|Compendium Lays Out Guidelines
ROME, 29 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
Tensions over church-state relations have a
long history, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
lays out in its introduction to a chapter on politics. In Old Testament
times the prophets regularly denounced the kings for failing to defend
the weak and not ensuring justice for the people.
David is the prototype of a king in the Old Testament, and while Israel
ceased to have kings, the books and Psalms of the Bible continue to hope
for a ruler who would govern with wisdom and justice
hope that culminates in the figure of Christ.
The Compendium observes that Jesus criticizes oppression and despotism,
but does not directly oppose the civil authorities of his time. The
famous line about paying taxes to Caesar rejects efforts by temporal
power to make itself absolute, but also gives it a due place. Jesus
teaches that human authority, tempted by the desire to dominate, finds
"its authentic and complete meaning as service" (No. 383).
In the early Christian community St. Paul recommends payment of taxes,
prayers for rulers, and submission to legitimate authority. But, when
human authority goes beyond the limits willed by God, the Book of
Revelation has harsh words for such authority "makes itself a deity and
demands absolute submission" (No. 382).
Describing the nature of the political community, the Compendium once
more places the human person at the center. The person is a naturally
social and political being, needing interaction with others to reach
complete fulfillment. The political community, therefore, exists in
order to facilitate "the full growth of each of its members, called to
cooperate steadfastly for the attainment of the common good" (No. 384).
This does not mean that "the people" are some kind of multitude to be
manipulated and exploited. Rather, it means they are a group of persons,
able to form an opinion on public matters, and with the freedom to
express political options.
The Compendium also has something to say on the question of minorities
within a political entity or nation. The Church's magisterium affirms
that these minorities have rights, and duties, but above all the right
to exist. Minorities also have a right to maintain their own culture,
language and religion. At the same time, minorities in their quest for
autonomy should rely on dialogue and negotiation; terrorism is
unjustifiable. Minorities should also work for the common good of the
state in which they live.
Putting the human person as the foundation of the political community
also brings the Compendium to consider the matter of human rights. The
rights and duties of a person "contain a concise summary of the
principal moral and juridical requirements that must preside over the
construction of the political community," states the text (No. 388).
In addition, friendship and fraternity play a role in political and
civil life. Civil friendship implies selflessness, detachment from
material goods and accepting the needs of others. Unfortunately, laments
the Compendium, all too frequently this has not been put into practice
in modern political life. Christians can also find inspiration in the
Gospel principle of charity. This can help in establishing community
relationships among people.
Every community needs some ruling authority and there can be different
ways in which it is constituted, notes the Compendium. But this
authority must also take into account the liberty of individuals and
groups, "orienting this freedom, by respecting and defending the
independence of the individual and social subjects, for the attainment
of the common good" (No. 394).
Authority, the text recommends, should be carried out within the limits
of morality and within the framework of a legally constituted juridical
order, as well as being oriented toward the common good. If these
conditions are fulfilled, then "citizens are conscience-bound to obey."
The Compendium also stipulates that authority ultimately resides in the
people who make up the political community. This authority is
transferred to those selected to govern, but the people retain the
possibility of asserting their sovereignty and to replace those who are
governing if they do not carry out their task satisfactorily.
Yet, merely obtaining the consent of the people is not sufficient in
order to consider "just" the exercise of authority. "Authority must be
guided by the moral law" (No. 396). It must also recognize and respect
human and moral values, which cannot be invalidated by a majority vote.
Laws, therefore, must "correspond to the dignity of the human person and
to what is required by right reason" (No. 398). And when a law is
contrary to this reason it is unjust and "ceases to be law and becomes
an act of violence."
In this context, "Citizens are not obligated in conscience to follow the
prescriptions of civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the
demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or to
the teachings of the Gospel" (No. 399). In fact, there is a duty not to
cooperate in morally evil acts, which civil law should recognize and
The Compendium adds that cooperation with unjust laws cannot be
justified by saying that it is done in order to respect the freedom of
others, nor can it be legitimated by pointing out it is an action
required by civil law. "No one can escape the moral responsibility for
actions taken, and all will be judged by God himself based on this
responsibility" (No. 399).
The text then goes on to consider when there may be the possibility to
resist authority that is not being exercised justly. The Compendium is
careful to point out that passive resistance is by far preferable, and
enumerates a series of conditions that must be met before any form of
armed resistance can be considered as a legitimate option.
A substantial section is dedicated to democracy. It starts by recalling
the words of John Paul II's encyclical "Centesimus Annus," in which the
Pope expressed his appreciation for democracy as a system that enables
the active participation of citizens. But for a democracy to be
authentic it must respect human dignity, be ordered to the common good,
and respect a correct hierarchy of values.
The Compendium recommends that those in authority exercise power in the
sense of service to the people, avoiding the temptation of seeking
personal prestige or advantages. It also condemns corruption as one of
the most serious deformities of the democratic system.
Several numbers are dedicated to explaining the importance of the media
in a democracy. The Compendium urges that the media place itself at the
service of the common good, and that it provide information based on
truth, freedom, justice and solidarity. Problems arise when the media is
concentrated in the hands of a few, or is dominated by ideology or the
desire for profit.
The chapter concludes with a consideration on the relationship between
the state and religious communities. The state is exhorted to respect
the right to freedom of conscience and religion. However, this freedom
may be regulated according to the requirements of prudence and the
The Compendium asks that the state guarantee the Church sufficient
freedom of action in order to carry out her mission. For its part, the
Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and
enters into matters of political programs only with respect to their
religious or moral implications. The often-heated debate over religion
and politics would benefit greatly if participants took some time to
reflect on the principles laid out by the Compendium. ZE05012902