Whenever national elections are held the respective Episcopal conferences customarily issue messages with indications regarding the criteria to be kept in mind when approaching the voting machine or ballot box. For example, this is want happened recently in both Paraguay and Venezuela, where important parliamentary and presidential elections were held (our Observatory published the documents in question, just as it ordinarily does in such cases).
The question concerns the efficacy of such messages, whether they are read and accepted, and whether at least the Catholic faithful bear in mind what they say. On the basis of numerous cases monitored by our Observatory it seems evident that their efficacy is waning more and more. Society at large is increasingly secularised and finds it difficult to grasp the selfsame sense of such messages. Among Catholics as well, many are those who retain that how a vote is cast should remain a matter of personal conscience, also because politics as such has become pluralistic. Candidates running for election either completely ignore these messages, or manipulate them for their own benefit. In many cases they pay token respect to them as messages conveying nothing more than goodly sentiments and positive spiritual values. Nonetheless, the political efficacy of such messages has practically ceased to exist. They remain a duty for bishops, who will always provide their religious and moral indications even if there were no one left to listen to them. But political efficacy is something else entirely.
I asked myself what might be the basic reason for this situation, and have come to the following conclusion. In general terms, what has disappeared – or is disappearing – is the idea that religion speaks about reality, says what it’s like and how we must act and behave in order to respect it, and, respecting it, live a dignified life and be a bit happy. Religion, however, is understood only as a spiritual, moral and sentimental message, and not as a word of truth that tells us how things stand. Conversely, the Catholic religion postulates a vision of reality since the God in whom we believe is the Creator, He who will recapitulate all things in Himself. Thus does the religion postulate a vision of the world, the person, the family, and also society, not leaving everything to free and subjective interpretation, which would separate life from faith.
When people say religion nowadays is understood as a ‘private’ fact, this is exactly what is meant: the desperation that it may also indicate a vision of reality, not only goodly and subjective sentiments. Therefore, when bishops take a stand regarding the criteria for constructing society, either they are not understood or no one listens to them. Their messages are interpreted as either legacies of the old Christian society that no longer exists, or as counsel for each person’s conscience. But the underlying reason why Bishops also speak to institutions, to social and political institutions, is no longer understood.
The political construction of society must be based on reality: the reality of the human person, his natural relations, and the good to which society at large is called. Faith believes it has a decisive word for understanding these realities, and thereupon does it ground its right-responsibility to speak out, more so than upon the pluralism of ideas.