Our nation and our church stand at a pivotal moment as we ponder the crucial issue of how religious communities can contribute to the common good in a time of pandemic and bitter partisan political division.
For the Catholic community, the penetrating vision of the Second Vatican Council on religion, the state and the political order provides an unparalleled orientation, identifying a clear pathway of public engagement, conscience formation and authentic witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A new vision of church-state relations
From the start, “Gaudium et Spes” (“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) offers a new approach toward the church’s activity in the public square. Referring to the “church in the modern world” rather than “and the modern world,” the title of the document signals that the church exists on its own terms, not because any agency gives permission or grants a right.
As Vatican II’s decree on the church’s missionary activity puts it, “The pilgrim church is by its very nature missionary” (“Ad Gentes,” No. 2). In other words, the church’s autonomy and freedom derive from the fact that it has been sent, that its very nature is missionary.
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With thanks to America Magazine and Robert Ellsberg, where this article originally appeared.