chapter  13
14 Pages

Why Brussels is neither Washington nor Berlin: political Catholicism in differing political systems ANTONIUS LIEDHEGENER

Following the path of history throughout the centuries it is obvious that the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church are highly political – for better or for worse. This chapter deals with the most recent developments of this powerful religious tradition in the United States, Germany and the European Union (EU). It focuses on the question of how Catholicism and its various collective actors are involved in politics. In particular, it elaborates how features of a given political system are important for shaping the role and the impact of religion in politics. Its title – ‘Why Brussels is neither Washington nor Berlin: political Catholicism in different political systems’ – points to the conclusion of the following analysis. The central thesis is that similarities between Catholicism in these three cases are limited and thus meaningful comparisons about its political role are to be drawn carefully. The comparative analysis of Catholic institutions and their political organisations and activities in the United States, Germany and the EU shed new light on the importance of system features to understand political Catholicism in its different settings in society and politics. Therefore, the article makes specific use of the term ‘political Catholicism’. Historically, the phrase was used only pejoratively and aimed to de-legitimise Catholic parties in mass politics in the nineteenth century. Here the term ‘political Catholicism’ has a neutral and broader meaning. It is defined as follows: Catholics, Catholic groups or Catholic organisations that, as such, deliberately and with suitable methods attempt to influence those decisions regarding the distribution of immaterial and material values that are binding for all members of society; in other words, that actively participate in the political decision-making process. According to this definition, political Catholicism is not by definition a predetermined, solid unit or even, more specifically, a political party. Especially under the conditions of modern democratic systems, its unity (or disparity) is influenced not least by ongoing internal consensus-forming processes in the Catholic Church, understood as a member-based organisation of believers with respective organisational structures in different national and transnational contexts.