Politicians can give moral leadership

October 9, 2006

Read: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nn. 565-574

Joe Comuzzi lived all his life in Thunder Bay, Ont., raising four children along with his wife Janet and serving as a businessman and then a lawyer. He was involved in a variety of community activities ranging from little league baseball coach to serving on the board of St. Joseph Hospital.

In 1993, at the ripe age of 60, he began a new career as a member of Parliament. Comuzzi spent the next 10 years on the Liberal backbenches but in 2003, he got his big chance. He was named to the cabinet as minister responsible for Northern Ontario economic development.

But trouble was brewing. The government wanted to legalize same-sex marriage and Comuzzi did not agree. Neither did his constituents. So on June 28, 2005, Comuzzi resigned from the cabinet so he would not have to vote in favour of the bill legalizing same-sex marriage. He gave up the perks, the power and the prestige of a cabinet minister in order to obey his conscience.


Despite Comuzzi's opposition, the same-sex marriage bill became the law of the land. History may forget Joe Comuzzi. But his constituents did not. They sent him back to Parliament in the 2006 election, even though he was now 72.

He was a businessman, a lawyer and a politician – all professions where success is everything. But when the rubber hit the road, Joe Comuzzi knew that it is more important to be faithful than to be successful.

Some say government should be run like a business – efficient, with a keen eye for the bottom line. Well, that is important. Taxpayers' hard-earned dollars should not be frittered away. But more important than efficiency is morality.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church argues for "the absolute necessity of the moral dimension in social and political life. . . . Inadequate attention to the moral dimension leads to the dehumanization of life in society and of social and political institutions, thereby consolidating structures of sin" (n. 566).

Society and politics are morally imperfect. Because of humanity's fallen nature, they always will be. But when good people – people like Joe Comuzzi – commit themselves to upholding the common good no matter what the personal cost to themselves, they help society to become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person.


In response to that imperfect situation, the Church does not hold out a blueprint for a perfect society. Nor does it limit the freedom of elected officials to make judgments on the vast majority of political issues.

The Church certainly does issue guidelines - its social teaching and the Compendium itself contain much encouragement to eradicate poverty, protect the environment, reduce the number of weapons and build the common good. But those urgings do not translate uninterrupted into a political platform.

The Church likes the democratic system. But it does not like seeing democracy interpreted - as it so often is today - as an excuse for moral relativism. Democracy should not mean that the majority can run roughshod over the rights of the minority or the precepts of morality.

Politicians today are members of the least popular occupation in society. But the Compendium puts forward a contrary view. It says, "Political involvement is a worthy and demanding expression of the Christian commitment of service to others" (n. 565).

Recently, Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn wrote about the seemingly endless series of scandals in big business. "For some four years now, newspapers have been full of stories about corporate malfeasance, about wildly overpaid executives, about a succession of specific scandals, such as that at Enron. . . .

"The really hot story about corporations is that nothing can change. The poor dears in their suits and corner offices can't change. They can't help themselves. They have to make immense amounts of money, by any means, because that's all there is to their lives. . . .

"Maybe it's time to stop being so cynical about politicians. They are the only alternative we have."

Without government and without moral leadership, society can quickly descend into the unlimited pursuit of self-interest. Politicians have the potential to steer society toward the common good.

In our current times, the role of government and politicians is being denigrated. The same is happening to the Church. It is besieged by what the Compendium calls "secular intolerance." One would almost think that this undermining of the two clearest voices for the common good was a conspiracy engineered by those concerned only for private self-interest.


There is a sense in which the Church and politicians need to make common cause for the good of humanity. While no political party "fully corresponds to the ethical demands arising from faith and from membership in the Church," Christians cannot run away from the public square. Our voices need to be heard. If they are silenced, it will not bode well for the future of civilization.

Thank God for people like Joe Comuzzi. They may not often be successful. But their voices make sure that all know that human dignity will not be trod upon without resistance.