What makes a politician ‘Catholic’? Pope Francis says it’s not a political party.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington Sept. 24, 2015. Also pictured are former Vice President Joe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner, both of whom are Catholic. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

What makes a politician "Catholic" is not party affiliation, but dedication to promoting the common good, particularly through listening to and empowering people who often are overlooked, Pope Francis said.

"I invite you to live your faith with great freedom, never believing that there exists only one form of political commitment for Catholics, a Catholic party," the pope said March 4 during a meeting with 26 young Latin America leaders attending a course on politics and the social teaching of the church. The course was supported by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

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Pope Francis told the young adults that politics in Latin America needs "a new presence of Catholics," meaning not just "new faces in the electoral campaigns, but mainly new methods that are simultaneously critical and constructive."

A Catholic politician, he said, always looks for "the possible good, even if it is modest."

Quoting St. Paul VI, Pope Francis told the young leaders, "In concrete situations, and taking account of solidarity in each person's life, one must recognize a legitimate variety of possible options. The same Christian faith can lead to different commitments."

For that reason, he said, Catholic politicians will join different parties and will work with people of other faiths in pursuing the common good.

"Being a Catholic in politics does not mean being a recruit from a group, an organization or a party," but striving to serve others based on one's baptismal calling and strengthened by regular participation in a faith community.

Without that support, he said, one risks facing "the challenges of power, of strategies, of action" alone.

True democracy can never mean "for the people, but not with the people," the pope said. To be Catholic is to recognize that one belongs to a community, to listen to the community and to respond to the real needs of people in the community.

In Latin America today, the pope said, there are three groups that need particular attention, and listening to them offers real hope for finding concrete solutions to the region's problems: women, the young and the poor.

Women, he said, are "a pillar in the building of the church and society," young people have "the dissatisfaction and rebelliousness that are necessary to promote true changes and not merely cosmetic ones" and, through service to and with the poor, he said, "the church shows her fidelity" to Christ.

"Their presence, their joys and, especially, their suffering are a strong wake-up call for those who are responsible for public life," the pope said, and in responding to their needs, a government goes a long way in truly working for the common good in ways that are concrete and not simply slogans.

"If we do not want to get lost in a sea of empty words, let us always look at the faces of women, young people and the poor," he said. "Let's look at them as subjects of change and not as mere objects of assistance."

Pope Francis also quoted at length from a homily delivered by St. Oscar Romero in 1978: "To be a good political activist one need not be a Christian, but Christians involved in political activity have an obligation to profess their faith in Christ and to use methods that are congruent with their faith. If a conflict arises in this area between loyalty to the faith and loyalty to the organization, genuine Christians must choose faith and demonstrate that their struggle for justice is for the justice of God's kingdom and no other."

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J Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

But what if one of the political parties makes it impossible to do what the Pope says a politician should do? What is true change? Are there any role models for societies to emulate where Catholic Social Teaching has worked? Otherwise it is just words.

Who decides what is desirable for women, youth and the poor?

Dcn Cliff Britton
4 months 2 weeks ago

and what about when all serious candidates are seriously flawed in their world view, when compared to Catholic teaching? I find that their is no choosing the least evil... because it is still choosing an evil.

Colin Donovan
4 months 1 week ago

No candidate is ever perfect, morally or politically. When one chooses to limit the evil that the worse candidate would do if elected, one chooses THAT as the object of voting, not the flaws that the candidate has. The principle is contained in the theological tradition, and enunciated as recently as the 1990s by Pope John Paul II in the Gospel of Life n.74 with respect to flawed legislation, and in 2004 by Pope Benedict, in writing to the US Bishops about candidates who favor abortion.

Mark Ruzon
4 months 2 weeks ago

I'm not going to argue with Pope Francis. However, I invite my fellow American Catholics and America readers to give consideration to the American Solidarity Party, a secular party whose platform is nearly identical to Catholic Social Teaching as defined by the Church.

Tim Donovan
4 months 1 week ago

I have read (or to be honest) skimmed over the platform of the American Solidarity Party (ASP). I first read about ASP in an article in our Sunday Visitor in (I believe) early 2016. I also have in past years, made several modest contributions to the party, and received (at my request) an e-mail newsletter. My understanding of the ASP party ,platform is,being for the sanctity of human life; the necessity fir chikdre f?or for akl tyrnrd chsoter

Tim Donovan
4 months 1 week ago

I have read (or to be honest) skimmed over the platform of the American Solidarity Party (ASP). I first read about ASP in an article in our Sunday Visitor in (I believe) early 2016. I also have in past years, made several modest contributions to the party, and received (at my request) an e-mail newsletter. My understanding of the ASP party ,platform is,being for the sanctity of human life; the necessity of social justice; responsibility for the care of the environmente; and the promotion of a more peaceful world. The brief platform summary is that t he party will act as a bridge between the bitter partisan divide with respectful policies and dialogue. I do have considerable respect for the principles of the American Solidarity Party. However, I don't believe that the time has come for the ASP to succeed in terms of winning offices. I believe that the best that we can hope for is the spreading of the valuable message of the American Solidarity Party.

Adeolu Ademoyo
4 months 1 week ago

God Bless Pope Francis-the servant of all servants of Christ. Here are the key arguments in Pope Francis' observation, (i) "Live The Faith", (ii) "Being a Catholic in politics does not mean being a recruit from a group, an organization or a party." Those are the faith and religious issues which Pope Francis called attention to. Given the stench of corruption, criminality, racism, tribalism, anti-life, anti-truth, relativism, atheism, irreligiousity, secularism, bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, division, promoted by political parties, the truth in Pope Francis' observation is infallible, incorrigible and indubitable. May the God almighty continue to strengthen and bless Pope Francis-the servant of all genuine and sincere servants of Christ.

Tim Donovan
4 months 1 week ago

I was a registered Democrat from age 18 in 1980 until about 10 years ago. (I'n now 57). For several years I was a registered Independent, since neither major party fully reflected my views. About 6 years ago, I reluctantly became a Republican, although I still support many if not most of the typical positions of the Democratic party. I would describe myself as being politically left of center. I agree with Pope Francis that belonging to a particular political party doesn't make one a good Catholic. I also believe that it's very possible and necessary to work with people who belong to different faiths within the same political party. Also, I believe Pope Francis referred to working for the common good, and cooperating when possible with members of one's "opponents." No one in my view deserves to be mistreated by being called hateful terms. (As an aside, as a Catholic who's gay but believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I know what it's like to be taunted by people using cruel terms; "faggot" was tue word hurled at me fairly often in derision.). I must admit that your long list of wrongs "promoted by political parties" is confusing to me. Forgive me (perhaps it's the late hour when I'm writing this post) but I believe that neither the Republicans nor Democrats have a monopoly on truth or respect for human life. Finally, I do agree with St. Oscar Romero that if one must choose between belonging to/supporting the entire platform of a party, and following the faith of the Church founded by Jesus, one must choose following the faith rather than adhering to the (often) mistaken views of either/both major political parties.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
4 months 1 week ago

Doing some little good in the little time that is still left before saying permanent good-bye, could add life to one's lifespan as a politician or otherwise.

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