Catholics excluded from public life

Katarzyna Cegielska

‘Catholics, do not hide your heads in the sand; be active in building common good. Catholics who are involved in politics, be yourselves in all expressions of your lives and behaviours; be yourselves: coherent and aware of your specific callings to apostleship,’ these words were spoken by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, during the Third International Congress ‘Catholics and politics – chances and threats.’ This scientific meeting was held at the Higher School of Social and Media Culture in Torun on 26-27 November 2010, under the patronage of the Catholic Weekly ‘Niedziela.’
The Congress ‘Catholics and politics – chances and threats’ was organised by the Higher School of Social and Media Culture in Torun, the Chair of Philosophy of Culture of the Catholic University in Lublin and the International Gilson Society in New York. Many Catholic politicians and scientists from all over the world accepted the invitation. In their speeches they shared their experiences of the presence of Catholics in politics and their observations of the societies they lived. Unfortunately, their observations were not optimistic. ‘Our secularised society is living in greater freedom of choice than we used to; relativism has intensified and individuals have lost interest in Christian values,’ said Prof. Werner Münch, the former Minister of Finance and Prime Minister of Saxony. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi he gave ‘seven deadly sins’ of modern society. These are: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, business without morality, science without humanity, religion without readiness to sacrifice and politics without principles. The speakers shared their conviction that they followed principles in their private and public lives. As Dr. Krzysztof Bielinski, the Rector of the Higher School of Social and Media Culture in Torun, said politics could not be for Catholics only an effective way of gaining power. ‘For Catholics politics is something nobler and more responsible since it has a moral dimension. Those involved in politics should be people of social confidence,’ the rector stressed.
The Third International Congress ‘Catholics and politics – chances and threats’ was opened by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. Although he could not come to Torun, he was present thanks to modern technology. His speech entitled ‘The Church and politics’ referred to the doctrinal note of the Congregation for Catholic Education about some aspects of Catholics’ activities and conduct in politics. As Cardinal Grocholewski stated the document could be summarised in two appeals, ‘Catholics, do not hide your heads in the sand; be active in building the common good.’ And ‘Catholics who are involved in politics, be yourselves in all expressions of your lives and behaviours; be yourselves: coherent and aware of your specific callings to apostleship.’
The congress participants had the chance to meet Scott Bloch, the former adviser to the US President George Bush. He had his moments of fame when he was in focus of public opinion and could shape good things. ‘For my part I can only present the perspective of how such circumstances could influence man who wanted to follow his rules and to which extent he could do it despite many difficulties, uncertainty and obstacles. Whether I succeeded or not depends on your and other people’s evaluations’, Bloch said. He admitted that for most Catholics involved in politics they themselves were the problems. ‘The problem is their lack of awareness that they are at the very centre of post-modernistic culture; that they are not influenced by Realistic Philosophy, which sees the truth in things and in us, but post-modernistic philosophy, which is in general pragmatic, technocratic and oriented towards manipulation and production of things and pleasures’, stressed the presidential adviser and warned against being simply sucked in the process of bureaucratic nature. ‘One can yield to the temptation of beautiful practical things and then listen to the promises that if you do what I tell you – and it is hard to resist the power of bureaucracy – you will be promoted to higher-level party posts, higher committees, state offices, those of election and nomination, and only then you will be able to do real good. In bureaucracy there is always some ‘and only then,’ Bloch spoke. During his political carrier he was attacked for being too Catholic. The American guest warned against making concessions. ‘We must fight against the evil we see. First of all, we should not be deluded thinking that following secularism and de-Christianisation we can somehow soften or change things. Only the truth can set people free. We should be apostles of Jesus Christ and the truth that he personifies…,’ Bloch appealed to the participants.
Prof. Alfredo Marcos from the University of Valladolid, Spain, spoke about Catholics being excluded from politics. He noted that the presence of Catholics in many sectors of public life, e.g. politics, media, institutions of higher education, is alarmingly small. ‘Individual Catholics feel uncomfortable as politicians in various parties. The left wing party is trying to check whether they are ready to put voting discipline over their consciences whereas the right wing party – whether they are able to focus their struggles with the left wing party only on the field of economy’, the Spanish speaker said. He added that while voting Catholics had another, even more difficult problem. ‘They must choose between a party which is explicitly hostile to their ideas and a party that is ashamed of defending them. Thus the ideas and values of the Christian tradition are practically subject to political exclusion,’ Prof. Marcos said sadly. What is the antidote for social exclusion, which after all occurs in other countries? He stressed that in his homeland there were many citizens’ movements that tried to mobilise people to sign protests, to vote and express their opinions. ‘I think that it is the right way to get out of political exclusion, ‘ Prof. Marcos concluded.

"Niedziela" 51/2010

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