enforcing Catholic teaching in a secular society

I don’t know where else to ask this, I looked at all the other sub-forums. My question is regarding translating our Catholic beliefs into policy. In other words, if we live in a secular society, or multi-religious society, then how exactly are we supposed to be making decisions on the political sphere based on uniquely Catholic beliefs?

I get that there are certain issues that are no-brainers regarding what’s right and wrong, and yet if you ask enough people, from enough varied backgrounds, someone is bound to come up with some argument contrary to what we may have taken for granted.

I guess the question is, aren’t there issues where I as a Catholic may be bound by my faith to act accordingly, but should not try to hold non-Catholics to the same standard? For instance, no one talks about changing laws to criminalize divorce, but opposition to same-sex marriage is considered one of the non-negotiables when it comes to choosing whom to vote for.

So I’m just trying to figure out where the line is. There must be issues that we as Catholics are in direct oposition to with members of other faiths, so voting to further the Catholic teaching seems to silmultaneously attempt to take away religious tolerance for others.

I’ve tried Googling, but perhaps I don’t know how to succinctly phrase the dilemma I’m asking about. Any insights or suggestions for searches or resources would be much appreciated. Thanks!

No religious tolerance is being taken away from others. One man, one vote. It has always been that way. I have a book titled Christian Principles and National Problems. It is part of The Catholic Social Studies Series. And was written for Catholic High School students. From the Preface: “A study of the social problems of American life under the guiding light of the social doctrine of the Church must constitute a vital part of the education of our Catholic high school students today. It will be largely through a well informed Catholic populace that American public opinion will be directed toward the acceptance of the Christian solution of contemporary social evils.”

This book is Copyright 1945.

Just by being Catholic and following the Church’s teachings regarding the problems of today is where it starts for you and me. We have to be good Catholics first. We have to be willing to keep the Commandments and follow what the Church teaches. Today, more so than in the past, we must do all we can to examine our lives and the manifest evil going on around us. It is fair to say that we need to be part of the solution by following what the Church teaches, and after examining what the world is promoting, rejecting any and all evils that, in the end, enslave all of us.

You should look up what the three Abrahamic religions stand for. We have much in common. And in areas where other religions reject Catholic teaching, we will not force their conversion to it. We must be honest with ourselves and others. That’s how it starts. My neighbor could be of any faith or no faith, but our words and actions must match up. For some of us Catholics, we must pray daily for as long as it takes to free ourselves from those things that oppose well-considered Church teaching.

We have a duty to vote. We have been given, not names or parties, but the Catholic position on the issues that matter and why they matter. Each one of us can make a difference but we must also spread the word. We cannot be silent in public, even if most of our dialogue is carried out online.

God bless,

What issues are you speaking of, exactly? I am not aware of Catholics trying to use government to force the Catholic religion on others.

I think this type issue comes up a lot in Catholicism and Catholicism has a good answer for it.

By this type of issue, I mean something like “Here is a principle I am supposed to apply, but how do I know how to apply it?” Take, for example, the natural law which is a concept that does a lot of lifting in Catholic morality. How do you know what sort things fall under the natural law? Why do certain types of sex acts fall outside the natural law and become grave matter while eating junk food doesn’t?

It’s similar here. Why must Catholics vote against same sex marriage, but they aren’t required to vote against divorce? If you were left alone to figure those things out, there are many different reasonable conclusions you could come to. Just as there are many ways to read apparently conflicting scriptural passages. Are you saved by faith alone or faith and works? They both have scriptural support!

The answer is that the Church tells you. She has a special role in interpreting the deposit of faith and a Catholic should listen to this ultimate authority.

In the United States, the bishops have told you what the issues are. If you want to know how Catholic teachings interact with the idea of liberty, who better to listen to than your bishops?! That’s what they are there for, to guide you in the faith.

They’ve told you that same-sex marriage is non-negotiable and divorce is not. They’ve given you the answer and then provided a guide to show you how to form your conscience to understand why that is true. They’re a valuable resource; use them!

