‘Remembering the mercies of God ... let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and mature.’ (Romans 12: 1-2)
This quote sits at the top of an open letter from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales calling on all Catholics in this country to give serious thought to where they cast their votes at the upcoming General Election.
Over 500,000 copies of the letter have gone out to parishes, asking Catholics to ‘think about the kind of society we want here at home and abroad’. The letter looks at five different areas of life outlining Catholic teaching before offering key questions which voters may consider before 7 May.
It is a letter which underlines our responsibility to engage in the democratic process with questions regarding respect for life; marriage and the family; education; our communities; and our relationship with the planet.
According to the Bishops, ‘respect, dignity, equality, justice and peace’ must be ‘primary concerns’ and Jesus’s message in the Gospel offers a vital guide by teaching us to value each person: ‘the vulnerable child inside the womb; the parent struggling with the pressures of family life; the person striving to combat poverty; the teacher inspiring students to seek the truth; the stranger fleeing violence and persecution in their homeland; the prisoner in his cell in search of redemption; the child in a distant land claiming the right to a future; and the frail elderly person needing care and facing the frontier of death.’
These primary concerns are addressed as follows:
1) Respecting life
The Bishops write: ‘We support policies that protect the fundamental right to human life. The unborn child is vulnerable and defenceless and, tragically, in our society often the innocent victim of abortion. We oppose calls to introduce assisted suicide or euthanasia. We urge better support for carers and more high-quality palliative care and a robust National Health Service on which we can all rely.’
Question for voters: Where do the candidates in your constituency stand on assisted suicide, euthanasia, abortion and other life issues?
2) Supporting marriage and family life; alleviating poverty
‘The Christian understanding of marriage, founded on a loving and faithful relationship between a man and a woman, is the basic building block of society … A commitment to support the family should be at the heart of social and political life.’
Question for voters: Do your candidates have a commitment to support marriage and family life?
‘There are many families in our communities who are financially vulnerable and struggle to make ends meet; housing and living costs are high. Many people do not have a living wage to support them and their families. Too many have to turn to the state for additional income and to external voluntary support such as food banks. Government policies should be assessed on the ways in which they impact those most in need… and how they support and strengthen the family and its capacity to flourish.’
Question for voters: Where do your candidates stand on directly helping the poorest and most vulnerable people and also helping them transform their lives?
3) Educating for the good of all
‘We want outstanding schools where success is not just narrowly based on league tables but on how the full potential of every child is developed. Catholic schools and colleges seek to develop to their full potential the God-given gifts of every child. This includes the spiritual dimension … Catholic schools serve over 845,000 children in England and Wales and are generally more ethnically diverse than many other schools. They make a positive contribution to society as they help pupils become good citizens with clear moral principles... Future government policy should ensure the poorest have access to high-quality education and that Catholic parents have true choice for educating their children in Catholic schools.’
Question for voters: How will candidates ensure the best outcomes for the poorest children? Will they support parental choice for faith-based education?
4) Building communities
‘As human beings we share a common humanity and are members of a single human family. We rightly have ties to our own families and communities, but are always called by the Gospel to a wider solidarity with others and to help build a society based on love and justice, where decisions are made at the most appropriate level (whether local, national or international). The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity assist us in how to think about the future of Europe.’
Question for voters: Where do your candidates stand in protecting these values in the debate about European institutions?
‘For some communities many factors make life more difficult, including rising inequality, increased loneliness for many older people, job insecurity and overstretched community services. Building communities is something that can only be done by active citizens. It cannot only be left just to politicians or government.
Question for voters: Where do your candidates stand on the role of the voluntary sector and how its work can be enhanced?
‘The private sector also has a vital role. Business should see itself at the service of society, solving problems and meeting needs. The market economy exists to serve humanity. People are not merely economic units to be exploited. The dignity of work should always be respected.’
Question for voters: Do your candidates support a living wage and a thriving private sector committed to fair pay and the dignity of human work?
‘Violence and conflict have led to the massive displacement of people, many of whom seek asylum or refuge. There are also workers and students from overseas who contribute much to the common good of our country… Immigration is a highly emotive issue and every country needs a policy to control immigration, as well as a positive commitment to policies that facilitate the integration of migrants into the mainstream of society. There is a great danger of blaming immigrants for the ills of society. We support policies which fairly regulate immigration and uphold the human rights of all, recognising the rights, dignity and protection of refugees and migrants.’
Question for voters: Where do your candidates stand on asylum and immigration?
‘In recent years we have witnessed a dramatic increase both in violent extremism and in the persecution of people on the basis of religious beliefs…The recognition and respect given to religious belief is now a crucial issue in many societies including our own. Catholics seek to recognise the signs of God's goodness everywhere, promote mutual understanding, defend the fundamental rights and freedoms of all, including the right to practise their religion, both in private and in public, and the duty to strive to contribute to the common good of all.’
Question for voters: Where do your candidates stand on religious freedom, mutual respect and the role of faith in God in contemporary Britain, and in defending fundamental human rights and promoting religious freedom overseas?
5) Caring for the world
‘… As members of one human family, the richer nations such as ours have a duty to help the development of the poorer nations.’
Question for voters: What are your candidates’ views on overseas aid and development?
‘We know that caring for the planet involves concern for the environment and protecting the livelihood of the poorest people in the world.’
Question for voters: What are your candidates’ views on tackling climate change and supporting sustainable development?
The letter ends by saying: ‘It is important that we vote. It is a duty which springs from the privilege of living in a democratic society. In deciding how we vote the question for each one of us is: How, in the light of the Gospel, can my vote best serve the common good?’