Catholic Social Teaching – What Catholics need to know before voting (Part 2)
This theme does not intend to accentuate the division of classes to an even greater degree, but instead to emphasize our responsibility towards the most vulnerable members of society. As citizens we are called to educate ourselves before we vote so we can elect those candidates who will protect those who are more exposed in our society to ever-changing public policies. Same applies to the State: “It lies in the power of a ruler to benefit every class in the State, and amongst the rest to promote to the utmost the interests of the poor.” (Rerum Novarum, 32)
Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency such as food, shelter, clothing, employment, health care, and education. As Catholics, we have the duty to ensure that these basic rights are true for all members of society. John Paul II challenges us to go beyond our feelings of compassion and take an active part in defending human rights:
“This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38).
At the same time, we have responsibilities towards our families, one another, and to the larger society. These responsibilities extend beyond the boundaries of our homes, neighborhoods, countries, and even cultures and religions, since “we are all really responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38).
We exercise our responsibilities towards our fellow citizens and those members of society whose voice cannot be heard by voting for candidates who will promote human dignity and protect human rights.
The State exists to ensure public order, protect human rights, promote human dignity, and build the common good. To the surprise of many, the Church does not oppose government involvement; in fact, it recognizes the significance of the State’s role in guaranteeing the good of the community. Leo XIII expresses the importance of those who work in service to the public:
“Some there must be who devote themselves to the work of the commonwealth, who make the laws or administer justice, or whose advice and authority govern the nation in times of peace, and defend it in war. Such men clearly occupy the foremost place in the State, and should be held in highest estimation, for their work concerns most nearly and effectively the general interests of the community” (Rerum Novarum, 34).
The Church understands her mission to serve the faithful, and especially to serve the most vulnerable members of society. She does this through various organizations throughout the world. However, the Church acknowledges her limitations in helping to relieve poverty and many other social concerns. In order for poverty to be eradicated and justice to be administered properly, there have to be laws and policies in place. The Church delegates this authority to the State, but does not minimize her role in bringing forth Christ’s truth in social matters:
“The Church uses her efforts not only to enlighten the mind, but to direct by her precepts the life and conduct of each and all; the Church improves and betters the condition of the working man by means of numerous organizations; does her best to enlist the services of all classes in discussing and endeavoring to further in the most practical way, the interests of the working classes; and considers that for this purpose recourse should be had, in due measure and degree, to the intervention of the law and of State authority.” (Rerum Novarum, 16)
The principle of subsidiarity holds that the functions of the government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. If the needs in question cannot be met adequately at the lower level, then it is imperative that higher levels of government intervene.
(Part 3: Economic Justice)