A Catholic who had watched the canonizations of Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II on EWTN asked me who was the woman sitting in the front row, wearing a Spanish mantilla. I said that she was the queen of Spain. She and her husband, the Spanish king, represented Spain at the event.
The person who asked the question was surprised. She said that she did not know that any country today has a king or queen except Britain. Actually, 10 European members of the United Nations, eight of them NATO allies, are monarchies.
Of the monarchs professing Roman Catholicism, several have given fine witness to Church teachings and to what responsibility means for Catholic public officials. In 1990, Belgium’s legislature voted to legalize abortion. The country’s devoutly Catholic King Baudouin refused to approve the act. Using a constitutional loophole, the politicians saw that the legislation nevertheless became law.
In 2008, Luxembourg’s parliament sought to make euthanasia legal. The country’s monarch, Grand Duke Henri, coincidentally Baudouin’s nephew, pledged to do everything in his power to prevent this from happening. The parliament then removed the grand duke’s right to veto pending legislation.
Then, in 2011, Prince Alois of Liechtenstein, stated that he simply would not allow abortion to become legal in his small country. Furious politicians put the question to the people in a referendum, and the people voted to sustain the regent!
These several European monarchs, two of them still alive and reigning, resisted immoral measures, realizing that their countries’ constitutions, as read at the time, drew them directly and critically into the lawmaking process. They refused — expressly as believing Catholics — even to tolerate legalizing something gravely immoral.
Their steadfastness, and courage actually, must be applauded. Dress up an opposing argument in whatever costume chosen, the dominance of the popular will or tolerance for other views or separation of church and state, each of these monarchs knew what his own action meant in moral terms, and each acted as a Catholic first and foremost.
Politicians everywhere should take these examples to heart.
This raises another important consideration. All of these countries are vigorous, active democracies, functioning in systems more attune, arguably, to the will of the populations than is our own American form of government.
In Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, the great majorities profess Catholicism — 72 percent in Belgium, 76 percent in Luxembourg, 76 percent in Liechtenstein. It is ludicrous to assume that any victor in any election in any of these countries lacks at least very substantial support at the polls from Catholics. For that matter, many of the politicians advocating for measures immoral in Catholic doctrine profess themselves to be Catholics.
What about the United States? Of the 10 most heavily Catholic states in this country, with the single exception of Texas, at least one elected United States senator, and frequently both, support laws seen by the Church to be evil, to use a blunt but exact word. Given the law of averages, and common sense, all of these United States senators are in Washington because many Catholics voted for them.
Catholic politicians who support immoral measures are a disgrace, but none barged into office without being elected.
American Catholic voters should take a cue from the Catholic citizens of Liechtenstein in 2011.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.