Politicians and Catholic teaching


Sir, – I agree with Patrick Hannon (Letters, November 5th) when he says that “a conscientious judgment as to what the law should be is often more complex than a judgment about the morality of an action or an omission or state of affairs”.

But that in no way contradicts my main point, namely, that a politician cannot, in good conscience, vote for an unjust law (such one promoting racial discrimination or the killing of the innocent), as taught by Pope John Paul in Evangelium Vitae.

It is disingenuous of Dr Hannon to quote the same encyclical as though the Pope were contradicting himself.

In the text he quotes, the Pope was addressing the moral dilemma faced by Catholic politicians in Czechoslovakia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites (all of which allowed abortion on demand), when they were trying to introduce legislation to reduce its incidence. To the best of my knowledge, there is no indication that Mr Biden has made any such commitment.

Dr Hannon fails to address my main objection, namely that the distinction he makes between personal beliefs and moral convictions on the one hand, and, on the other, voting for laws which contradict such moral convictions.

He seems to understand, on the basis of his “distinction”, that a politician can vote for what he or she knows is intrinsically wrong.

But that cannot be so. Any politician of character must stick by his or her fundamental moral principles, whatever the consequences, if he or she is a person of integrity.

Integrity is what morality is all about. It is also the sine qua non of a healthy democracy.

We do not expect Marxists, or atheists of any other hue, to vote for what contradicts their deepest convictions, so why should anyone object to Catholic politicians doing the same? If they did, the result would be, not a theocracy, as Anthony O’Leary claims (Letters, November 5th), but a healthier democracy.

The shameful historical issues Mr O’Leary raises would require another forum to be debated, except to say that the church cannot be blamed for all the ills of the past, such as poverty and emigration.

Dr Don O’Leary (Letters, November 5th) asks why I only quoted church documents in support of my assertion that moral norms are universal.

Indeed, I could have quoted the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which also enumerates a number of absolute moral norms. But I was responding directly to Dr Hannon’s claims re Catholic politicians.

The fact that, as Dr O’Leary writes, many Catholics do not adhere to the church’s teaching on a number of grave moral issues is another problem which lies beyond the scope of this letter to address.

All I can say here is that, at the root of the problem is the widespread influence of a school of moral theology that denies the existence of intrinsically wrong actions and claims that one can in good conscience choose not to do what the church teaches. – Yours, etc,



(Professor Emeritus

of Moral Theology,

St Patrick’s College,



Co Roscommon.