There is much confusion today about the obligations of Catholics towards positions on political matters taken by individual bishops or conference of bishops or even the pope himself.
Such positions are often referred to as part of the Church’s social teaching, which can be very misleading. Some confessors, myself included, increasingly encounter devout Catholics who ask if they are guilty of sin because they disagree with bishops or the pope on issues such as U.S. immigration policy, Obamacare, the death penalty, etc. My response is to assure them that they are not guilty of sin for such disagreements. But they have a duty to be informed on such issues and to respect the opinions and persons of those with whom they disagree, including Church leaders.
In Catholic social teaching, fundamental moral and social principles are binding. They then have to be applied to complex practical problems. In concrete cases, the principles are more remote than the first principles of the natural law. And when it comes to their application, we are generally not dealing with the same kind of certitude that we find when primary moral principles are applied to personal moral acts.
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