Imagine a Prime Minister declaring a General Election as a national six week “retreat”; a time of reflection, personally and together in our communities, on the kind of society we want for the future; a time of carefully attempting to ‘read the signs of the times’ of our fast changing world; a time of public examination of conscience acknowledging what has gone wrong; a time of recovery of both vision and hope?
The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have a record second to none of insisting on treating strangers and especially those who come here as migrants or asylum seekers with respect and practical support. They have also in recent years been a strong and outspoken voice for prison reform. In this work they have been excellently supported by the Catholic Social Action Network (CSAN) which is radiating out to and connecting together the variety of CARITAS work in our Dioceses. In recent General Elections the Catholic Bishops have provided guidance, most significantly some years ago with their own manifesto document “The Common Good” drawing on the principles of the Church’s long developed Catholic Social Teaching.
For this recently sprung Election, our Bishops have issued a letter to all Catholics setting out basic guidelines and key questions to put to candidates, stressing the duty to actually turn out and vote “a vote is a matter of conscience”. They highlight ten policy areas. “Leaving the European Union”; “it is important in new trade deal negotiations that “human and workers’ rights, the environment and the development of the world’s poorest countries are taken into account”. A section on “Issues of Family and Life” underlines getting candidates “to uphold the legislation preventing assisted dying”. Prisons, they say, should be “places of redemption and rehabilitation”. Welcoming migrants should include policy which is “respectful of the unity of marriage and family life”. The commitment to welcome fleeing Syrians should be honoured. Foreign policy should promote freedom of religion and belief for all, not least Christian minorities. The international aid budget should be “protected and enhanced” Care of the financially vulnerable, housing needs and social care and services for those with mental health problems need to be properly funded. There should be continuiing support for Catholic Schools. Lastly, but not least candidates are urged “to join the fight against modern slavery and get better assistance to victims”.
It is a strong list, though the Bishops note that ‘there are many other issues you will be considering” but stress “in all of them please bear in mind not only their impact on you and your family but also their impact on our wider world”. The letter opens with a statement from Pope Francis: “an authentic faith….always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values to leave this world better than we found it”, reminding us that ‘the earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters”.
We should all vote on 8th June and afterwards perhaps think of joining in the Big Lunch of 18th June in all our communities in memory of the murdered MP Jo Cox who stressed “we have more in common than divides us”.
This ‘views’ article was first published in the Catholic Universe w/c 29 May 2017