Giving Politics a Faith Lift
Interview With Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix
PHOENIX, Arizona, OCT. 15, 2006 (www.zenit.org/)
- All catholics have a duty to bring faith to the forefront of political
debates, says the bishop-author of a new booklet entitled "Catholics in the
Public Square." [Click
here to read the entire text of the booklet]
The publication, written by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix,
challenges Catholics to take a more active part in influencing the nation and
the political process.
Published online (www.basilicapress.com)
by Basilica Press, the booklet is the first of The Shepherd's Voice Series,
designed to feature the current teaching of cardinals and bishops on key topics
facing the Church.
In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Olmsted, 59, who worked
for nine years in the Vatican Secretariat of State, comments on why Catholics
should be more active in the public square, and some of the most important
issues for Catholic voters.
Q: Is this booklet intended for just politicians, or are
there others who are also responsible for bringing a Catholic voice to the
forefront of public debates?
Bishop Olmsted: This booklet is intended for all Catholics
because we all have a mission in the public square, even if it differs according
to our state in life. Christ told us: "You are the light of the world. A
city set on a mountain cannot be hidden." These words are intended for all
At baptism, Christ calls each of us to engage in the
Church's mission in the world. Our responsibility as followers of Christ is to
let the gift of faith influence every part of our daily life, not just what we
do on Sunday.
A willingness to engage the culture is important for
the Church's mission in the world. It is also a service to society.
Q: Why is the Catholic voice struggling to make itself
heard in the public square?
Bishop Olmsted: With the influence of modernity and
Enlightenment philosophies, many voices in secular society today contend that
religion is pure subjectivism and has a role only in people's private lives.
If we let our faith impact on the way we practice a
profession, engage the culture, or become involved in political struggles, then
we are accused of imposing our faith on others. These voices have become
increasingly strident in the United States over the past 50 years; and they can
intimidate believers, making them afraid or uneasy to let their faith influence
their involvement in the public square.
False notions about the separation of Church and state have
also been put forth, contending that the Church must remain silent in the
These contentions are often based on false understandings of
the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which in fact protects the
practice of religion from coercion by the state, rather than limiting the
Q: How has this secularization of public life affected
public policy, and society in general?
Bishop Olmsted: Secularization can be understood in more than
one way, as is evident in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council,
especially in the foundational document of the council, "Lumen Gentium."
The council fathers, wishing to show the difference between
the role of clergy and the role of the laity, taught in No. 31 of
"Lumen Gentium": "Their secular character is proper and peculiar to the laity …
by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the
kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to
God's will. … It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and
order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that
these may be effected and grow according to Christ."
We see, then, that secularization can be understood in a
positive sense, when we understand it to mean that there is necessary
distinction between the Church and the state, and between the roles of the
clergy and the laity.
Thus, Christians do not believe in establishing a theocracy,
but rather see distinct yet complementary roles for both the Church and society.
Benedict XVI speaks eloquently about this in his encyclical letter, "Deus
Caritas Est." The Church also insists on the vital role of the laity in
the family and society.
At the same time, some secularizing trends in society are
seriously problematic. In fact, these have arrived at such extremes that they
deny the spiritual and religious dimensions of the human person. In addition,
the right of the Church to engage in public discourse is denied or at least
serious attempts are made to marginalize it.
Under these extremist influences, a kind of secularism that
is anti-sacred and anti-religious has arisen. Not only does this hinder the work
of the Church, it has opened the door for grave evils to develop in our society.
No longer are all persons seen as made in the image of God.
Some persons, then, begin to be seen as less worthy of life. Soon, the weak and
most vulnerable are described as a burden and not worthy of protection.
Sadly, we do not have to look far to find examples in society
today where the lives of the most vulnerable, like the unborn and the elderly,
are marginalized and threatened by legalized abortion and euthanasia.
Q: If Catholics are afraid to express their beliefs in
public, what effects does this have on their faith also on the personal level?
Bishop Olmsted: St. James writes in his New Testament
epistle, in Chapter 2, Verse 26, "Faith without works is dead." When Catholics
are afraid to express their beliefs in public, they begin to travel down
the path that divides faith from life. Faith begins to be purely spiritual, with
no impact on other dimension of their lives.
Then, it becomes impossible to live a life of integrity. For
faith needs to express itself, as Jesus makes clear, in feeding the hungry,
clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, defending the most vulnerable, and so
forth. Pope Paul VI, and his successors have called this split between faith and
life, and between faith and culture, as one of the great tragic dramas of our
Notice how often Jesus tells his followers: "Be not afraid."
It takes both courage and wisdom to engage our culture and be involved in the
public square. We are called to exercise both faith and reason, being
careful to inform our conscience on the basis of objective truth.
The work of evangelization is built on a commitment to the
truth and a commitment to love God and neighbor. It cannot happen without a
lively faith and daily discipline of prayer.
Q: In the booklet you say Catholic politicians have a duty
to let their beliefs influence their politics. All politicians have a duty to
be coherent, but why single out Catholic politicians in this regard?
Bishop Olmsted: My booklet is intended for a Catholic
audience. Others are certainly welcome to read it, and many of the principles
within it would be appropriate to people of other faiths. By emphasizing that
Catholics have a duty to be active in the public square, I am not excluding
others from also having an active role.
On the contrary, I hope this little booklet will give
encouragement to people of other faiths to be active as well in social and
political life. That makes for a healthy democracy.
Q: Catholic doctrine on social and moral issues
covers many topics. What are the most important ones to keep in mind when
deciding whom to vote for?
Bishop Olmsted: The Church engages in a wide variety of
public policy issues including immigration, education, poverty and racism. We
hope that all the faithful will be well informed about these issues and do their
part to address them effectively.
As for the most important issues to keep in mind, I find no
better words that those of Benedict XVI, given in an address to European
politicians on March 30, 2006: "As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the
principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and
promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing
particular attention to principles which are not negotiable.
"Among these the following emerge clearly today:
protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until
natural death; recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family
-- as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage; … the protection of
the rights of parents to educate their children."