Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 26, 2004
Bishops urge political involvement
By GLEN ARGAN
Canada's bishops are telling Catholics they have "an obligation to be interested in political life."
In a reflection on a federal election expected soon, the bishops' Social Affairs Commission urges Catholics to "exercise their civic responsibilities by participating in the electoral process, particularly by voting."
In the November 2000 general election, 61.2 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot - the lowest percentage since Confederation. Though voting remains an ingrained habit of older Canadians, only one-quarter of voters under 25 are showing up at the polls.
But in their April 13 statement the bishops say political involvement is a "constant" civic duty, not just something to be exercised at election time.
"We encourage Catholics to increase their awareness of the issues involved, to raise their concerns with the political candidates, to encourage strong civic debates, to run for political office and especially to vote."
The statement is called Election 2004: Responsibility and Discernment.
The bishops note that the Gospel and Church teaching do not present "a specific program of social and political action." But, at the same time, "Catholic moral principles are clear and defined."
They outline four basic principles which they call "a lens through which to examine and evaluate public policy and programs":
'On the first principle, the bishops say, "Life is the most precious gift that can be given, and it is a Christian duty to love life, respect it and keep it from harm."
- Respect for life and the dignity of the human person.
- Support for marriage and the family.
- Preferential option for the poor.
- The common good.
On marriage and the family, they say, "Marriage is a natural institution that predates all social, legal and religious systems; its existence extends beyond the limits of human memory. . . . Marriage needs the support and protection of society."
On the third principle, the bishops note, "Pope John Paul II has said that the moral measure of a society is how the most vulnerable are faring. Catholics are to provide for those in immediate need and to act against injustice."
And the bishops say the common good "is more likely to be achieved when everyone contributes to the building of a just and compassionate society in which the human development of each person is promoted."
Based on those principles, the bishops spell out 13 questions they say Catholics should ask those seeking elected office. Those questions refer to issues such as:
They conclude that to carry out their civic responsibilities, Catholics should have a basic knowledge of Catholic principles, familiarity with the platforms of the candidates and careful consideration of how the candidates will reflect one's most deeply held principles.
- The right to life.
- The rights of women.
- Support for women with unexpected or unwanted pregnancies.
- The definition of marriage.
- Space-based weapons systems and nuclear, chemical and biological arms.
- Accessibility to health care.
- The growing gap between rich and poor.
- The aspirations of aboriginal peoples.
Kairos, the ecumenical social justice organization, has joined with unions and the Council of Canadians to launch the Our Canada Project. Inspired by what he calls "biblical humanism," Kairos chair Father Paul Hansen said the churches have to stand as a counterweight to cynicism about politics.
"The whole conversation in politics is for the betterment of the human," Hansen said. "Society is organized for the human, not the market."
(With files from The Catholic Register.)