With the federal election just around the corner, we all have to decide who to vote for. This is not always an easy decision, but it is a very important responsibility, for Catholics as for others. We all must decide who deserves our vote.
It is said that an unusually high proportion of Australian voters have ‘disengaged’, i.e. they are not much interested in this election. Why is that? One reason might be that the election campaign has gone on for so long that it has run out of steam and can no longer hold people’s attention. Another might be that there is little to choose between major parties competing for ‘the middle’.
An even more important reason might be that the major parties are not talking about the issues about which people are most passionate – certainly not the issues about which Catholics should be most passionate. As the Bishops of Australia asked in their recent electoral statement: who among the political parties today is standing up for the family? For the unborn? For the elderly? For refugees? Who is standing up on issues such as workers’ rights, human trafficking or foreign aid?
Even when such issues are brought into the public domain, they are rarely discussed in other than a populist or pragmatic way; there is no reference to any guiding principles or assessment of which policies best serve the dignity of the person and the common good. All too often, for example, discussion of the asylum seekers or other pressing migration issues appeals more to people’s fears than their generosity, more to our baser nature than the nobler side of Australians.
What are the Catholic issues?
A common misconception is that all that Catholics only care and talk about “below the belt issues”: abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage etc. These are certainly important issues; these are certainly issues we should be talking about (and I will have more to say about these below); but they are not the only issues because there is more to society, more to people, than just sex and life, and so more for Catholics to care about.
Because a few, especially contentious, moral issues are treated as matters for parliamentary conscience votes or popular plebiscites, we might think they are the only moral issues – in which case everything else can be decided purely in terms of what’s popular or profitable. This is, quite simply, false. There are many more issues which we should be talking about as a society and, in particular, as Catholic citizens and they all have a moral dimension.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that it is our duty to “contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.” (§2239)
In a spirit of truth we must always strive to allow the truth to come to light and contribute appropriately to this. So if someone wants to stifle honest debate on any issue, we must be resounding voices for candour. If parties propose to reduce investment in education or research or other ways to identify and transmit the truth, we must ask why. If civic leaders are getting things right (or at least trying) they deserve due praise; where they are failing there should be fair critique, but always in an atmosphere of charity.
In a spirit of justice we must respect the rights of all, seek to ensure that each is given their due, and promote harmony in relationships. Laws and policies must respect the dignity of the individual and promote the common good of all. A useful litmus test of the fairness of particular institutional arrangements or policies is: who are the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ (e.g. in our taxation and superannuation policies)? Are good results being achieved for all (or most) without trampling upon the rights of others? Christ challenges us: what did you do for the least – the hungry, thirsty, lonely and trapped?
In a spirit of solidarity we must consider each person our friend – or at least our potential friend – and so seek to ensure that they have opportunities to flourish and that any obstacles to that are removed. We must look to help those in need, especially those who cannot help themselves. Solidarity means we cannot rightly focus only on our own hip pockets: we must also care about how laws and policies regarding industrial relations, housing, aged care, foreign aid, indigenous peoples, mental health, the environment, immigration etc. impact upon others.
In a spirit of freedom we must be vigilant to protect our own proper liberties and those of others. Where some people’s freedom is endangered (e.g. the right of unborn Australians to live; the right of religious believers to hold, share or practice their conscientious beliefs) we must do what we can to rectify that situation. Freedom, as Catholics understand it, is more than freedom to get my own way in everything: it is the opportunity to do what is right and so must be exercised responsibly.
No Catholic how to vote card
But what does all this mean practically? Where is the Catholic “how to vote card”? The aforegoing list of considerations means Catholics cannot be simplistically lumped with the current ‘left’ or ‘right’ of politics. We often find pros and cons with each party, platform or candidate. And so many of us will decide based on particular issues that we are especially passionate about. That is where issues as crucial as life and love may make a real difference for us.
We might ask, for instance, which candidate or party best stands up for the family, for real marriage that underpins stable family life, for life itself especially when most vulnerable at its beginning and end, for the freedom to hold, express and act according to our religion?
As the election guide published in this edition of the Catholic Weekly identifies, there are some real differences between the parties regarding the legal definition of marriage (and how this might be resolved), about efforts to re-educate children to a radical view of “fluid sexuality”, about protections or ‘exemptions’ for people on the grounds of conscientious belief, and so on. ‘Gay marriage’, once a radical social policy supported only by the Greens, now has supporters in all parties; if they get their way, our social fabric will be fundamentally altered. No longer will the loving union of man and wife be recognized as the best place for rearing children; other friendships will be treated as the equivalent of real marriages; and churches, schools, welfare agencies and individual faithful will be pressured to conform.
There are other important issues that might determine a person’s vote. Responsible voting is a matter of considering a number of important issues and assessing them through the prisms of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. Marriage is not the only issue to have in mind at election time but is an important one for this election, even if candidates and the media are trying to focus our attention elsewhere. May the Holy Spirit grant each of us wisdom at the ballot box!
Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese, 23 Jun 2016