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STEP - St. Thomas Education Project


July 12-16, 2005


Thomistic Understanding of Natural Law

as the Foundation of Positive Law



Natural Law and Legislative Duties:
Implications of Holding Catholic Politicians to a Higher Standard



Nora O'Callaghan

Ave Maria School of Law





If we accept that the natural law should be reflected in the civil law, it follows that legislators must have duties to conform their legislative proposals to the natural law.  While most questions concerning the common good admit of a large variety of concrete applications of the natural law, there are certain “unjust laws” that are ruled out of bounds by the natural law because they are inherently incompatible with a proper understanding of the human person and the common good. 


In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, a controversy arose regarding attempts by Catholic Bishops to influence Catholic politicians to defend human life against unjust abortion laws.  A few Bishops told Catholic politicians that they were no longer eligible to receive Holy Communion because of their persistent, vocal, and continuing support of expansive abortion rights. 


My paper will discuss guidance from St. Thomas, and more recent Church teaching, on the natural law duties of elected public officials.  Next it will examine arguments in favor and opposed to the use of Church disciplinary procedures against Catholic politicians who violate those duties in serious ways.  Finally, it will set forth the outcome of the 2004 election controversy, and possible future directions in this debate.