Tuesday, March 27, 2012
David Gibson comments (as have Michael Sean Winters and John Allen, and others too, I'm sure) on the Pope's recent observations about "a certain schizophrenia between individual and public morality," and notes that the Pope was not talking about the more-often-noted phenomenon of Catholic politicians supporting abortion rights but instead "about social justice and the gap between rich and poor, and the need to bring the church’s social teaching — all of it — to bear on political life." In so doing, Gibson suggests, the Pope was "subvert[ing] the party line" and "complicat[ing] things for Catholic conservatives and Paul Ryan Republicans. Not that you’d know from our political and ecclesial discourse."
I agree entirely -- but, then again, I don't know any "Catholic conservatives" who don't -- that it is not only the Church's teachings on human dignity, the inviolability of human life, and religious freedom that need to be brought "to bear on political life," but rather "all of [the Church's social teaching]." I'm not sure, though, what the "party line" is that David says the Pope is subverting, or why the Pope's observation complicates things for "Catholic conservatives."
Yes, if there are conservatives out there who think that only part, and not all, of the Church's social teaching needs to brought to bear -- prudently, carefully, intelligently -- by the lay faithful on political life then, well, they are wrong. That said, I think it is a mistake to equate (a) the claim that Catholic politicians should not, in a democracy, vote to protect legally vulnerable human life because to do so would involve "imposing" "Catholic morality" and (b) the claim that, all things considered, the Church's social teaching, reasonably applied to the facts as best we can know them, does not always point clearly in the direction of left-liberal social-welfare policies. Sometimes, I assume, it does; often, I am confident, it doesn't. But, to say that it often doesn't is not to make the "Mario Cuomo" / "personally opposed, but" mistake; it is not to say that the the morality of liberal democracy requires one not to allow the Church's social teaching -- all of it -- to inform one's views about economic policy. This is a difference, it seems to me, that matters.