The question posed in this article is whether Catholics can fully, unreservedly, and conscientiously carry out their duties as citizens and as holders of their various public offices (legislative, judicial and executive) of the State, in accordance with the laws and constitution of the democratic and pluralist States in which they live. My concern—as a practicing Catholic and a practicing lawyer—is that the increasingly fierce Church criticism, which arose during the papacy of John Paul II and now of Benedict XVI, of the perceived trend towards secularization in the social and political mores of Western (particularly European) democracies, and the greater readiness by Church officials to take it upon themselves explicitly to instruct the laity in political matters, puts this whole issue again into question. Should the bishops of the Catholic Church be seeking to use their ecclesiastical authority (over the faithful) to oppose or promote changes in the laws which apply to all within our society and/or to influence the way we might vote or carry out civic duties? This is a big and complex area involving the interplay of politics and theology; of private and public morality. It touches on the role of teaching office of the Catholic Church and the assent (and possibility of dissent) on the part of the faithful. It takes in questions of conscientious objection and unjust laws. It concerns individual conscience and the hope of salvation. It is about voting as sinning. It is about judging, and being judged.

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