Catholic Church views on democracy


Hi, I’m hoping somebody can help with this because I really don’t have much information.

An Orthodox friend has presented evidence that the Catholic church ‘changes’ its mind on key issues, and the example is on democracy. Evidently it was called a ‘heresy’ in the 19th century and then supported at Vatican II?

Anybody have any research on this and know the background and context?



Hey, narnia 59. This isn’t really an answer, but more of a potential clarification. My understanding of the changes over time relates more to the permissible separation of Church and state, the propriety of tolerating non-Catholic “heretics” by a state, and the temporal authority of the Pope in secular affairs rather than democracy per se. It may be helpful to include these issues in your considerations rather than just restricting the question to democracy by itself.

Best regards,



Well since political systems are not a matter of faith and morals, I don’t believe that the Catholic Church has anything “official” to pronounce on the subject from the deposit faith and cannot therefore be accused of “changing its teaching” on this particular subject.

That said, I believe it is fair to say that the Church is in support of governmental systems that support fundamental human rights and religious freedom and against those that do not.

It really depends upon how one defines “Democracy”.

I think we typically associate “Democracy” with any system of government where the citizens retain some type of influence over how they are governed and enjoy certain freedoms.

This kind of Democarcy is the sort of government that I think the Church would support.

If we think of any place where the citizen get to vote as a “democracy” than in this “majority rule” world we can quickly find a place where the majority reigns tyranically over the minority.

So I don’t think we can, or that the Church has, said that “democracy” is inherrently “good” or “bad”.



The first thing to do is to ask him for his source material. What documentation does he have so substanciate his claim?


Thanks for the answers everyone. I will definitely ask for his source material and start digging as I have time. Just was hoping somebody had already seen this and had a ready response!

Chuck, my initial thoughts were similar to yours in that the church would view democracy as neither inherently good or evil. The issue here seems to be one of the church ‘changing’ doctrine.

It will be an interesting search and if I find anything out I will report back to you all. Thanks again.


This is an old red herring. The context of the original source is a group of theologians demanding that the Catholic Church change its’ system of governance to a democratic form. In this context it is a heresy. Jesus established the Church, and not as a democracy, we have no authority to change how He established it. The Church never declared democracy invalid for a secular government.


I wondered if it was in terms of church and not secular government. I’ve requested the source so I’ll see. Thanks!


Laudatur Iesus Christus.

The Church’s view of forms of secular governments is comprehensive. Here is a statement of the basic understanding of “democracy:”

Again, it is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power. Of the various forms of government, the Church does not reject any that are fitted to procure the welfare of the subject; she wishes only ---- and this nature itself requires – that they should be constituted without involving wrong to any one, and especially without violating the rights of the Church.

Unless it be otherwise determined, by reason of some exceptional condition of things, it is expedient to take part in the administration of public affairs. And the Church approves of every one devoting his services to the common good, and doing all that he can for the defense, preservation, and prosperity of his country. (Leo XIII, Libertas Praestantissimum, (1888), 44-45.)

It is helpful to read the entire encyclical by Pope Leo. It can be found at

Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.

John Hiner


Okay, this is the best info I got as a source for this:

The episode of history I was referencing was in the late 1800’s when Italian nationalism was pushing for an Italian state, and began to take the Papal States away from the Pope, Pope Pius condemned democracy in its entirety and forbade all Catholics in democracies from participating by vote.

Off the top of my head, I’ve read this in Catholic Church histories (Bokenkotter, I think) as well as in a US history text (America: Past and Present, I believe). It may have been elsewhere.

I will freely admit that I don’t have the actual papal bull in front of me. To my knowledge the opinion did not change on democracy until after WWII, as the papacy got caught up in Fascism.

I’m assuming this is Pius IX (1846-1878). Anybody have any ideas what they’re talking about so I don’t have to go read everything by Pius IX? :smiley:


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