Monday, November 20, 2006

Can A Politician Dissemble?

Sometimes one might wonder if in public matters it is okay to separate one's private beliefs from one's public beliefs? This is a tricky question, but one thing that one cannot do is dissemble. During the French Revolution, as in many revolutionary moments, it is tempting for someone who is about to suffer or who is suffering persecution to say to himself, I can publicly profess doctrines contrary to the truth, but in my heart I can stick to the truth. This is a situation that faces Catholics right now in China, where there is pressure to belong to the Chinese Catholic Church run by the government. One way that someone might try to compromise is to agree to the Creed of the government, but in one's heart maintain that he is still united to the Church in Rome.

A similar situation was brewing in France in June 1790. The Revolutionaries contemplated requiring all citizens, priests, and Bishops to take an oath of loyalty to the new French Church. In this situation, Pius Vi realized that the King and some Bishops might try to dissemble as a way of conceeding to the demands of the political regime and still remaining united to teh Church. In a letter to the Archbishop in Vienne, June 10th, 1790, he encouraged the Archbishop to warn the king against dissimulation. Because the Constitutions touched on matters that affected the Catholic faith or the truth, it was not permissible to dissimulate, that is, it was not possible for the king to approve the Constitution, with the hopes that at some future point coming to the truth when the circumstances have changed.

There is a natural human integrity that should lead someone to avoid dissimulation in matters of the truth. Dissimulation, considered on the political level, leads to confusion, subversion, and eventually, revolution. It is an action that leads to instability in a political community because it weakens the truth, which is the first requirement of the common good.


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