Virtuous Democracy

Democracia Virtuosa

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
August 25, 2003

The last nine months have seen two brief but strong documents from the Vatican containing some direct messages to Catholic politicians.

[Of course, all the right things are said, but these documents do not reach their intended audience on their own. You and I have a role to play. Without waiting for our bishop, pastor, or anyone else, we should personally and directly deliver these documents to those who need to read them -- after, of course, reading them carefully ourselves. They can be obtained at].

The first of these documents is the "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life." You can usually find a message in the date on which these Vatican documents are issued, and this one is dated on the Feast of Christ the King (November 24, 2002). Jesus Christ is Lord not only of individuals, but of nations. "All authority has been given to me, both in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28:18). This does not deny the proper autonomy of the state, nor is it a call for building a theocracy. There are certain things that the state properly does, and others that the Church properly does. But both are subject to God and the norms of morality that He has built into creation.

In our day, of course, the question asked is, "Whose God? Whose morality?" The question implies that we can't tell the difference between fundamental rights and wrongs. While upholding religious freedom, we reject the idea that every concept about life, marriage, family, justice and peace is equal. And this is the point of this "Doctrinal Note" from the Vatican. It's a good news flash that we as human beings have not lost the ability to tell right from wrong. Politicians, especially Catholics, are not permitted to take refuge in a "your truth is as good as my truth" mindset.

The second document, issued on June 3, gives a concrete example. It addresses the attempt to legitimize gay marriage, and, after reviewing why such attempts violate the moral law, tells Catholic politicians that it is immoral for them to vote for the recognition of homosexual unions.

Some politicians responded that the Pope is trying to interfere with democracy. On the contrary, the Pope is promoting democracy. As he wrote in The Gospel of Life, "[T]he value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes" (#70). Henry Hyde expressed the same truth this way: "To have a virtuous kingdom it is enough perhaps to have a virtuous king, but you cannot have a successful democracy without a virtuous people" (Heritage Lecture #673, July 19, 2000). Democracy means we govern ourselves, and we can't govern ourselves if we can't tell the difference between what is good for us and what can destroy us. What we need is virtuous democracy -- a self-governing people free to strive for and do what is right.

Incidentally, June 3 is a feast of a group of martyrs.

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