Just Ordering of Society
"The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful."
- Pope Benedict XVI
When we live our faith in the public square, are we trying to impose our faith on others? Are we crossing the line between separation of church and state?
In his Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict discussed these questions and others regarding our responsibility for participation in the development of public policy that respects the dignity of the human person and serves the common good.
Justice and Charity -- Excerpts from Deus Caritas Est
28. In order to define more accurately the relationship between the necessary commitment to justice and the ministry of charity, two fundamental situations need to be considered:
A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church.
28. a) The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. . . . The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.
The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and . . . what is in accord with the nature of every human being.
. . . if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.
Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God-an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. . . . This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.
. . . if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification.
The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. It recognizes that it is not the Church's responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church's immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards under-standing the requirements of justice and achieving them politically.
[Catholic social doctrine] has no intention of giving the Church power over the State.
The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.
29. . . . formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the Church, but belongs to the world of politics, the sphere of the autonomous use of reason. The Church has an indirect duty here, in that she is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run.
As citizens of the State, [lay persons] are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity.
The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation "in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good." The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility. Even if the specific expressions of ecclesial charity can never be confused with the activity of the State, it still remains true that charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as "social charity".
Download Excerpts - Just Ordering of Society from Sections 28 a) and 29
"Deus Caritas Est," Pope Benedict XVI, 2005 (full Encyclical)