Let’s resist the temptation to take a purely cynical approach to politicians and the political process. Our faith calls us to take seriously our civic responsibility in voting for the best outcome for all in society. Secondly, the Church will not tell us the political party for whom we should vote or which individual candidate. It is for us to judge and discern this consciously and conscientiously in the light of the principles and values of the Gospel. And here the Church directs us. Let me offer a summary.
Firstly, there are the basic principles of the long tradition of Catholic Social Teaching begun back in 1891 with the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” where the Church courageously defended the rights of workers during the Industrial Revolution and also its right to enter into both public and political spheres. These main principles can be summarised as: the common good; solidarity and subsidiarity; human dignity and the universal destination of goods. More recently we should add to this: the preferential option for the poor.
It was back in 80s that the American Bishop’s, considering the cold war and the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, issued the pastoral letter, ‘The Challenge of Peace’. Soon afterwards, Cardinal Bernardin, chair of the US Bishop’s Pro-Life Committee first described a consistent ethic of life using the image of ‘the Seamless Garment’. Here he linked all issues of life with social justice issues, and I quote:
‘There is one principle with diverse applications…..The viability of the principle of sacredness of life depends on consistency of application across a broad range of diverse questions and problems that are linked by their relation to the value of life.’(The Seamless Garment, Writings on the Consistent Ethic of Life, Cardinal Joseph L Bernadin, Edited by Thomas A Nairn) Hence Bernadin linked the issues of abortion, euthanasia, war, capital punishment, poverty and health care reform.’
In 1995 now St Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Evangelium Vitae’ (The Gospel of Life), in which he too begins with the dignity and sanctity of each human life and commends it as the founding principle to be applied in a consistent way, and I quote.
‘..every person….can come to recognise….the sacred value of human life from its beginning until its end…….Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to force the will itself, whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons, all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.’
Leading up to the Presidential elections in the USA in 2008, Bishop Lori, chair of the US Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, issued a statement entitled, ‘Conscience and the Catholic Voter’, and I quote.
‘a well-formed conscience is standard operation equipment for participation in the political process…what really forms our consciences is the truth…….If no one has the truth, politics becomes a matter of who has the most power. Power politics devoid of truth cannot unify the nation or protect the common good…………Pope Benedict has called upon us to build what he and Pope John Paul II have called ‘a civilization of love,’ a civilization where the rights and dignity of each person-especially those who are most vulnerable, the unborn and the frail elderly-are respected from the moment of conception until natural death; where family, based on the love of husband and wife, welcomes children……where the hungry and homeless are assisted, the immigrant welcomed, the environment protected, and all legitimate paths to peace are pursued.’
What are the main issues we face now and let me offer a response in the light of these values?
The environment and care for the earth remain an ongoing issue, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic recovery. Also, amongst many others there’s the disadvantage of indigenous Australians, domestic violence, asylum seekers and immigrants, homelessness, education, poverty, health care and all forms of discrimination. Specifically, in South Australia within a year, we have seen the passing of abortion ‘til birth legalization and an assisted dying bill. This undermining of the dignity and sanctity of human life must not go unchallenged.
All issues do need structural, legal and organisation responses which require resources, education and legislation. However, these responses on their own are not sufficient and can omit human values and end up following pragmatic and often purely popular ‘politically correct’ solutions. We must stand for much more than this. For example, we must not label issues of human life, as in abortion or euthanasia, as health issues or freedom of choice issues and overlook the dignity of human life. We must stand for freedom of religion, not just to safeguard our own faith, but because it goes hand in hand with respect for conscience and each person’s right to search for and uphold truth which goes to the core of our human freedom and dignity.
In conclusion, take seriously your obligation to vote. Study the policies of the various parties but go beyond them as well. Don’t just casually vote on party lines. Look beyond economic issues. Find out which candidates will respect human life in a consistent way in all areas. Pray about your vote and then vote with your conscience formed according to the values of our faith.Jump to next article