties. The Catechism notes:

CCC 1897: "Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all."

Thus, political authority is not some necessary evil that keeps people in line, as an Enlightenment philosopher might suggest, but is the organic product of a community seeking to pursue temporal goods. Accordingly, local government ought to be privileged above national government, which is an ideal that the U.S. Constitution suggests. Perhaps running for and being in national positions of power (such as Vice President and Speaker of the House) are corrupting Catholics based on the circumstances; being in such a prestigious position can make a person greedy for power.  At the local level, where the political authority is closest to the people it serves, the government is more deeply concerned with the affairs of its citizens.  Thus, Catholics should be encouraged more strongly to participate in their local government so as to serve the common good, like the Catechism suggests above. Some ways of doing so are through joining city councils and chambers of commerce, or running for the office of county commissioner or county judge. As an aside, the wife of one of my professors at Franciscan University currently sits on the city council of Steubenville, and a deacon residing in the next town over from Steubenville is (with the bishop’s permission, of course) one of the local county commissioners.

If the administrative capacities of holding office are too difficult for someone, a Catholic should support their brethren who hold office, along with those politicians who are on the right side of issues. While many pro-life politicians are not Catholic, they share a common belief in the sanctity of life, and that is an issue worth championing.  It is our prayer that these politicians may come to the one true Faith by their pursuit of worthy and noble goods, such as the pro-life cause and traditional marriage cause.

In conclusion, I must say that the Church is a family primarily directed at attaining spiritual goods. The political community (colloquially called “the state”) is a family primarily directed at the pursuit of temporal goods.  Therefore, if the agenda of anyone exercising authority in the temporal sphere (i.e. a politician) is not directed at something intrinsically evil, such as racism or abortion, Catholics ought to support such politicians to bring the common good closer to the heavenly vision that Christ pointed out to us. Better yet, they should run for office themselves or encourage their fellow Catholics to run for office.

Edited by: Mary Ryan

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