The Psalmist had it right in Psalm 146: place your most profound trust in God, not in princes or politicians, or indeed any human being. It does not mean that if you ask someone the time, you have to disbelieve them. But it does mean not to confuse the divine and the worldly orders, and to mix the two or confuse the two levels.
First, some general principles. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) says this: “The Kingdom of God is not a political norm of political activity, but it is a moral norm of that activity. Political activity stands under moral norms, even if morality as such is not politics nor politics as such morality.“ (Eschatology, 2nd edition, p. 59).
Let us note that last phrase: “morality as such is not politics nor politics as such morality”.
I am not party political. I believe that no priest should be. At best, we can make moral statements and allow people to draw their own conclusions. But even to do so in a pointed manner is risky, because being priests not politicians, there is a danger that we shall overlook certain factors which can and should legitimately be taken into account when deciding how to vote. Few priests have any expertise in those matters, and to speak on them in a party political context may compromise our more important duty to speak on morality.
But even they did have the knowledge, it is important that as priests we speak about the morality of specific policies or propositions, rather than of specific persons or groups of persons. After all, we cannot judge the person’s conscience, and if they see their error, they may change.
Second, some more particular principles. There can be circumstances when the moral outlook is so bleak that it is incumbent upon authorities with the Church to speak. Pope Pius XII did so when, in 1937, he wrote and disseminated Mit brennender Sorge against the Nazis. Cardinal Pell and, I think, some other bishops did so when they warned against the “Green agenda”, but even that initiative, which I supported, suffered because some bishops declined to sign it.
In our modern democracies, it is very rare for a situation to be so grave as to require the clergy to speak up and post videos on YouTube and promote their views through the media. It is wiser to leave that to the Holy Father and to the bishops. This does not mean that we cannot bring issues to their attention. It is critical that we do so. I have done so myself. But let the bishop speak. Or speak with his authority.
Another particular principle which follows from the above is that it is risky, and quite possibly counter-productive, for the faithful, no matter how sincere, to make a call for a party political vote on religious grounds. How can you be sure that the politicians will do as they promise?
How many Catholics have, quite sincerely, joined political parties to be a good influence on them, and found that they have little by little come to accommodations and made small compromises, and in the end, their “good influence” vanishes? It does not mean that the effort is to be despised, or never attempted. But it does mean that one should not mistake political causes for religious ones, or bring to politics a religious fervour. Far less should we ever condemn other Catholics for how they vote.
The reason is obvious: the political and the religious world are on different levels. It is a case of “render unto Caesar …” (Matthew 12:17 and Luke 20:25). They are under laws. They are actually different Kingdoms.
It is far, far too easy for sincere and innocent questions to be deceived and used by politicians, even “Christian” and “Catholic” politicians.
What Psalm 146 says is this:
Praise the Lord, O my soul, in my life I will praise the Lord: I will sing to my God as long as I shall be. Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish.
Blessed is he who hath the God of Jacob for his helper, whose hope is in the Lord his God: who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who keeps truth for ever: who executes judgment for them that suffer wrong: who giveth food to the hungry. (Psalm 146:2-7a, Douay-Rheims with slight updating of grammar).
If we can read it, it tells us more than I can.
Joseph Azize, 6 November 2016