Today’s Catechism sections discuss the role of human authority. Supporting material comes from the Pastoral Consitution, “Gaudium et Spes”.

Article 2

PARTICIPATION IN SOCIAL LIFE

I. Authority

1897 "Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all."15
By "authority" one means the quality by virtue of which persons or institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.

1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it.16 The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.

1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."17

1900 The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.

Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church's most ancient prayer for political authorities:18 "Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you."19

1901 If authority belongs to the order established by God, "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens."20
The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.

1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility":21

A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.22

1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."23

1904 "It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the 'rule of law,' in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men."

IN BRIEF

1918 "There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (⇒ Rom 13:1).

1919 Every human community needs an authority in order to endure and develop.

1920 "The political community and public authority are based on human nature and therefore . . . belong to an order established by God" (GS 74 # 3).

1921 Authority is exercised legitimately if it is committed to the common good of society. To attain this it must employ morally acceptable means.

1922 The diversity of political regimes is legitimate, provided they contribute to the good of the community.

1923 Political authority must be exercised within the limits of the moral order and must guarantee the conditions for the exercise of freedom.

The Pastoral Consitution, “Gaudium et Spes” discusses human authority.

74. Men, families and the various groups which make up the civil community are aware that they cannot achieve a truly human life by their own unaided efforts. They see the need for a wider community, within which each one makes his specific contribution every day toward an ever broader realization of the common good.(1) For this purpose they set up a political community according to various forms. The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy. Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.(2)

Yet the people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions. If the political community is not to be torn apart while everyone follows his own opinion, there must be an authority to direct the energies of all citizens toward the common good, not in a mechanical or despotic fashion, but by acting above all as a moral force which appeals to each one's freedom and sense of responsibility.

It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.(3)

Footnotes

15 John XXIII, PT 46.
16 Cf. Leo XIII, Immortale Dei; Diuturnum illud.
17 ⇒ Rom 13:1-2; cf. ⇒ 1 Pet 2:13-17.
18 Cf. as early as 1 Tim 2:1-2.
19 St. Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. 61: SCh 167,198-200.
20 GS 74 # 3.
21 GS 74 # 2.
22 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 93, 3, ad 2.
23 John XXIII PT 51.