“Who or what can hold the State to account, to ensure that it acts justly?”

The Vatican Information Service has a short report about an address given by Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot M.C.C.J., secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, at the Istanbul World Forum. His remarks are worth reading and pondering a bit as they make some basic, but often overlooked or ignored, points about the bedrock nature of justice, political activity, and morality:

Vatican City,  (VIS) – On 14 October, Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot M.C.C.J., secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, addressed the Istanbul World Forum, dedicated to the theme: “Justice and the Construction of a New Global Order”. In his remarks during the meeting, which took place from 13 to 14 October, Fr. Ayuso examined the essential contribution that social justice and religious freedom make to peace, and the indispensable role religions have in promoting peace and justice in global society.

“Religion”, said Fr. Ayuso speaking English, “has a role in contributing to the national conversation of any given society. That conversation needs to engage with all the complexities that societies face in the modem world. Concepts such as ‘justice’ and ‘social justice’ are an integral part of that conversation. Thus, we ask ourselves, what is the contribution of religion to the national conversation about ‘justice’ and ‘social justice’? Justice is a divine attribute, and religious teaching certainly contributes to the reflection on the right ordering of relationships, in other words, social justice. Catholic tradition, however, maintains that justice is accessible by means of human reason, to all men and women of goodwill, both religious and non religious”.

“Both believer and non believer can subscribe to the innate dignity of the human person, and agree that such dignity is the reason for the inalienable rights of each individual, the protection of which is the objective of justice. … These rights are antecedent and independent of the State, and the measure of the justice of the State is the extent by which it respects and vindicates these antecedent rights, for justice requires that all persons should be left in the free enjoyment of their rights. … When the State fails to administer justice or, indeed, acts unjustly, it no longer has any moral authority or legitimacy. This implies that the State is subject to judgement, that it does not have absolute power, that it can, and indeed, must be held to account. Our question is, therefore, who or what can hold the State to account, to ensure that it acts justly? The question is not political but moral, although the answer will require political choices”.

“Since the ultimate question is moral in nature then it follows that the hallmark of a civil and just society is the proper and due space afforded to religion, which has a unique contribution in being the voice for the voiceless, a voice for the downtrodden, a voice for the oppressed, a voice for the persecuted, a prophetic voice calling all to act in peace and justice. Religion calls forth the conscience of society to act genuinely in favour of the common good. Religion, therefore, has a role in political debate, not in providing concrete political solutions, which lies outside the competence of religion, but to recall to society the objective moral norms at the basis of justice and the just society”.

Some of these same issues will be discussed in James Kalb’s newest column, “The Church and Social Programs”, which will be available tomorrow on the CWR site.

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.