The COVID-19 virus has taken over the news space lately, followed closely by the political rhetoric about who should be blamed for its origin, transmission and treatment. That makes this an opportune time to talk about the Church’s role in politics.

As Pope Francis teaches, citing the Magisterium of the Church, “If indeed the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,” the Church, “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 183)

Yet while the Church must be political, it should not be partisan. That is a fine point that is lost on many Americans.

Today, neither Republicans nor Democrats represent the breadth of Catholic social teaching, despite the efforts of some to have us all fall in line behind one political platform or another. As a bumper sticker from many years ago so aptly stated, “God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat.”

So while the Church tends to look at Republicans for support our positions on abortion and school choice, it usually is Democrats who support us on such matters as immigration and climate change.

That is just one reason that as the Church involves itself in efforts to promote good public policy, it does not endorse candidates or promote political parties.

On the other hand, individual Catholics are free to engage in such partisan activities as running for office, campaigning for favored candidates and contributing to political campaigns. In fact, the Church encourages such efforts.

Unfortunately, politics today can devolve into a cacophony of sound bites and partisan attacks: Internet memes replace thoughtful discussion and name-calling pushes out reasoned discourse.

Our bishops, in their document Faithful Citizenship, call for a different kind of political engagement: “one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.”

The bishops want us to be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. “When necessary,” they write, “our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.”

That is not an easy task. Prompted by our own sinful nature, or possibly by Internet trolling by our fellow citizens or another nation, we can easily succumb to a habit of reposting nasty comments about political opponents, regardless of their truthfulness or accuracy.

In the coming months, let us focus more on promoting our own ideas and less time making personal attacks on those with whom we disagree. Let us give people positive reasons why they should vote for one candidate rather than negative reasons for voting against another. Then we can look forward to being a nation that is less divided and more just.

Deacon Walter Ayres is the director of the Diocese of Albany’s Commission on Peace and Justice.