Pope Leo XIII and Modern Politics

Riley U. – P. 5
The political views of Catholics are constantly questioned; the church teaches one thing while numerous voters elect officials who stand for the opposite. In 2012, the Catholic Church’s stance in the political world has become increasingly important with the overwhelming number of Catholics and the very split votes that they submit. While some do not believe that religion should play a role in political opinions, the Catholic Church teaches otherwise. In his encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII writes about capital and labor. In this, he connects the rights bestowed from God onto humans with the argument about how to properly share property as a community and where the State and the family divide. The Pope’s view that things earned are, by nature, one’s own, along with his view that familial rights and Christian obligations come before that of the State are contradictory to the current status of the government.

In his encyclical, the Pope points out the right bestowed onto married couples to have children; however, with the redefinition of marriage under the current government, this right is no longer guaranteed. The Pope states that “No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, […] and the principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s author from the beginning ‘Increase and multiply.’” However, with legalizations on gay marriage, God’s original ‘purpose of marriage’ is no longer physically possibly for such a couple. Therefore, the government’s law regulating this type of marriage is contradictory to the church’s law that states the natural rights of a married couple because the Church’s law is no longer possible if the State’s law is put into practice.

The same struggle of choosing the true law is evident when the Pope claims that familial law comes before government policies. The current government sets restrictions on families and individuals and expects these to be followed regardless of the beliefs of an individual family’s views. These expectations, therefore nullify the authority that the Pope bestows on fathers that grant them authority over the whole family. At age 18, individuals are considered to be adults in the eyes of the government and are granted many privileges such as the ability to live on their own. However, if the individual’s parents do not want the child moving out, they have the rights to make them stay. The question lies in whose authority is greater: while the Pope says that it is the father, the government says that the individual gets the ultimate decision. Because of this, the government’s policies are conflicting to those of the church because in the State, the government rules while in the Church, a father rules.

The clashing of opinions between State and Church holds true not just for familial matters, but for the division of labor and capital as well. The Pope claims in his Encyclical that property attained through labor is property of the individual and no longer is shared between the communities. This statement can be seen as contradictory to the government’s enforcement on taxes which take a portion of the working class’s money and distributes it to the poor for living. This policy is against the Pope’s view because he says that “by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages.” By saying this, the Pope states that taking away a portion of a single person’s income in order to give it to another individual person or group of people, the person who originally worked for the money is deprived of his or her right to use the wages earned in whatever way he or she pleases. Because of this, the government’s ability to take money away without concession from those who earn it and give it to those who do not is contradictory to the church’s teachings that assign all workers the right to use their money in a way that they choose.

In addition to just the obligatory distribution of money, the government’s recent change to the law regarding abortions in all hospitals causes the workmen to be divided between laws of the State and laws of the Church. While the law of the government states that all hospitals, including Catholic ones, will have to offer an abortion for patients who request it, the Church’s moral code is strictly against the killing of unborn babies. The Pope states that an employee’s obligations as religious person should not be hindered due to their employment status. He says that “justice demands that, in dealing with the working man, religion and the good of his soul must be kept in mind. Hence, the employer is bound to see that the worker […] be not exposed to corrupting in fluencies and dangerous occasions.” If, however, the government does force hospital employees to perform abortions, then as Catholics, this would be ‘corrupting’ one’s nature and causing detriment to one’s soul. Consequently, the government’s law that demands hospitals to perform a task that they do not wish to perform violates not only the Church’s view that employers should not cause harm to one’s soul, but it also violates the Church’s law about the action itself.

Because both the State and the Church have such strong opposing laws, one still has to decide for himself or herself as to which law they choose to follow. While the government may say one does or does not have a ‘right’ to do something, the person ultimately is capable of doing it whether or not he or she is given legal permission or not. In the same way, if the Church sets a law forth but one does not wish to follow, he or she technically has the right, by nature, to do whatever he or she wants. This is seen every time one sins in the church because each sin is ultimately breaking a rule that both God and the Church has set in place. By looking at the teachings of Pope Leo XIII, it can be seen that laws and rules are often disputable, depending on which authority one ultimately decides is head.

Despite the fact that the government’s policies are contradictory to the Pope and the Church’s teachings, the lawmakers were elected by the people and therefore hold the ideas of the majority of the individuals in the United States. However, if these lawmakers and voters had considered Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical, the laws and officials would possibly be different. The division between State and Church law as noted in the Pope’s Encyclical cause individuals to have to make a choice of whether to obey the laws of the Church and its natural rights, or to obey the current policies of the government and its man-made rights.


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