Continuing on the ‘Road to IPCP’
September 12, 2017
Endings and beginnings
September 13, 2017

A Catholic perspective on Democracy

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ ( & Director, CREDI 

On Friday, September 15, the world will observe the International Day of Democracy. This year’s theme, Democracy and conflict prevention “focuses on the critical need to strengthen democratic institutions to promote peace and stability. A more integrated approach to foster resilient societies calls for effective and inclusive democratic governance with respect for human rights and the rule of law”.

“Resilient societies are able to mitigate disputes through mediation, dialogue and a reasonable degree of legitimacy of their institutions. Developing effective conflict prevention mechanisms and infrastructures provides a foundation to resolve grievances and sustain peace. Processes, such as peace agreements, elections and constitutional reforms, can help maintain equilibrium between competing interests and reduce fragility and the likelihood of organised violence. Strong leadership to support democracy, strengthen civil society, empower women and uphold the rule of law is essential. These are conditions that preserve stability and peace.” ( )

For Catholics, democracy is more than a form of government. The basis for democracy is informed by the way in which we view the human person. I share with you extracts from the message of Pope St John Paul II on February 23, 2000 to participants at the Sixth Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences – on the theme: Democracy — Reality and Responsibility:

“While it is true that the Church offers no concrete model of government or economic system (cf Centesimus Annus, 43), she ‘values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate’ (ibid, 46). At the dawning of the Third Millennium, a serious question confronts democracy. There is a tendency to see intellectual relativism as the necessary corollary of democratic forms of political life. In such a view, truth is determined by the majority and varies in accordance with passing cultural and political trends. From this point of view, those who are convinced that certain truths are absolute and immutable are considered unreasonable and unreliable.

“On the other hand, as Christians we firmly believe that ‘if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism’ (Centesimus Annus, 46).

“Thus, it is important that Christians be helped to show that the defense of universal and unchanging moral norms is a service rendered not only to individuals but also to society as a whole: such norms ‘represent the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human coexistence, and hence of genuine democracy’ (Veritatis Splendor, 96).

“In fact, democracy itself is a means and not an end, and ‘the value of a democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes’ (Evangelium Vitae, 70). These values cannot be based on changeable opinion but only on the acknowledgment of an objective moral law, which ever remains the necessary point of reference …What the Church does is constantly to reaffirm the transcendent dignity of the human person, and constantly to defend human rights and freedom. The freedom which the Church promotes attains its fullest development and expression only in openness to and acceptance of the truth. ‘In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and man is exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden’ (Centesimus Annus, 46)…“without the concerted and united action of all believers — indeed of all men and women of good will — little can be accomplished to make genuine democracy, value-based democracy, a reality for the men and women of the twenty-first century.”

Pope Francis’ words are noteworthy: “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize.”

In his encyclical, Laudato Si, he said: “Public pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society through non-governmental organisations and intermediate groups must put pressure on governments…Unless citizens control political power — national, regional, and municipal — it will not be possible to control damage to the environment” (Bolivia, July 9, 2015).

We must ALL actively work to fulfil the necessary conditions for T&T’s representative parliamentary democracy to work. Currently it is sorely ill.