Catholic News Service
HICKSVILLE, N.Y. — Catholics have a duty as American citizens to bring faith-inspired convictions to politics, and they can never allow politics to trump principles articulated by the bishops in their role as official teachers, according to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
Informed political action is a particular charism of the laity, he said in the keynote address March 3 in Hicksville at the annual Public Policy Convention of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
Cardinal Dolan said Catholic involvement in the public square is based on Catholic social teaching, which articulates bedrock principles and the actions that logically follow from them. “We root for the underdog in Catholic social justice,” he said.
The innate dignity of the human person is the central tenet of Catholic social teaching, Cardinal Dolan said. Each person is a reflection of God and a “spark of the divine,” he said, and human life is unquestionably sacred and deserves protection and respect.
More than 700 people participated in the program at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville. Cardinal Dolan, introduced by Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, spoke on the event’s theme, “Catholics in the Public Square: Our Role in Shaping Public Policy.”
Other presenters described the 2012 legislative agenda of the New York State Catholic Conference and discussed preparations for the March 13 “Catholics at the Capitol” event, where constituents will meet with their legislators in Albany to provide a Catholic perspective on pending legislation.
In his address, Cardinal Dolan said the centuries-old principle of solidarity teaches “we’re all in this mess together” and are called to work for the common good, Cardinal Dolan said. “We are called to construct a society of virtue and responsibility where human dignity is sacred and human life is revered. Thus, informed political action is a duty. It is not some tawdry distraction.”
Catholic teaching is based on natural law, “which is hard-wired into us as part of our moral DNA” and provides the basics of right and wrong, which human beings disregard at their peril, he said. Natural law does not belong to any religious group alone, but is “available to everybody by reason and discoverable by reflection and long experience based on common sense,” he said.
“Human laws must always flow from and never contradict natural law. Politics and policy can never trump principles,” Cardinal Dolan said.
Catholic teaching promotes stewardship of people, environment and creation, he said.
Addressing subsidiarity, Cardinal Dolan said the common good is best served by agencies and institutions close to the human person, with the primary ones being “marriage and family,” he said.
“Jesus always had radar for those at the side of the road,” which is the basis for the preferential option for the poor, he said. “Responsibility trumps rights and we are never free from the duty to serve others, particularly those in need.”
God instilled rights in the human person that must be cherished and guarded by society and government, Cardinal Dolan said. “The highest must be freedom of religion, because all others come from this belief that there is someone outside of us giving us those other rights,” he said.
Catholics have an obligation to bring values into public dialogue, the cardinal said. Politics is a noble call and patriotism is a virtue exhibited not only on the battlefield. “We serve not only our faith but our country when we bring a religiously faith-formed conscience to the public square,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan said it is unwise to yield to the temptation to be frustrated by politics and leave it to others, because that leaves a vacuum that will be filled by “the religion called secularism.” Secularism has a creed, dogma, adherents and a strong belief that “our religion should not be involved in the public square,” he said. “They’ll be happy to take over for us and we can’t let that happen.”
He said the bishops’ role is to preach principles, but the laity’s charism is to be involved in politics and bring a religiously informed conscience to the public square.
“We can be political without being partisan. We ought to bring values and convictions to politics. We will not be misled by people who say we shouldn’t be involved,” he said.
Church-state separation is not a separation of religion and morality and politics, and Catholics are not trying to impose doctrine on others, Cardinal Dolan said.
Referring to the federal mandate on contraception coverage, he said to applause, “Who’s trying to impose what on whom?”
“Politics is the art of the possible,” he said, adding that compromise and strategy are licit and important, as long as one doesn’t sacrifice principle.
Cardinal Dolan said the church is the middle road between rights and responsibilities. “Rights must be balanced with responsibilities,” he said.
Catholics should defend the rights of others, specifically the right to free exercise of religion, he said, explaining that the current fight over the federal mandate on contraceptive coverage is about religious freedom.
“We Catholics hardly need to be lectured about women’s health. Thanks to the religious sisters, we run the largest private health care for women and children.” He said the ruling is “an unwarranted, unprecedented, radical intrusion into the interior life of integrity of the church’s ability to teach, serve and sanctify on its own.”
At a news conference after his address, Cardinal Dolan said the bishops would accept help offered by constitutional scholars, legal experts and others passionate about protecting religious freedom.
Cardinal Dolan said bishops speak for the truths of the faith, not for Catholic popular opinion. “We got our Irish up when leaders in government seemed to be assigning an authoritative voice to Catholic groups that are not the bishops. If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops.”
According to the cardinal, the bishops have suggested to the Obama administration that it widen a narrow religious exemption to its mandate that all employers, including most religious employers, provide contraceptive coverage or that it drop the requirement altogether and trust the church to define its own ministry and services.
He said the bishops cannot compromise on principle and will continue to speak out with a prophetic voice against what they regard as an unjust law forcing the church to obey something it can’t.