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Yamane argues that this dual structure allows the state conferences to be "faithful and effective representatives of the Church in state politics. The third chapter puts forward the most intriguing part of Yamane's thesis. It examines the role of the Catholic Church's "seamless garment" ideology, which because of its right-friendly anti-abortion platform but left-friendly economic and social platforms, necessitates that Catholic state conferences have a bipartisan lobbying orientation.

The conferences reportedly see their bipartisan status as [End Page ] an advantage, in that they can and often do, work with both Republicans and Democrats on various issues. However, Yamane also demonstrates that anti-abortion lobby efforts are invoked more than any other, and though they are not the only priority of these organizations, they are certainly the first priority. In the fourth chapter, Yamane examines how these Catholic lobbyists negotiated the legitimacy concerns raised by the Catholic sex abuse scandal.

Interestingly, he finds that while it had some concrete political consequences, it did not negatively affect the lobbying efforts of most conferences, nor the way that the lobbyists and their bishops if they were not directly involved in the scandal were seen by politicians. In the final chapter, he examines the various arguments made by Catholic lobbyists as they engage in state-level politics.

He finds that they use a variety of both religious and secular arguments when making cases to politicians, a result, he argues, of the fact that they are dealing with secular political institutions. In sum, The Catholic Church in State Politics provides a wealth of empirical information about state-level politics, lobbying efforts and organizations, and the way in which these lobbyists must manage their religious beliefs with the need for political expediency that their jobs mandate.

The book is clearly and engagingly written and will thus be of use to scholars of American religion, politics and institutions more generally. On the other hand, Catholic teachings on the dignity of the human person and the authenticity of the common good produce concern for the poor in the global economy and, especially in recent decades, advocacy of religious freedom, human rights, and democratic governance.

Despite this strategic position the Church faces challenges that can blunt its political impact. A shortage of priests and women religious nuns and sisters stretches Church resources in some places, while elsewhere the Church must sustain itself amidst syncretic influences of local cultures, desperate poverty, or hostile governments. Thus Catholic politics varies enormously by region, context, and issue.

This chapter begins with a review of the theological and historical context of Catholic engagement with politics, paying particular attention to the evolution of Catholic social teaching. This is followed by a discussion of Catholic politics in different regions of the world. The chapter concludes by examining issues that loom large on the horizon.


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The exploration of Catholicism, consequently, will provide a window into the broader and ever-dynamic relationship between religion and politics in the contemporary world. From its inception the Catholic Church has been enmeshed in worldly affairs. Popes raised armies, formed alliances, and anointed political rulers. The Church sought to wield the two swords of spiritual and temporal authority to perpetuate its vision of a united Christendom. To understand the logic and rationale of contemporary Catholic politics one must trace how the loss of this temporal position led the Church to think afresh about its place in the world.

We see this in the dramatic transformation of the Church in the century between the two Vatican councils —70 and — Pope Pius IX not only convened the first Vatican Council, which promulgated the doctrine of papal infallibility, he also issued his infamous Syllabus of Errors in In that document the pontiff condemned modernism, liberalism, religious freedom, the idea of progress, and separation of Church and state. His encyclical Rerum Novarum argued that the Church must bring to bear gospel values in addressing the crises of the industrial age — untrammelled capitalism, child labour, mass suffering, and Marxist revolutions.

Anchoring Rerum Novarum and subsequent social teaching is the idea of Dignitatis Humanae — the dignity of the human person. Desperate poverty and exploitation violate the gospel message of love and require appropriate political responses, particularly the payment of just wages and provision of leisure time for worship and family succour. This language of human personhood also implies that people are social creatures, embedded in families and organic communities that should be supported, not supplanted by the state.

Thus Church teaching sought a middle way between laissez faire capitalism and state socialism. Although the Church sought to lift the yoke on workers in Rerum Novarum , it did not yet accept central tenets of liberal democracy.


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  4. In a symbiotic relationship authoritarian regimes happily granted such privilege in return for the legitimacy the Church could provide. The legacy of fascism, instrumental in the devastation of Europe during World War II, shocked the Church into a deeper reflection on the proper governance of society. To be sure, the Pope, in Aristotelian fashion, qualified his endorsement of democracy by arguing that it depended on citizens properly guided by natural law and socialised to seek the common good.

    Despite this embrace the Church continued to resist a key tenet of pluralist democracy — that all religious groups should enjoy freedom of worship and organisation. And the Church enforced that view on its clergy and scholars. The celebrated American theologian John Courtney Murray made a Catholic case for religious freedom, pluralist forms of Church—state relations, and ecumenical cooperation. But he was reproached and silenced by the Church in the s. Understanding this background helps us see the significance of the Second Vatican Council — , especially its later documents.

    Social Forces

    Two individuals would be pivotal drafters of this historic document: John Courtney Murray, who brought with him the American experience of Catholic participation in a pluralist democracy, and one Bishop Wojtyla of Poland, whose defence of the faith against the totalitarian tyrannies of Nazism and Communism forged a fierce commitment to free churches as bulwarks of civil society and resistance to oppression.

    As pontiff, of course, he would be placed in a pivotal position to implement this vision. When the Church stopped relying on temporal power to pursue its spiritual mission it was freed to challenge the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes, and with a few exceptions it did just that. Indeed, like a great ocean liner that turns slowly but with tremendous force in its new direction, the Church became a powerful engine of democracy. As Samuel Huntington documents, the last great wave of democratisation was largely a Catholic wave. In three-quarters of all Catholic countries were ruled by authoritarian regimes; by all but a few were democracies.

    The Catholic Church is a unique multifarious institution. Headquartered at Vatican City, the Holy See retains remnants of state sovereignty, including an elaborate diplomatic structure that sends and receives ambassadors. This section explores the first of these roles, as captured under the rubric of Vatican diplomacy, then touches on transnational global activism of other Catholic organisations.

