A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops Conference of Scotland on the General Election
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
On the Seventh of May the people of Scotland will vote in what may be the most unpredictable General Election in generations. While each of us alone will decide whom to vote for, the teachings of the Church can offer us a guide as we attempt to reach an informed judgement that advances the common good.
Casting a vote is both a civic duty and a Christian moral obligation. The huge turnout at last year’s referendum was an exemplary exercise in peaceful and participatory democracy and showed how much the Scottish people care about the future of our country and its wellbeing. It was also a reminder of the power that every citizen has and the obligation upon us to use our vote. For centuries Christian values underpinned our laws and customs but for Christians today the political complexion of Parliament is secondary to the values and beliefs of those who sit in it. The candidates we send to Parliament go there as our representatives. The values they hold will shape their understanding of what is good for our country.
Our Parliamentarians must discern priorities in many ethical and moral matters from Welfare to Defence, not to mention our relationship with Europe. Before casting our vote, we have a duty to inform ourselves of the moral values of our candidates. We should think and pray before we choose, considering especially the following points:
1. Life: The dignity and value of every human being should be at the heart of politics. The sanctity of human life, protected from its beginning to its natural end, is not a single issue. It is the fundamental issue. It demands that we proclaim the Gospel of Life in all places and at all times, for if human life is not sacrosanct then no other human right makes any sense at all. Laws which permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust. We do not want to accept the continued existence in our society of such fundamental violations of human rights and we commit ourselves to work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and to change them.
2. The Family: Common sense and much research tell us that children do best when they are raised by a mum and dad who are married to each other. This ideal is not always possible in reality and we applaud and support families who achieve remarkable things in the most difficult of circumstances. In recent years, both the UK and Scottish Parliaments have enacted legislation re-defining marriage. Together with others we argued that marriage is a union uniquely of a man and a woman and feared that legislation allowing for same sex marriage represented an unprecedented threat to the public understanding of marriage and the family. Once again we should encourage our politicians to defend the institution of marriage and the family as the basic unit of society on which so much depends. Pope Francis has also reminded governments not to require poor countries to introduce laws redefining marriage before they can get financial aid, because this is unjust and unfair.
3. The Economy: The first consideration for any economic policy should be the dignity of the person, not the pursuit of profit. We urge candidates to endorse the living wage campaign, giving people the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. In these turbulent financial times Pope Francis has been a prophetic voice, warning that economies stripped of ethics trample human dignity. “Unbridled capitalism,” he says, “has given us the logic of profit at any cost, (and) of exploitation without looking at the person.” The existence of so many food banks in our country offers a depressing vindication of the Pope’s warning.
4. Human Freedom: Across the globe, the right to religious freedom and freedom of worship are under threat. In some countries, Christians are put to death simply for professing faith in Jesus Christ. In this country, an intolerant form of secularism wants to remove religion from the public square, despite recognition in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. True human dignity involves the freedom to assemble, to worship and to manifest our beliefs openly. Religious liberty must be non-negotiable in a free society and we should make sure our candidates support it.
5. Peace. Successive UK Governments have made plans to replace and upgrade our nuclear weapons capacity. This is despite the considerable costs involved and in the face of persistent moral objections, to say nothing of international agreements we have entered into which commit us to work against the proliferation of such weapons. While recognising each country’s right to defend itself, the existence of nuclear weapons, and their possible proliferation, continue to represent a grave threat to the human family. Pope Francis reminds us that peace is better fostered by greater equality – not least by fairness towards the poor, refugees and migrants – rather than by increased spending on arms.
6. Evangelisation: The Gospel compels us as a Church and as individual Catholics to engage actively in the world and convert human affairs. Voting in the election is the least a committed Christian can do. Our politicians enter public service with good hearts and give of their best to build up our lives and our country. Sadly, however, on serious issues, some politicians who profess a Catholic faith remain silent – or even surrender – in the face of grave ethical injustice. As Catholics, we can never separate how we act from what we believe without undermining what we believe and damaging who we are. The time has come for a new generation of Catholics to join political parties and to dedicate ourselves to political service in a way that remains faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, laying the foundations for a new Civilization of Love that serves the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable in our society.
Conclusion: As we prepare to cast our votes, the Bishops invite all of us to pray for our country, our Parliamentary candidates and our fellow citizens. With our votes we help set the direction of our society for years to come and it is right that we ask for divine assistance that we may be guided in our choices and that our nation may flourish. The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, The Second Sunday of Easter, 2015. + Philip Tartaglia, President, Archbishop of Glasgow + Joseph Toal, Vice-President, Bishop of Motherwell + Hugh Gilbert, Episcopal Secretary, Bishop of Aberdeen + Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St.Andrews and Edinburgh + Stephen Robson, Bishop of Dunkeld + John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley + William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway V.Rev.Mgr James MacNeil, Diocesan Administrator, Argyll and the Isles Source To read the letter from the Bishops of England and Wales, click here
As I’ve been forced to do in recent years, I will be going into the voting booth on 7 May to spoil my paper. I hope the ballot paper is a decent size this time, because I write something to the effect that they’re a Godless lot, that I cannot be complicit in evil, that when I find a party which can make life better for us all without undermining and attacking God’s law, then I’ll cast my vote. If there’s room I’ll add that I’m not going to compromise my conscience by voting to line my own pocket, since a healthy bank balance won’t get me into Heaven. It was quite a squeeze last time! So, that’s my considered view on the General Election, politicians and their (insert nasty adjective) parties. What’s yours?
Please note: political discussions in Scotland can get very heated, which is why I’ve hesitated before launching this thread. Like a lot of other folk, probably most, I have strong views on the subject (there’s a hint above!) so allow me to remind everyone of our key in-house rule of no personal remarks of the unpleasant kind. We can tell the difference between banter and nastiness, so let’s have an interesting and intelligent discussion, if for no other reason, than to make the unthinking majority of Catholics who trawl the internet think twice before they cast their vote for parties which have brazenly and without apology, passed evil legislation in defiance of God’s law. Over to thee…