Virtue applies to everyone.
It’s just a “catholic” thing.
EVERYONE should have a well formed conscience.

Imagine if that were so, and not just the “churchy folk”. :shrug:

I think it’s less trying to force catholic belief on others – and more trying to prevent evil in our society.

It is the government’s job to provide for the common good (What is most good for the most amount of people). Some people think activity A is good for people. Others may think Activity A is bad for people, and the public would best be served by legislating against it.

If we know in our hearts that something is truly bad for people – and we care about those people – we would seek to eliminate that bad thing. Even if the people affected by that bad thing don’t realize its bad.

I feel like I’m being vague. Does that make sense?

Thank you all for your responses.

Ed, what may have been obvious to others apparently wasn’t to me (I’m blaming pregnancy brain ;)), but when you said “one man one vote”, it made sense to me that we Catholics vote for what we’d have in an ideal Catholic society, while non-Catholics vote for what they deem ideal, and the process of “democracy” (I have to put it in quotes) allows for that secular pluralism to live on. So thanks for that!

Paul, I’m not exactly saying force, but I guess I had same sex marriage in mind, in that we’d be forcing the inability for some people to marry based on our beliefs, while not all Christian denominations agree on this limitation.

Carefullytread, I get that these issues have been fleshed out for us, but I think my question isn’t so much HOW to vote on them, but WHY. Not in a defiant way, just wondering about the reasons. Sunday obligation is another thought that comes to mind - we don’t try to push for legislation to make/encourage everyone to worship once a week. I get that some issues are deemed more pressing than others, but virtue is virtue. One could argue regular attendance at a place of worship by a majority of the populance may do much more good than merely preventing some people from forming a legal union. Just thinking out loud.

Pianistclare, I think if everyone agreed on what actions were virtuous and which weren’t, we wouldn’t be so divided in the first place.

GaryJohn, you’re making perfect sense. I think what it comes down to for me then is on a few issues, I just don’t understand how something is bad for the people involved. Same sex marriage comes to mind. There are so many other ways that people are not living up to a virtuous, chaste, holy life, be they Catholic or not, I don’t see how this one thing is supposed to help them on that path. Plenty of heterosexually married folks struggle with lots of other sins, and we do not try to outlaw every sin in order to help them live a holy life. If anything, having the choice and choosing against it is a much bigger show of virtue than simply not being legally allowed to do something.

Thanks again for the dialogue. I’m trying to learn and form my conscience.

Thanks for asking:thumbsup:

Here is a site for the Official Teachings of the RCC by Cardinal Burke; with explanation as to WHY this is.

The Church cannot tell us how we are to Vote, BUT She MUST inform us on HOW we Cannot {morally} vote


PRAY much

God Bless you

We don’t all have to agree. We just all have to be good.
Catholics however, need to adhere to the teachings fo the church. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree.

I would heartily recommend a document produced by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States. It is entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Much thought went in to its composition. This is from the beginning of the document:
The document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States and its Introductory Note were developed by the chairmen, in consultation with the membership, of the Committees on Catholic Education, Communications, Cultural Diversity in the Church, Doctrine, Domestic Justice and Human Development, Evangelization and Catechesis, International Justice and Peace, Migration, Pro-Life Activities; the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was approved by the full body of bishops at its November 2015 General Meeting. It has been directed for publication by the undersigned.
I found it to be very well done. It is comprehensive in setting forward the complex issues that must be weighed and it also offers thoughtful guidance and a measure of reassurance as you attempt to reach conclusions from a variety of options and scenarios.

I bolded the last sentence of the statement as this document was approved by the full body of bishops for that country and they ordered it published for the benefit of Catholics in the United States. It is actually quite suitable for conscience formation in other countries as well. I compliment them.

