About a week ago there was a bit of a "flap" when a United States Senator who claims to be a Catholic, and is thinking about running for President, took the Pope to task for the Vatican directive that nations and states must not make laws that deny "that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman" and that `The Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition [to any other form of marriage] clearly and publicly and to vote against it.... ``To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.''1
According to The Boston Herald, Senator Kerry said « Pope John Paul II ``crossed the line'' by instructing pols to block legalization of gay marriage. A fuming Kerry, taking on his own Catholic Church in the midst of a campaign for president, said Rome should have more respect for America's long-held separation of church and state. ``It is important not to have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in this country,'' Kerry said. »2
Kerry's remarks may have been more blunt than we might have expected to hear from a politician who will depend heavily on the "Catholic vote" for election -- we are, after all 23% of the US population and (hopefully) we vote. But I would suggest to you that the Senator's remarks simply reflect the awful confusion that reigns among Catholics today, and the utter disregard that most of our politicians have for the correct purposes of government in this Republic.
First of all, the remarks of the Vatican (it was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that issued the statement, with the Pope's approval) -- the remarks of the Vatican on this and other moral issues, have generally been restricted to matters of the Natural Moral Law. Things like the sanctity of marriage and the right to life, or the evils of divorce and contraception and unjust war, are not merely "Catholic issues." They are matters of universal concern, about which there has never been a great deal of disagreement among civilized people -- at least not on the general principles. Many centuries of human experience have demonstrated that societies simply do not work very well if people go about practicing the behaviors condemned by the Ten Commandments. And one doesn't have to be a Catholic or a Jew to know, instinctively, what those Commandments say. Indeed one finds very similar codes of behavior in all of the great civilizations and religions of mankind. So, the Pope and the Vatican are on firm ground addressing such remarks to all Americans, even though we Catholics are a "mere" 62 million -- they are on firm ground addressing everyone in the world, for such issues are universal.
Late last year the same Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued another document, reaffirming the traditional Catholic position that the Church does not tell nations how to conduct their affairs.3 Assuming that the leaders of the nation are working for the common good and observing the principles of the Natural Moral Law, the Church does not tell them how to implement specific policies. The Church does not tell us what form our economic system must take; whether we should one house or three in our legislature; whether we should have a prime minister or a king or a president. The Church simply says that even sovereign nations must obey the Moral Law -- it issues no directives about how that Law is to be implemented.
Saint Paul tells us that we are to "be subject to the ruling authorities, for there exists no authority except from God, and those who exist have been appointed by God... he who resists the authority resists the ordinance of God."4 And remember that Paul was speaking about pagan Roman authorities, as well as any others. The legitimacy of any government -- whether it be among Pagans or among Christians -- the legitimacy of government dependss on how well it strives to make the Moral Law work in its own proper circumstances. When politicians fail to make civil laws consonant with God's Law -- and even worse, when they make laws which encourage or even require that God's Laws be violated -- their government begins to lose its legitimacy. When rulers allow or require their citizens to engage in immoral behavior, those rulers act without authority -- for, as our Lord told Pontius Pilate, "thou would have no power at all ... if it were not given thee from above."5
The US Constitution rules that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."6 That is simply to say that there cannot be an "established church" in the United States as there had been in England. In no way does that phrase create a "separation of church and state" -- and it certainly does not absolve -- cannot absolve -- the state from thee observance of God's Law. Pretending to do away with the Moral Law would completely subvert the purpose stated by the founders of our Republic "to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the blessings of liberty...."7
One has merely to look at the laws forged by the thirteen States to see that there was no "separation of church and state," and that the early American statesmen had no ideas about denying the Moral Law. Quite the opposite. The Republic and the States authorized chaplains for their military and their legislatures; they funded missionary activities among the Indian tribes; they passed laws in great degree prohibiting murder and abortion and contraception and sodomy and divorce -- and remember that these laws were not passed by Catholics, who made up a much smaller percentage of the population of early America.
As recently as 1952, the Court ruled that there was no real separation between church and state, pointing out that if there were, "the church and state would be aliens to each other -- hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly," an idea that seemed ridiculous or impossible in 1952.8 It seems that only at about that time that Liberals began in earnest -- first to suggest, and then to demand -- that religion and the Moral Law have no place in our society. Only in that post World War II era did we our civil laws being changed to permit, encourage, and even demand one form of previously illegal immorality after another.
The Constitution also stipulates that "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."9 But whenever it comes time to confirm the appointment of a judge or a cabinet official, there are always senators who will not hesitate to proclaim that their approval is contingent on belief in abortion, or belief in the fictional "wall of separation between church and state." Such men are in violation of their oath of office and should be removed.
Vatican II did not help. While we certainly cannot disagree with recent papal and Vatican statements about the continued need for public morality, the statements of the past forty years have been weak. Existentialism has crippled many of the arguments that were or would have been made by the Popes of earlier years. "Human dignity" and the efforts of "the acting person" are not enough to demonstrate the universal binding nature of the Moral Law -- indeed, such notions are often enough turned around to argue somewhat convincingly against God's Law and His Church. If anything, the liberal politicians of the twenty-first century have much less to fear from Church (with Its own moral and intellectual disorders) than did any of their predecessors. One can only imagine what things would be like if they had to contend with Popes like Innocent III or Pius V.
Let me conclude by asking not only your prayers for our Church and our Republic, but also by asking for your active cooperation. Know your Faith, know your Republic and its Constitution. Be vocal when the leaders of either Church or State fail to do the job required of them. Let them know of your dissatisfaction -- or your satisfaction, when that is appropriate, for nothing is harder than doing a good job that nobody seems to notice. Support good candidates with your money and your vote, recognizing that at times there will be no real choices at the polls.
Our Catholic Faith acknowledges the realities of sin and redemption and repentance and forgiveness. We must overlook the occasional failings of our leaders and our fellow Christians and fellow citizens, just as we hope that they will overlook our own. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
But we must not overlook the ill- deeds of those who would institutionalize sin; of those who would delete the Moral Law from the civil law. "It would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals ... woe to the man through whom scandal does come."10
Please pray for our Church and for our Republic; please act as good citizens of both.