church and state

What is the Church’s Political Role?

For more than 1500 years the Church was a major influence on Western politics. That is how it should be. Ultimate standards matter, and if the Church doesn’t explain what they are and how to apply them someone else will. It’s not an improvement when her authority gives way to that of journalists, advertisers, TV [...]

Cardinal Kasper’s Challenge Distracts from the Real Problem

As the Synod of Bishops on the Family convenes this week, the Catholic Church has a heaven-sent opportunity to atone for one of the biggest failures in modern ecclesiastical history and in so doing to take a major step in resuscitating the Christian faith in the daily lives of millions of people. The provocative challenge [...]

Was Robert Bellarmine Ahead of His Time?

In Empire of Souls, Stefania Tutino offers a fresh perspective on the central role Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) played in the development of post-Reformation Catholicism, and its relationship to the early modern state. Tutino complements her study with a newly published collection of writings, never before translated into English, that she believes best represents Bellarmine’s political [...]

Why We Are Arguing About Religion

Most of us have been told from a young age that religious beliefs cause strife. The early modern “wars of religion” are portrayed as merely the most overt form of what happens when religion is allowed too much influence in public life. Of course, Protestant and Catholic forces fought on both sides of these conflicts. [...]

Prayer as a Political Problem: A Classic Reconsidered

When Groucho Marx announced that he would never want to join a club that would have someone like him as a member, it obviously hadn’t crossed his mind that he had just made an excellent (if unwitting) case for membership in the Roman Catholic Church.  A club where the admissions policy is so perfectly promiscuous [...]

Why St. Thomas Becket was Martyred

Many people who venerate the name of Thomas Becket (and/or love the movie with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole that carries his name) likely do not understand the cause for which he was martyred, and if they did learn it, would likely be scandalized given our current presuppositions concerning the prerogatives of the omnipotent State [...]

Lenten Meditations on Politics

Lent is a time of personal transformation, so it is a time of inwardness. It nonetheless has an outward-turning aspect. Man is social, and God is other than ourselves, so in addition to fasting to help us put our attachments in their place, Lent encourages prayer and almsgiving to increase our love of God and [...]

Catholics Will Likely Relive Past Persecutions

Man is a social being and doesn’t invent his own world. To orient himself and understand what his life is about he has to find his proper place, which is an order of things where he can feel at home and to which he can give undivided allegiance. To deserve that allegiance the order of [...]

A Catholic Response to the Demise of Rational Public Discourse

To follow the news today is to get the impression that public life, in the sense of rational discussion oriented toward some reasonable understanding of the common good, has come to an end. Everyone notices the partisanship, the bad faith, the indifference to truth, and the substitution of entertainment for hard news. Catholics in particular [...]

The Slide Toward State Control

During his Apostolic Visit to the United States, on April 16, 2008, which was also his birthday, Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed to the White House by President George W. Bush.  The Pope expressed the hope that his visit would be a source of renewal to the Church in the United States. Early in his remarks, [...]

To Defeat Caesar Requires the Armor of Christ

The current situation in which American Catholics find themselves at sword’s point with a government bent on imposing an agenda hostile to both human life and religious liberty, puts me in mind of a similar dust-up forty some years ago.  The year was 1970, Paul VI was on the chair of St. Peter, and the [...]

Victory’s Spoils: The Edict of Milan

G. K. Chesterton was a master at making plain the paradoxical character of Christianity.   He knew that to stray too far to one side or another was to leave the path of orthodoxy far behind.  To stay on that road was exciting, racing past the hulks of discarded heresies.  “The heavenly chariot flies thundering through [...]

The State Exists to Serve, Not Usurp, the Family

We are approaching, in this series, Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum, on the condition of the working classes.  I’ve been maintaining that it is impossible to discuss Catholic Social Teaching without specifying what Catholics understand as a society.  I’ve also insisted upon the wise dictum of Saint Thomas, that grace perfects nature, which [...]

The Liberal Catholic Legacy: From Strict Separation to “Social Justice”

John F. Kennedy delivered a memorable speech in the presidential campaign of 1960, proclaiming the absolute separation of church and state.  His words still reverberate among American Catholics, as we saw during the primary season of 2012 when Senator Rick Santorum said Kennedy’s speech made him “throw up.”  Naturally, this got our attention and made [...]

How Bismark Lost Kulturkampf

Now that the Affordable Care Act has survived its Supreme Court challenge, there comes the fight over its implementation. Moral considerations rank high on the list of casus belli for Catholics and other religious groups. They fear that the Act will force them to pay for procedures which they abhor, like the morning-after pill, abortion, [...]

Who’s Killing Grandma?

Last summer Republican proposals to reform Medicare inspired the Democratic public relations machine to new heights of hyperbole, the most hyperbolic showing a look-alike of congressman Paul Ryan unceremoniously dumping grandma off a cliff. The clear implication is that the Democrats care and Republicans are simply nasty. But who is really killing grandma and does [...]

Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty

The role of individual conscience and religion in American society has been debated since the arrival of the first English settlers. The original intent of the Puritans was to establish a theocracy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Winthrop, its first governor (1588-1649) envisioned it to be a “city on a hill.” Roger Williams (1603-83), [...]

The Dark Gulf Before Us

In March of 1938, when the naïve among his contemporaries still thought they might cut a deal with the National Socialists, Winston Churchill saw his country “descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf.” A gulf beckons today, and no amount of forced optimism or self-conscious jollity will stop the descent to [...]

Rick’s Degrees of Separation

There they go again. The mainstream media has once more dug up a statement made by Rick Santorum about religion in an attempt to paint him as a member of some sort of new, clandestine Catholic Inquisition, poised to take over the American government after the next election. He can only be stopped if free-thinking [...]

In Washington State, a Victory for Conscience

It was a great way to start Lent. On Ash Wednesday, in an eagerly anticipated  case, a federal judge in Washington State issued a ruling that strongly affirmed  the centrality of the rights of conscience and religious exercise. The court ruled that Christian pharmacists could not be required to stock and  dispense medication that violated [...]

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