BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (97) – What rights and duties do Catholics have in social life?

Rev José Mario O Mandía 


Society has to recognize the right and obligation of Catholics to act in the political arena in accordance with their faith. If politics respects the dignity of persons, it does not mean that it is subjugated to religion. What it means is that politics is at the service of the person, and should, therefore, respect moral norms. This is the same thing as saying that one should respect and foster the dignity of every human person. Moreover, to engage in political activity for reasons beyond the mere material and temporal – transcendental motives – is very much in line with the full development of human nature.


At the same time, we should acknowledge that there is room for pluralism in temporal matters; Catholics can hold differing positions and diverse opinions. None of these opinions can claim to be the only adequate alternative. The Church has to recognize this legitimate autonomy of lay people to manage their temporal affairs, as long as they act in accordance with Catholic doctrine. Furthermore, this also means that the faithful should act on their own personal responsibility; they do not drag the Church in their personal decisions and social behavior, making sure not to present their personal solutions as the Catholic solution.

Pluralism is not a lesser evil, but a positive element. It is rooted in man’s freedom. It is preferable to accept a diversity in temporal matters, rather than achieve uniformity at the cost of personal freedom. Pluralism, however, should not be confused with ethical relativism. Ethical relativism does not take moral principles into account, unlike real pluralism. It ignores the Natural Law, public order, and basic human rights.


The CCCC (no 519) asks, “In what way do Christians participate in political and social life?” It replies as follows: “The lay faithful take part directly in political and social life by animating temporal realities with a Christian spirit and collaborating with all as authentic witnesses of the Gospel and agents of peace and justice.”

St Josemaría Escrivá wrote in Forge (715):

“We children of God, who are citizens with the same standing as any others, have to take part fearlessly in all honest human activities and organizations, so that Christ may be present in them.

“Our Lord will ask a strict account of each one of us if through neglect or love of comfort we do not freely strive to play a part in the human developments and decisions on which the present and future of society depend.”

Catholics should learn to exercise their civil rights and fulfil their duties in society. By imbuing all their actions with love of God and love of men, they sanctify society from within, they make it holy and pleasing to God. Hence, they need to have a great spirit of initiative and responsibility. They cannot renounce their participation in many human endeavours, including politics. All these can be purified of human imperfection, elevated to the supernatural order, sanctified, and turned into a means of bringing souls closer to God, and bringing God closer to souls.


The CCCC (404) teaches us: “Authentic human society requires respect for justice, a just hierarchy of values, and the subordination of material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones. In particular, where sin has perverted the social climate, it is necessary to call for the conversion of hearts and for the grace of God to obtain social changes that may really serve each person and the whole person. Charity, which requires and makes possible the practice of justice, is the greatest social commandment.”As Pope Benedict XVI taught in the Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (nos 1 & 2): “Charity in truth … is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. … Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.”