The American who wishes to bring the entirety of Catholic social doctrine to bear on his political participation confronts a built-in frustration. The major political parties, and the corresponding political designations for “left” and “right,” force him to choose which points of Catholic social teaching he will abandon. The political party that is pro-life as to abortion, or, more correctly, more pro-life as to abortion than the other party, is also the party that is less inclined to support the teaching that there is a universal destination of all goods. At the same time, that political party that seems friendlier to the concerns of labor is also the party opposed to recognizing the traditional family as the cell of the social organism.
Catholics who are inclined to allow their religion to impact every aspect of their lives, including their political lives, see clearly the nature of the dilemma. But there are others, though they are far from being chargeable with insincerity, who have, perhaps, fallen before the psychologically intolerable nature of the situation, have thrown in their lot with one or the other of the major political parties, and no longer perceive any distinction between the social doctrines of their Church and the positions of their respective factions. The tragic outcome is an American Catholic Church that is divided by politics.
While this tendency may effect the obfuscation of Catholic social teaching as the partisans engage in verbal contortions to serve up the appearance of compliance with that body of doctrine, it becomes clear to the one who makes the effort to approach Catholic social teaching without bias that there is really nothing that is ambiguous about it at all. For example, the one who insists that the social doctrine of the Church can countenance legislation that hamstrings the ability of labor to bargain on its own behalf has lost the ability to read, to absorb information, or to be honest.
In the political landscape of the United States, whatever value there may be in the attempt to influence either the Democratic or Republican parties toward Catholic social teaching in all of its particulars, there is an evident need for the entire body of the teaching to find a place in the political sphere. This cannot be done within either of the two major parties, since both of them are markedly unfriendly to various elements of Catholic social doctrine. Some organizational manifestation outside the structures of those parties is, therefore, necessary.
The ongoing development of the American Solidarity Party has received mention in these pages before, and, if its eventual platform embodies the social doctrine of the Church, it will serve as a valuable podium for a voice that has hitherto been drowned out in the din of the nation’s political conflicts. Still, practical expectations must humbly acknowledge that the success of the endeavor will most likely take the form of impacting the nature of public debates, rather than supplanting one or the other of the major political parties.
Another strategy, that need not be in conflict with the formation of a third party, would be to try to force a more favorable disposition toward the entire body of Catholic social teaching by individual politicians from both of the major parties. This could be done by the deliberate formation of a visible voting bloc which, if it became numerous enough, could influence the positions that politicians take on the issues addressed in Catholic social doctrine by the promise of votes for those candidates who line up with the bloc, and the anticipation of votes withheld from those who do not. The votes would be given to those candidates who side with the social doctrine of the Church on every issue, not just some of them. Otherwise, there would be no change from the current situation, where politicians from both parties often agree with the Church’s social teaching on some issues, but not all.
With the possibilities of communication being greater than they ever have been, largely through the resources of the internet, the potential for such an endeavor are enormous. Catholics are nearly a quarter of the U.S. population , and there are non-Catholics who find common ground with the Church in her social doctrine. The only questions are how many Catholics actually agree with the entire body of the social teachings of their religion, and, of those who do agree, how many consider the matter of sufficient importance to engage in such an endeavor.