Matt Mazewski, in his debut article for Ethika Politika, asks “Would a ‘Catholic Party’ Be Bad For the Church?” In the end Mazewski is skeptical, and rightly so—but only because the vision he operates with is a liberal one. Granted, this is not clear at the article’s outset; scroll down several paragraphs, however, and this is what appears:
From the standpoint of the American [Catholic] hierarchy, the existence of a “Catholic Party” would be bad news for the same reason it would be good news: The bishops would be free to support a single party and its candidates without reservation. For anyone concerned about the politicization of religion, this would be a worrisome state of affairs.
This statement begs the question, “What politicization of religion?” Does Mazewski deny that the Church’s hierarchy has the right—indeed the duty—to direct the lay faithful in socio-political affairs? It would be helpful here to consult extensively the teaching of St. Pius X on the concept of Catholic Action as set forth in his 1905 encyclical Il Fermo Proposito (paragraphs 6-8):
“To restore all things in Christ” has always been the Church’s motto, and it is especially Our own during these fearful moments through which we are now passing. “To restore all things”—not in any haphazard fashion, but “in Christ”; and the Apostle adds, “both those in the heavens and those on earth” (Eph. 1:10). “To restore all things in Christ” includes not only what properly pertains to the divine mission of the Church, namely, leading souls to God, but also what We have already explained as flowing from that divine mission, namely Christian civilization in each and every one of the elements composing it.
Since We particularly dwell on this last part of the desired restoration, you clearly see, Venerable Brethren, the services rendered to the Church by those chosen bands of Catholics who aim to unite all their forces in combating anti-Christian civilization by every just and lawful means. They use every means in repairing the serious disorders caused by it. They seek to restore Jesus Christ to the family, the school and society by re-establishing the principle that human authority represents the authority of God. They take to heart the interests of the people, especially those of the working and agricultural classes, not only by inculcating in the hearts of everybody a true religious spirit (the only true fount of consolation among the troubles of this life) but also by endeavoring to dry their tears, to alleviate their sufferings, and to improve their economic condition by wise measures. They strive, in a word, to make public laws conformable to justice and amend or suppress those which are not so. Finally, they defend and support in a true Catholic spirit the rights of God in all things and the no less sacred rights of the Church.
All these works, sustained and promoted chiefly by lay Catholics and whose form varies according to the needs of each country, constitute what is generally known by a distinctive and surely a very noble name: “Catholic Action,” or the “Action of Catholics.” At all times it came to the aid of the Church, and the Church has always cherished and blessed such help, using it in many ways according to the exigencies of the age.
Following this comprehensive definition of Catholic Action, including its aims and intents, the Saint sets forth the relationship between Catholic Action and the Church’s hierarchy (paragraph 22):
We must touch, Venerable Brethren, on another point of extreme importance, namely, the relation of all the works of Catholic Action to ecclesiastical authority. If the teachings unfolded in the first part of this letter are thoughtfully considered it will be readily seen that all those works which directly come to the aid of the spiritual and pastoral ministry of the Church and which labor religiously for the good of souls must in every least thing be subordinated to the authority of the Church and also to the authority of the Bishops placed by the Holy Spirit to rule the Church of God in the dioceses assigned to them. Moreover, the other works which, as We have said, are primarily designed for the restoration and promotion of true Christian civilization and which, as explained above, constitute Catholic Action, by no means may be considered as independent of the counsel and direction of ecclesiastical authority, especially since they must all conform to the principles of Christian faith and morality. At the same time it is impossible to imagine them as in opposition, more or less openly, to that same authority. Such works, however, by their very nature, should be directed with a reasonable degree of freedom, since responsible action is especially theirs in the temporal and economic affairs as well as in those matters of public administration and political life. These affairs are alien to the purely spiritual ministry. Since Catholics, on the other hand, are to raise always the banner of Christ, by that very fact they also raise the banner of the Church. Thus it is no more than right that they receive it from the hands of the Church, that the Church guard its immaculate honor, and that Catholics submit as docile, loving children to this maternal vigilance.
If there is anything which is today “bad for the Church” with respect to political and social movements is its unwillingness to clearly define which matters lay Catholics can support and those they cannot. Today, neither of America’s two major political parties represent the full balance of Catholic principles; both, lamentably, stand in direct opposition to many of them. Moreover, authentically Catholic movements are today subject to ideological capture from both the Left and Right. It would be a great benefit if, following the venerable instructions of St. Pius X, faithful leaders of the Church would do more to “check” these movements, indicating when and if they have fallen away from the Church’s indefectible teachings on faith and morals and, with love, placing them back on the pathway to “restoring all things in Christ.”
As for Mazewski’s other main thesis, namely that we are witnessing ideological realignment within the Democratic and Republican parties, it is not clear what, if anything, this could mean for American Catholics. Any party which, inter alia, supports so-called abortion rights, the redefinition of marriage, and legal protection for immoral, incendiary, and blasphemous forms of speech is beyond the pale. Similarly, any party which upholds the tenets of economic liberalism while ignoring the socio-economic principles set forth in papal documents such as Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, Pius XI’s Qaudragesimo Anno, and John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus places itself out of the reach of Catholic support. Even if Democrats and Republicans begin to embrace full-throated solidarity and subsidiarty, that hardly means either will abandon their dubious policy positions. Error can always be repackaged.