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Are there “non-negotiable” issues in politics?

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When the subject of “moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation” was raised before Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he wrote the following:

When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. 

Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such. The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society’s protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example). In addition, there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which «the rights of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged”. 

Finally, the question of peace must be mentioned. Certain pacifistic and ideological visions tend at times to secularize the value of peace, while, in other cases, there is the problem of summary ethical judgments which forget the complexity of the issues involved. Peace is always «the work of justice and the effect of charity”. It demands the absolute and radical rejection of violence and terrorism and requires a constant and vigilant commitment on the part of all political leaders. (Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 4.)

For a Catholic, living out his or her faith, these principles are not open to “negotiation.” They are basic truths and moral principles that must be followed without exception. Not all of them are equal, but all of them must be considered in voting decisions. People of good will may have legitimate differences of opinion on how policy initiatives advance these principles. (See: The Two Temptations.) Applying them in civic participation is a matter for prudential judgment based on a well-formed conscience.

Our faith tradition has many examples of people who demonstrated great courage and perseverance in the face of extreme pressure to compromise basic principles:

Among the saints, the Church venerates many men and women who served God through their generous commitment to politics and government. Among these, Saint Thomas More, who was proclaimed Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, gave witness by his martyrdom to “the inalienable dignity of the human conscience”. Though subjected to various forms of psychological pressure, Saint Thomas More refused to compromise, never forsaking the «constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions» which distinguished him; he taught by his life and his death that “man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.” (Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1.)

As voters and as elected officials we are called to be just as courageous as people like St. Thomas More.

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