Politics and religion: Archbishop Sheen’s words of wisdom

by Michaelyn Hein –

With the American presidential election upon us, we are pressed ever more fervently with the challenge to “keep religion out of politics.” It is the inevitable response whenever a priest speaks openly in support of politicians who fight against abortion. It is the inevitable response when a nun stands on a political stage, brandishing a rosary.

But to believe that our Christian faith is to be separated from and have no bearing on our political affiliations is something that, if we are true Christians, we can never do. For we are children of God before we are children of our country. We are sons and daughters of Christ first, and sons and daughters of our nation second. As such, the former must inform the latter. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2246) states: “It is a part of the Church’s mission to pass moral judgements even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.”

What trouble we find ourselves in when we place our politics before our faith. In doing so, we unwittingly find ourselves on the wide road to perdition, as we allow men rather than God to inform our approach. On the contrary, when we let our faith lead us in our political perspective, only then can we rest assured that we are at least attempting to follow the narrow road that leads to paradise.

“But who said that one must inform the other?” the opposing view argues. “We are not saying that. Rather, we are simply requesting that they keep separate from one another; that they do not mix at all!”

Such an argument fails, for even if it were possible for us never to allow our religious beliefs to influence our political ones, then something else must fill the void. As human beings, our perspective on the world has always been influenced by someone or something else. We do not create our ideas in a vacuum. We do not decide right and wrong independent of all else. Rather, we are taught, and we learn, from sources outside ourselves. As we grow, we continually inform our values based on others’ opinions and actions. We cannot escape that we are indeed led to our perspectives – political and otherwise – by other facts and ideas.

Which begs the following question: Who should we allow to be the greatest influence upon our perspectives, political or otherwise? Surely, someone or something must be. And if our answer is not Almighty God Himself, then we are poor Christians indeed.

In his book, Characters of the Passion, Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen offers further examination of the complaint that the Church interferes in politics. “Is this true?” he asks in the chapter that examines the character of Pontius Pilate.

His answer, in short, is, “As long as politics is politics, the Church has nothing to say. But when a state sets itself up as absolute as God,” then, yes, Sheen says, the Church has something to say indeed. “When politics ceases to be politics and begins to be a religion, when it claims supremacy over the soul of man, when it competes with religion on its own ground…then religion protests.”

“And when it does,” Sheen asserts, “its protest is not against politics but against a counter-religion that is anti-religious.”

It is arguable that this is the situation in which we find ourselves in America today. Perhaps no greater evidence of this exists than in the fact that our government has replaced God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” with its own commandment that a woman must not be denied the right to kill her own child. Such a government is no longer one of politics but of anti-religion.

“Never before has the political so usurped the spiritual,” Sheen acknowledges. “It was Jesus Christ Who suffered under Pontius Pilate; it was not Pontius Pilate who suffered under Jesus Christ.”

He further emphasizes, “The grave danger is not religion in politics but politics in religion.”

And can we not see it? In just the past year, our Church has put the temporal needs of her flock above the spiritual, favoring the orders of politicians over the orders of God Himself. Our shepherds shuttered the churches and barred the faithful from the Sacraments that our Lord promised can save the soul, in favor of actions that doctors weren’t even sure could save the body.

Just last year, our Church performed the most heinous of political stunts by welcoming false idols into the Vatican. More recently, the hierarchy of the Church in the United States has muzzled good shepherds who speak the truth, whilst condoning the wayward teachings of false shepherds, all in the name of politics. Need we any more evidence that what plagues our world today is not the danger of religion interfering in politics but of politics interfering in religion?

“The modern state,” Bishop Sheen argues, “is extending dominance over areas outside its province, family, education and the soul.” We see this in our government’s “lawful” breakdown of the nuclear family, its perpetration of pro-Marxist and anti-Christian education, and of its legalization of the most despicable acts against the unborn. For our Church to speak out against such abominations is not to interfere in a realm that does not belong to her, but to attempt to reclaim those areas which are only and always God’s.

Let us faithful Catholics not be afraid then to “interfere in politics.” Indeed, it may be more important to do so now than it ever has been before.

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