• Kenneth R. Himes Boston College, USA
Keywords: Catholicism, Christian Democracy, Democracy, Forms of Government, Papacy, Political Liberties, Religious Freedom


This essay examines the record of the Church’s teaching on political democracy from the 19th to 21st centuries. There will be a focus on the Vatican, the papacy, and Italian politics for constructing the narrative since the Church’s direct investment in temporal politics and institutional self-interest is clear in the story of Italian democracy. There will also be an overview of the modern papacy’s evolution in its assessment of political democracy to the point where opposition has become active support and commendation.

Author Biography

Kenneth R. Himes, Boston College, USA

Kenneth R. Himes, OFM is a Franciscan friar and a professor of theological ethics in the Theology Department of Boston College (U.S.A.). He is a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the author of four books, most recently The Ethics of Targeted Killing (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). He is also co-editor of four books, including Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations 2nd rev. ed. (Georgetown University Press: 2017). In addition, he has written over one hundred scholarly and popular essays for journals and book chapters. He was awarded the PhD in religion and public policy from Duke University in 1981.


Andrea Riccardi, “The Vatican of Pius XII and the Catholic Party,” in Baum and Coleman, The Church and Christian Democracy, 37-51 at 46-47.

Benedict XVI, “General Audience on Topic of Apostolic Journey to Croatia,” 2011, Rome: St. Peter’s Square,

Benedict XVI, “Meeting with Representatives of British Society.”

Bokenkotter, Church and Revolution, 240.

Chadwick, History of the Popes 1830-1914, 132-160.

David Hollenbach, SJ, “Human Dignity in Catholic Thought,” Marcus Düwell, Jens Braavig, Roger Brownsword, Dietmar Mieth, ed., Cambridge Handbook on Human Dignity, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014, 250-259 at 256.

Francis, Fratelli Tutti, n. 169, quoting himself, “Address to Participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements,” 5 November 2016, L’Osservatore Romano, November 7-8, 2016, 4-5.

Gregory Baum and John Coleman, “Editorial,” in Baum and Coleman, The Church and Christian Democracy, xvii-xxiv at xx.

John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, n. 46.

John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 1979, n. 10, content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_04031979_redemptor-hominis.html

John Pollard, The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism 1914-1958, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, 231.

John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 1963, n. 14,

Karl-Egon Lönne, “The Origins of Christian Democratic Parties in Germany, Italy and France after 1943-45,” in Gregory Baum and John Coleman, ed., The Church and Christian Democracy, Concilium 193, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1987, 3-13 at 4.

Leo XIII, Quod Apostolici Muneris, 1878, n. 6,

Leslie Griffin, “Commentary on Dignitatis humanae,” in Himes, Modern Catholic Social Teaching, 252-274, esp. 254-260.

Martin Conway, Catholic Politics in Europe 1918-1945, London: Routledge, 1997, 5.

Marvin Mich, “Commentary on Mater et magistra” in Kenneth R. Himes, ed., Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations, 2nd ed., Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2018, 199-225 at 203.

Mich, “Commentary on Mater et magistra,” 203.

Owen Chadwick, A History of the Popes 1830-1914, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 60.

Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens, 1971, n. 22,

Pius XII, “Democracy and Peace,” Christmas Address, 1944, n. 12.

Pollard, Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 137. I rely on Pollard’s excellent volume for the entire paragraph. The Gasparri quote that Pollard cites is from the second volume of the Cardinal’s memoirs.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 2004.

Riccardi, “Pius XII and the Catholic Party,” 40.

Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century, London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Sigmund, “Catholicism and Liberal Democracy,” 223-224.

Thomas Bokenkotter, Church and Revolution, New York: Image/Doubleday Books, 1998, 39.

Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n. 75.
How to Cite
Himes, K. R. (2020). CATHOLICISM AND DEMOCRACY: PAST AND PRESENT. Asian Horizons, 14(4), 805–827. Retrieved from