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The Starting point for our Social Mission:The Compendium

By Deacon Keith Fournier
Christian Social teaching is our guide to political participation

The Starting point for our Social Mission:The Compendium
Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millenium, LLC

“The Christian knows that in the social doctrine of the Church can be found the principles for reflection, the criteria for judgment and the directives for action which are the starting point for the promotion of an integral and solidary humanism”

(Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par.7)



I live in one of several States in these United States that will soon elect a Governor. The race has been rancorous, filled with increasingly distasteful advertisements and laced with the use of charged, old political labels such as “liberal” and “conservative.” Frankly, it is one of the worst campaigns I have seen. The race is in a dead heat, coming down to the wire.

There are real differences between these candidates on a host of political positions. However, the one that has become the most heated, and understandably so, concerns their position on the inherent dignity of every human life. It is in this arena that this State gubernatorial election contest may paint a picture for the coming midterm congressional elections and the looming presidential race of 2008.

Who do you choose?

One of the candidates is a practicing Catholic Christian who is being openly unfaithful to the teaching of his Church concerning the inviolable dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, at least in so far as it relates to children in the first home of the whole human race, their mothers womb. He supports the anti-life legal structure of the age that has adopted into positive law a so called “right” to do what is always wrong - to take the life of an innocent child in the womb. He pays the “lip service” so often paid by politicians, mouthing the mantra that he is “personally opposed to abortion but…” then supports the legalized killing of children in the womb under the subterfuge of privacy. It is so sad. He seems to be a good person with leadership gifts and a record of public service. But, in taking this position, he is being unfaithful to his Catholic faith.

Interestingly, he has also espoused a proper concern, which he says is informed by his Catholic faith, concerning the use of the death penalty in our contemporary age. He opposes it, but, then adds, he would enforce it as long as it is the law. The Catholic teaching opposing the death penalty is predicated upon a very different moral ground than our absolute opposition to abortion. Abortion is intrinsically evil. It is always and everywhere the taking of innocent defenseless life. Catholic teaching opposes the death penalty for other reasons.

First, in considering this life issue we are not dealing, at least presumably, with the death of innocent. The Church opposes this lethal punishment inflicted by the State because it can no longer be justified. Bloodless means of punishment are readily available and the common good does not require its use for the protection of the public. In a civilized Nation, mercy should trump justice. However, in other times in history, and in other circumstances, the Church has not formally opposed the death penalty. There has always been a tradition however against its use, within a stream of Catholic thought.

I oppose the death penalty for a number of reasons. As a former prosecutor, I believe there are many reasons to justify its elimination. For example; our history as a Nation in its disparate application, the advance of the science of DNA which has proven we have made mistakes by convicting innocents. However, these types of reasons are not the grounds that this candidate has chosen to fight this battle on. He has chosen the influence of his Catholic faith; the very ground that he seems to have forgotten as it related to the rights of innocent children in the womb.

So, this candidate’s opposition to the death penalty is now being used as a huge campaign issue by his opponent and his campaign is raising hints of “anti-Catholicism”. The other candidate is a practicing evangelical Protestant Christian. He rightly opposes legalized abortion (though he carves out the “exceptions” which accompany some of the muddled reasoning that surrounds the discussion of the issue). However, he fully supports, in fact openly advocates, the death penalty.

In the last weeks of this campaign, he has chosen to draw the line in the sand over this issue, running a series of advertisements that have filled the airwaves and the mailboxes throughout the State of Virginia.

The race is, as they say, “neck in neck”. Both candidates are appealing to Catholics and, as you can imagine, many are confused.


I believe that this race is a bellwether of trends for the midterm elections and a wake up call for any presidential or congressional contenders. It has uncovered an important constituency that will help to decide the coming midterm and Presidential elections, Catholics (and other Christians) who are beginning to rethink their political participation are a deciding sector for any viable candidate in the coming election cycle.

