With the world of politics all around us, Catholics are called to engage as voters, advocates and candidates. Photo by Mickey Conlon

Catholics can’t just leave politics to others

By  John Milloy
  • May 11, 2022

Politics is in the air — power-sharing deals in Ottawa, a federal Conservative leadership campaign and a provincial election campaign in Ontario that is sure to garner national attention.

How should Catholics respond to the cut and thrust of politics? 

As a former politician and a practising Catholic who has retired to university life, I have been fortunate to be able to ponder that question over the past few years. I recently addressed a virtual conference on the subject. 

 I outlined five observations to help Catholics navigate current political waters.

The first is the simplest. Our Catholic faith calls us to engage in politics as voters, advocates and candidates. We can’t simply leave it to others. As Pope Francis reminds us, politics is one of the “highest forms of charity” and you need to get involved even if your hands get “a little dirty.”

The second point is that when we engage in politics, Catholics need to keep in mind key social justice issues tied to our faith including: poverty and economic inequality, racial equality, Indigenous reconciliation and the climate crisis. We can disagree about solutions, but care for the poor, the marginalized and our planet need to help decide our vote, how we try to influence our elected representatives and our activities as political candidates.

My third point  is that addressing these issues needs to be about action, not just words. Most politicians will tell you they are against poverty and climate change. They are also against littering, traffic gridlock and people who play music too loud.

The real question is priorities. Regardless of who is in power, governments have limited resources, time and political capital. Truly dealing with a particular problem means focusing those scarce resources, which means pushing other issues down the list.

There is nothing easy about addressing hard issues, which is my fourth point.  Catholics can’t simply call for action and then run for cover when taxes may have to increase, parts of our economy may have to change radically or demands are placed on us to alter lifestyles. 

I can tell you from experience the loneliest person on earth is a politician trying to do the right thing. They can’t do it without our support. 

The Catholic laity needs to appreciate its collective power. If every Catholic told every candidate their vote depended on party positions on issues like poverty, climate change and racial justice, and that as citizens they were willing to make sacrifices for progress in these areas, it would create a sea change.

Yet, it doesn’t happen. Having knocked on thousands of doors as a politician, I was always shocked at how rarely these issues were raised by voters.

My final point: the Catholic call to engage in politics is a call to meet society where it is and to recognize there are no perfect solutions in our broken world. This can’t be about simply associating with those voices that scream “we need real action now” the loudest, with little in the way of practical, workable solutions.  

There is nothing simple about addressing these issues. Take the climate crisis. The Canadian economy has a huge dependency on oil and gas.  We are a gigantic country with incomplete transportation infrastructure. We have a population dealing with a lot right now, and not anxious for more sacrifices. Progress will require half measures, compromises and two steps forward, one back.

We also must acknowledge nobody has all the answers. An aspect of our faith we rarely talk about is the Catholic call to listen to different perspectives and engage in open dialogue. Catholics need to set aside self-righteousness and understand others have their “share of the truth,” to quote again from Pope Francis.

Meeting the world where it is doesn’t mean downplaying the seriousness of issues. It simply acknowledges there are no simple solutions.

I like to say that as Catholics we are charged to begin the process of building God’s Kingdom here on Earth knowing we are going to fail because the world is full of flawed humans. Let’s not let this reality discourage us from entering the political fray and trying to make a difference. 

(John Milloy, a former Ontario MPP, is the Director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College and the author of Politics and Faith in a Polarized World. This column is based on remarks at the Contribution of Catholicism to Global Sustainable Development conference.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.