Catholic involvement in civic life is necessary to defend human dignity and move society in a positive direction, says the author of a new book on Catholics principles in public life.
“If we want a free, just and virtuous society that upholds the common good and the dignity of all human beings, then we have to be involved in shaping moral social policy. That takes being involved in the political process,” Sheila Liaugminas told CNA.
Liaugminas is the author of the Ignatius Press book “Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture.”
She said that the Catholic tradition, expressed in the U.S. bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” holds responsible citizenship to be a political virtue and participation in political life to be “a moral obligation.”
“A lot of people don’t know that,” she said. “‘I hate politics!,’ people may think. But it is through the political process that a lot of those policies get made that affect the social fabric of our nation.”
Liaugminas is a former host of the Chicago television show “YOU,” and now hosts the Relevant Radio program “A Closer Look.”
Her new book aims to be a reference to explain “what the Church teaches and why” on “the top moral and social issues of the day.” She wanted to provide a resource to help dispel confusion and bring people to truth on important “non-negotiable” principles like the right to life, the nature of marriage and religious freedom.
Her book draws on sources like St. John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” as well as papal encyclicals and writings from St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. She also incorporates U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops documents like “Living the Gospel of Life.”
In addition, Liaugminas references concurring non-Catholic sources like the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the writings of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the founding documents of the United States and the Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln to explain important principles of good societies.
The common thread within these sources is “the dignity of the human person,” she explained.
“These things aren’t true because the Catholic Church teaches them. The Catholic Church teaches them because they are true,” she said, quoting Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill.
“There are many things that are not negotiable,” Liaugminas acknowledged. “It is not negotiable that we have to take care of the poor.”
However, she said that there are also “preeminent issues” that have been taught by the Church, the Popes, and the bishops.
“There is this hierarchy of principles that are required for everything else to be upheld in a free, just and virtuous society,” she said.
For example, it is impossible to make a coherent argument to guarantee any other right if the right to life is not upheld as a “preeminent” or “inalienable” right, she said. “It comes from God.”
Religious liberty is also vital for Liaugminas.
“If we don’t have the right to religious liberty, then we’re unable to do these other things like feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, (and) take care of all the needs of the social gospel.”
Liaugminas told CNA that contemporary society is conflicted on the nature of its principles.
“A lot of people are confused and unable even to carry on a conversation or a debate any longer. We aren’t using the same language, even though we’re speaking English, because words have been so distorted to mean other things.”
She said that abortion is promoted in the name of “choice,” while euthanasia is promoted under the name “compassion,” and marriage redefinition is promoted under the name “equality.”
“These are all things Americans feel very strongly about. We all want everyone to have equal rights and equality. We have compassion, and freedom, we love liberty and freedom and choice. But these words aren’t being used in the correct way.”
In Liaugminas’ view, this confusion can be addressed by “using words for what they mean” and asking people the right questions.
On a subject like abortion, she advised focusing on common ground agreement on principles like “choice” in order to persuade.
“If it’s truly about choice, then the people out there right now who are trying the hardest and working the hardest to give woman a purely true choice are in the pro-life movement,” she said.
Their efforts to provide free ultrasounds and pregnancy help centers provide free medical and material needs mean that a woman considering abortion “truly does have a choice.”
People also have shared objections to infanticide and late-term abortions that can be logically extended to help them recognize the right to life throughout pregnancy.
Thought-provoking questions like “How is ‘mercy killing’ mercy?” can also help people re-think assisted suicide, Liaugminas said.
“You engage those words and make people apply critical thinking skills to the words we use, and see whether we can come to a common understanding.”
She encouraged Catholics to assume good intentions and show good intentions to others.
Some abortion clinic escort workers, for instance, might be doing what they think is “really the best thing for women.”
“Some people who are very angry and hostile at some of these public debates are actually very hurt and very lonely. The core of their anger is fear.”
Catholics should “engage with charity,” like Pope Francis, in hopes that this engagement will help people to the point where “they’ll talk and listen,” Liaugminas advised.
“Lead with love, lead with beauty, lead with the embrace of the other person,” she said, adding that a recommitment to the spiritual life “helps us to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet and hopefully show them the face of Christ in us.”
“Be informed, pray, and then act,” she said. “Bring the clarity and the charity and the beauty of Catholic teaching.”