As someone who has been involved for decades in the political process, I seek to inform my participation in accordance with the Social teaching of the Catholic Church. I long ago rejected all political labels. I am not a “liberal”, a “conservative”, a “neo-conservative”, a “paleo-conservative”, or a “progressive. I am a Catholic. Catholic is the noun in my life. I seek to inform my participation in the political and policy arena by the Social teaching of my Church which, I believe - if understood and put into practice - will help to build a truly just society, a culture of life and a civilization of love. I refer to myself as “whole life/pro-life”, “pro-marriage and family”, “pro-freedom (rightly understood as both a freedom for as well as a freedom from)”, “pro-poor” and “pro-peace”. The linkage of all of these principles and positions has put me outside of both political parties these days.

I know that there are many prudential “political” issues. However, there are some which are very clear. One of them is abortion. It is intrinsically evil, period. When someone addresses this fact, they are accused of being “single issue.” However, the Right to Life is not an “issue” at all. It is a lens through which every other issue must be viewed. Without the right to life and the freedom to be born, there are no other rights or freedoms; in fact, the entire structure of human rights and obligations is threatened. Abortion truly is, in the words of the late Pope John Paul II, the “cutting edge” of a culture of death, use and materialism. Flowing from the faulty foundation of a counterfeit notion of freedom that created a so-called “right” to take innocent human life, we now live in a culture that is desperately ill. As those called to transform it from within, we must now develop, understand and apply a hierarchy of values and issues that we can apply in our citizen action.

The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church provides “principles for reflection, the criteria for judgment and the directives for action which are the starting point.” It is just such a guide. As the campaign season unfolds in earnest, we have a resource available that has never been available before, “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”

Manual for a new Christian Action

In the past, when one spoke of the “Social Teaching” of the Church, it was found in the Sacred Scriptures, expounded and diffused throughout the Christian tradition, developed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, explained within a contemporary series of encyclical letters, apostolic letters and exhortations, and summarized in the “new” Catholic Catechism. Unfortunately, many people have never read these sources, for any number of reasons. Thus, what truly comprises the “Social Teaching”, as it is often called, has all too often remained within the province of self styled “experts”, some of whom have also had their own political agendas.

This wonderful new resource from the “Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace” called the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of Church” is exactly what has been lacking. It contains a summary of centuries of teaching, and sets forth the themes so richly expounded in all the sources of that teaching. These instructions have been compiled into one well written, beautifully sourced and highly readable book. It is the Manual for a new Christian Action and must now become widely distributed. I encourage every Catholic Diocese to make this volume available to every member of every parish.

I intend to dedicate much of my own writing over the coming months to this Compendium and I will work with those groups and organizations that want to truly know what the Catholic Church teaches concerning the vital issues of our age, not what some self styled ‘expert” says. I strongly urge every one of my readers to buy this volume, read it, re-read it, pray over it, read it again… and then inform their cultural, social, economic and political participation by the wisdom contained within it. I also encourage every leader of every lay movement, Diocesan or Chancery office, apostolate or ministry to read it and make it available to as many people as possible.


The upcoming gubernatorial race in Virginia is a difficult one. I believe it is a sign of things to come. Only a well catechized, truly informed and active Christian citizen will be able to navigate the muddied waters, think through these issues in accordance with a hierarchy of values, and then make their vote truly count, promoting the common good. Only a well catechized and properly equipped movement of authentically Christian Social Action will be able to effect the changes so desperately needed in this Nation. This work will, of necessity, include producing truly good candidates to run for public office.

I have noticed that there are an increasing number of articles being written that are purporting to address the “Social Teaching” of the Catholic Church. Some are good, others are not. Many are politically slanted, both from “the left” and or from “the right.” They use quotes from the Social teaching in a haphazard kind of “proof text” approach, thereby attempting to “borrow” authority in order to promote their own positions.

I warn my readers.

Do not presume that because a writer can quote a papal encyclical or a Council document, they are really giving you the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning our vital Social mission. You can find out exactly what the Church teaches by reading and using the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” yourself now! When you do, it will draw you even more deeply to the source of our faith, the God who became like us so that we could become like Him - and then be enlisted in His ongoing redemptive mission to the whole world.

The “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” is the starting point for the Social Mission.

Get this book and change the world.


Deacon Keith Fournier is a Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who was a practicing human rights lawyer and policy activist for twenty five years. A graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law, Deacon Fournier is a PHD student in Theology at the Catholic University of America. An author, his eighth book “The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life” is currently in the bookstores. He is an Editor and writer for Catholic Online and a contributing Editor for Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports.


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