Carl A. Anderson
Just weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI gave an extraordinarily important address on the political responsibility of Catholics. He began by reminding us of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that in society and politics “the order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around” (Gaudium et Spes, 26; cf. CCC 1912).
The question, of course, is how to apply this test. What are the criteria by which we can determine how best to defend the person and build a society that reflects fundamental Gospel values? This is a question that every conscientious Catholic must answer if he or she is to be both a faithful citizen and a faithful Catholic especially in this election season.
Thankfully, Pope Benedict provided guidance in this matter. “The areas in which this decisive discernment is to be exercised are those touching the most vital and delicate interests of the person,” he said. “These areas are not separate from one another but (are) profoundly interconnected … and are the ultimate goal of any authentically human social justice.”
The Holy Father then made clear what these Catholic criteria are: “The commitment to respecting life in all its phases from conception to natural death and the consequent rejection of procured abortion, euthanasia and any form of eugenics is, in fact, interwoven with respecting marriage as an indissoluble union between a man and a woman.”
Faithful Catholics considering the many issues confronting us today in the United States especially state ballot initiatives involving assisted suicide or marriage, and the positions of candidates for public office should be grateful for this clear guidance. Taking seriously the social teaching of our Church can help Catholics truly transform our politics today (see article on page 8).
The Knights of Columbus bears a special responsibility in this effort since we strive to be the faithful, strong right arm of our Church. Pope Benedict XVI highlighted this responsibility in the message he sent to our 130th Supreme Convention.
It is important for each of us to carefully consider his words, which were conveyed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone:
“At a time when concerted efforts are being made to redefine and restrict the exercise of the right to religious freedom, the Knights of Columbus have worked tirelessly to help the Catholic community recognize and respond to the unprecedented gravity of these new threats to the Church’s liberty and public moral witness. By defending the right of all religious believers, as individual citizens and in their institutions, to work responsibly in shaping a democratic society inspired by their deepest beliefs, values and aspirations, your Order has proudly lived up to the high religious and patriotic principles which inspired its founding.
“The challenges of the present moment are in fact yet another reminder of the decisive importance of the Catholic laity for the advancement of the Church’s mission in today’s rapidly changing social context. The Knights of Columbus, founded as a fraternal society committed to mutual assistance and fidelity to the Church, was a pioneer in the development of the modern lay apostolate.”
The greetings continued with assurance that the Holy Father is “confident” that the Knights of Columbus “will carry on this distinguished legacy by providing sound inspiration, guidance and direction to a new generation of faithful and dedicated Catholic laymen.”
The message concluded by expressing the Holy Father’s “profound personal gratitude” for our prayers and our “fidelity, loyalty and support during these difficult times.”
My brother Knights, our mandate is sure and our responsibility clear: Let us not hesitate; let us be of firm resolve; let the Knights of Columbus continue to be “a pioneer in the development of the modern lay apostolate” when it comes to the demands of faithful citizenship; and let us defend both life and liberty!