During his 22 years in Congress Representative Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) was among the most prominent Catholics in American political life. In 2003 America published his reflections on “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life," which was released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in late 2002:
Perhaps the most important thing the doctrinal note does is to remind all of us, irrespective of party or political philosophy, that democracy is not a machine that can run by itself. Democracy is not a matter of simply getting the procedure of government—legislative, executive, judicial—right. Democracy is more than a matter of procedures, and democracy requires more of us than procedural imagination and finesse....
The great divide in American public life today is not so much between left and right or between political parties. It is between those who think of democracy merely as an ensemble of procedures and those who think of democracy as a matter of substance—an ongoing experiment in a people’s capacity to be self-governing. By demonstrating how the substantive understanding of democracy arises, not from sectarian or confessional presuppositions, but from the moral law written on the human heart, the doctrinal note makes a genuine contribution to the reflections of all thoughtful Americans.
For too long in our national history, the question—sometimes cruelly overt, sometimes subtle—was, “Is Catholicism compatible with democracy?” As the doctrinal note makes clear, the real question is, “Can democracy long endure if it ignores the truth about the human person?” That is a publicly accessible truth, and Catholics in America should be grateful and proud that their church proposes that truth, in and out of season, in American public life.