According to Catholic teaching, one of our principal functions as laypeople in the Church is participation in the secular world and renewing the face of the earth. However, many lay members of the Church remain perplexed by Catholic social teaching and how to view the American political scene in relation to it. To some, the Church appears to be arch-conservative (largely due to its positions on sexuality and the ordination of women), while to others there seems to be a curious “liberal” tint due to its tendency to side with the disenfranchised and to raise a voice against consumerism, laissez faire capitalism and the notion that the proliferation of violence (whether by the death penalty or physician-assisted suicide) is a “solution.” This is a source of tremendous confusion, especially since many (though not all) of these positions are not dogma, but a series of prudential judgments (the repudiation of abortion and euthanasia being a notable exception). Is Catholic social teaching all then a mish-mash of contradictions? Or a compromise between conservatives and liberals? Many Catholics remain unsure as to what constitutes the unifying principle behind Catholic social thought and how to proceed when evaluating the positions taken by political parties which always seem to affirm one part of Catholic teaching while denying some other.
The confusion lies in the fact that the doctrines of both Left and Right have certain things to recommend them. For instance, it is quite right to say with the Left that there are times when economic power becomes so concentrated in the hands of a few rich people that the State must act to bust the monopoly in order to ensure justice to the poor. Likewise, it is true to say with the Right that power sometimes becomes so concentrated in the hands of the State