You may find it on the USCCB website at: usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/upload/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship.pdf

Here’s just 3 that come quickly to my mind. Trying to secure a SCOTUS that in theory could overturn Roe v Wade and using government to weaken the right to choose for women whose faiths do not share the Catholic view on this legal right. The same goes with civil rights in regards to marriage equality. Fighting a mandate to include contraceptives in women’s healthcare even though contraceptive use is allowed for medical reasons.


I would think if something is permitted for medical reasons, it would be included in healthcare plans. And then simply leave it up to Catholic women not to use contraceptives for birth control.

Good Post, Thanks!

No my friend, the 5th Commandment is from GOD, and therefore apples equally to ALL; but in an urgent and GRAVE Moral manner to All Christians AMEN

As Christians we simply CANNOT support National Candidates who’s Party Platform {GOOGLE IT} pages 18-19 advocate amoral behavior and even legislate it.


I should hope that your statement did not intend to say that candidates of one party, by an absolute necessity, have to be excluded from any consideration because of a platform. For a country that has, for all intent and purpose, a two party system, that would be to make by default a political statement that members of only one party could be supported. Such thinking is the opposite of what the American bishops have promulgated in their document to Americans…with bolding added for clarification.

*31. Decisions about political life are complex and require the exercise of a well-formed conscience aided by prudence. This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.

  1. Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually
    For example, St. John Paul II taught that when a government official who fully opposes abortion cannot succeed in completely overturning a pro-abortion law, he or she may work to improve protection for unborn human life, “limiting the harm done by such a law” and lessening its negative impact as much as possible (Evangelium Vitae, no. 73). Such incremental improvements in the law are acceptable as steps toward the full restoration of justice. However, Catholics must never abandon the moral requirement to seek full protection for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death.

  2. Prudential judgment is also needed in applying moral principles to specific policy choices in areas such as armed conflict, housing, health care, immigration, and others. This does not mean that all choices are equally valid, or that our guidance and that of other Church leaders is just another political opinion or policy preference among many others. Rather, we urge Catholics to listen carefully to the Church’s teachers when we apply Catholic social teaching to specific proposals and situations. The judgments and recommendations that we make as bishops on such specific issues do not carry the same moral authority as statements of universal moral teachings. Nevertheless, the Church’s guidance on these matters is an essential resource for Catholics as they determine whether their own moral judgments are consistent with the Gospel and with Catholic teaching.

  3. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

  4. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.

  5. When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

  6. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.*
    The document promulgated by the bishops of the United States, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, is incredibly nuanced.

Don, point 36 is where I’m leaning right now, voting for neither of the two main candidates, writing in a candidate that fell out after the primaries. I’ve read/heard two differing opinions on this. One opinion is the idea that voting for a third party/non-mainstream candidate is like throwing away one’s vote. I believe if enough people stuck to their original candidates regardless of the results of the primaries, we’d have more of a democracy and less of a, whatever it is that the electoral college turns our votes into. The second opinion is that it is indeed a valid choice to vote for neither of the top two candidates in order to preserve one’s conscience.

But my original question was not about whom to vote for, as that is not something someone can answer for someone else. Rather, I was trying to make sense of voting to support Catholic-specific ideals in a pluralistic society. I believe I got my answer with the obvious (though not to me until it was pointed out here) point that just like we vote according to our conscience, others vote according to theirs (at least that’s the hope), and the majority wins (again, in theory anyway).

So with this in mind, I see it less as trying to “impose” Catholic ideals on non-Catholics, but rather voice my opinion (according to my faith) on the issues, so that all opinions are weighed before decisions are made.

Now, agreeing or disagreeing with the Church’s stance on any given issue is a separate topic, one that I know is a matter of my growing further in my faith and conscience formation.

Thanks again to everyone who weighed in.

You may find the thoughts of Bishop Conley of interest. His remarks are in line with the document issued by the American bishops while at the same time developing the thoughts put forward even further.



But we are certainly permitted to vote for a candidate despite our disagreement with this candidate’s cooperation with intrinsic evil.

Original question asked and answered to OPs satisfaction.

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