    A major focus of papal initiatives in the past few decades has been human rights, particularly religious freedom. For John Paul II this involved championing religious freedom behind the Iron Curtain, and then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, to broader authoritarian contexts. More recently the waxing of militant Islamist movements, imperilling the lives of indigenous Christian communities, has captured the attention of popes and Vatican diplomats.

    During a visit to Turkey he joined Patriarch Bartholomew I, leader of Orthodox Christianity, in pleading for religious freedom and protection for Christians in their homelands. There is no other way. By this evocative theological language Francis suggested that in modern martyrdom the blood of disparate Christians is mixed in martyrdom.

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    Another human rights concern gaining increasing attention by the Vatican is human trafficking. Based on his first-hand work in the slums of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis has invested considerable personal leadership on the issue. In response, a global workshop was sponsored by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, along with the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, which produced detailed recommendations for the Church, governments, and global institutions.

    This was followed by a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in April of that convened scholars, law enforcement experts, and activists to highlight successful anti-trafficking strategies and draft recommendations for the UN and national governments. Not only did the Pope send letters to both President Obama and President Castro inviting rapprochement, he convened a secret meeting between the two countries at the Vatican that facilitated diplomatic openings. Pope Francis also waded into Middle East politics. This gathering, termed a Prayer Summit, featured Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers emphasising common humanity and forgiveness.

    Agencies like Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, and Jesuit Refugee Services work in some of the harshest places on earth and funnel information and policy recommendations to the Vatican. One example of how this works concerns debt relief, which is particularly pressing in poor African countries whose debt service payments crowd out expenditures for education, health care, and economic development. Catholic development agencies and advocates joined alliances to press governments and international financial institutions to write off burdensome debts.

    Coming from the developing world, Pope Francis has intensified Vatican attention to the poor and signalled that championing their cause will lie at the centre of his papacy. Indeed, all aspects of his papacy seem to converge to a theology of the poor, to a radical identification with the destitute and exploited and a simultaneous challenge to those with economic resources and political power to do far more than provide alms. Choosing as his namesake St. Francis, he has chided the princes of the Church to abandon their privileges and cast their lot with the poor. He has written that the heart of the gospel is radically for the marginalised.

    In addition, the Pope linked the plight of the poor with the state of the global environment. His message, to be developed in a much-anticipated environmental encyclical in the summer of , is that environmental degradation and climate change fall most heavily on the poor, who lack resources to adapt. Thus development strategies must simultaneously provide uplift for the poor and care for creation. Another notable foray of the Church into global politics concerns war and peace-making.

    Increasingly the Pope questioned whether modern warfare could meet the criteria of just war, and erected a high moral threshold for the use of force.

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    Both in private conversations and public pronouncements the Pope inveighed against the war, and his nuncio to the US joined the American bishops in challenging its justification. Beyond the Vatican, Catholic NGOs and their peace networks play an active role in conflict mediation. A systematic global study found this group involved in a disproportionate number of successful mediating efforts, in such diverse nations as Mozambique, Algeria, Uganda, Kosovo, Guatemala, and Liberia. Catholic development organisations are also sometimes drawn into peace-making initiatives.

    In strife in the Central African Republic CAR spawned violence by Christian militias against Muslims, resulting in the destruction of numerous mosques and a massive exodus of Muslim refugees. In response, Catholic Relief Services collaborated with Muslim groups in mediating initiatives to quell the violence and promote reconciliation. Because the Vatican and Catholic NGOs have observer status at the United Nations and other international forums, the Church remains an active presence in these debates. At population summits, for example, the Church has clashed with Western nations and feminist organisations over their advocacy of abortion access.

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    Church officials fear that the approach of liberal NGOs undermines traditional morality and promotes sexual permissiveness that leads to the abuse of girls and women. While these positions put the Church squarely in opposition to liberalising social trends, it has joined progressive allies in calling for more spending on AIDS medical treatment, promoting access for girls and women to education, and expanding economic opportunity for the poor, which it sees as the most efficacious means of stabilising populations. Moreover, Pope Francis introduced a dramatic new tone to these debates.

    We now turn to the diverse examples of political engagement by the Church in different regions of the world. Europe was once the Catholic heartland and the Church played a large role in statecraft. But it is useful to highlight the contributions of Catholicism to the political scene of Europe. One of several signal contributions involved the formation of the Christian Democratic parties that played a crucial, if unheralded, role in building stable democracies in Western Europe after World War II.


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    A leading figure was Jacques Maritain — , who helped lay the intellectual foundations for the Christian Democratic movement. Guided by this vision, Christian Democratic parties enacted family- and Church-friendly social welfare policies. A genuine international movement, Christian Democratic parties went on to help consolidate democracy in several Latin American nations.

    In Eastern Europe the story of how the Church helped undermine communism is well known. This shielded religious and secular dissidents alike, who developed trust and solidarity through religious rituals that took on political significance. With the collapse of communism the Vatican focus shifted to battling secularising trends. When John Paul II returned to democratic Poland, for example, he chided the people for rising consumerism and materialism.

    The Catholic Church in State Politics

    This took tangible form in deliberations over the constitution of the European Union, in which the Vatican backed language that would explicitly acknowledge the Christian heritage of Europe, but only gained watered down reference to cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe. Throughout Europe the Vatican also fought largely unsuccessful battles against socially liberal policies, such as legal abortion, same-sex marriage or civil unions, stem cell research, and euthanasia.

    While Pope Francis has not departed fundamentally from his predecessors on these questions, his reorienting emphasis on the crisis of the marginalised has fostered new goodwill for the Church on the continent.