Faith, Ethics, Elections, Citizenship

We’ve had our budget. A budget is a moral act. Was it an election budget? Was it an ethical budget? What perspectives might we have as Christians? Our government is nearing the end of its term. In what respects has it been an ethical government? Has it failed in any way to be so – not through failure due to circumstances, but through questionable decisions and actions? In what ways is Irish society more just, enabling all citizens to live with dignity? In what ways is it possibly less just?
We have an election coming early next year, significant for the centenary of 1916. How does our faith in Jesus Christ inform our active citizenship? As Catholics, how should we participate in political life? How does this affect Catholics who are elected to positions of public responsibility, or by whose work are involved in the public service? What inspiration and challenges can faith offer to setting goals in political and public life? What are the other forces in society which seek to determine government decisions in their own interests?
President Michael D Higgins has conducted an “Ethics Initiative”, to underline the importance of an ethical dimension to public life which can be under pressure from many sides. On 11 November he spoke at a conference on Culture, Ethics and the Knowledge Society. On 13 November he spoke at the launch of the Centre for the Study of the Moral Foundations of Economy and Society at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. The text of these speeches, and of others, can be found on the website http://www.president.ie/en/media-library/speeches.
Where do we as Christians and Catholics find a place in this? We are the church in Ireland – not just the bishops. It seems to me that we have not engaged wholeheartedly in the public debate. Have the difficulties the Catholic church has been through tended to induce a silence in the public arena? There have been many upheavals also in civil society in recent years, and these have affected many Irish citizens. What can we do as people of faith – flawed indeed, but still people of faith – in all spheres of the church? Within the church we have many questions to address also.
Participating in an election is a moral act. So far, I have always cast my vote. I confess that, this time, I find it hard to identify any candidate or party for whom I would readily cast my vote; and we do not have the option of indicating “None of the above.” Politicians have a difficult job. I tend, however, to cringe when I hear statements and arguments. Surely we can do better? I cannot say that the election in 2016 will be any more significant that other elections, but it is important.
The US Conference of Catholic bishops has published an updated edition of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” as the United States comes into an election year – campaigning is already well under way. The document is available from the USCCB website. (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship-title.cfm)
The issues may not be the same as ours, but a sample from the table of contents may perhaps encourage us to ask what questions we, as citizens, as Christians, and as Catholics, might ask in Ireland, in order to contribute more fully to national life, and especially to those who are on the margins of society.

  1. Who in the Church should Participate in Political Life?
  2. A Well-Formed Conscience
  3. The Virtue of Prudence
  4. Doing Good and Avoiding Evil
  5. Making Moral Choices
  6. The Dignity of the Human Person
  7. Subsidiarity
  8. The Common Good
  9. Solidarity
  10. Human Life
  11. Promoting Peace
  12. Marriage and Family Life
  13. Religious Freedom
  14. Preferential Option for the Poor and Economic Justice
  15. Health Care
  16. Migration
  17. Catholic Education
  18. Promoting Justice and Countering Violence
  19. Combating Unjust Discrimination
  20. Care for Our Common Home: the environment
  21. Communications, Media, and Culture
  22. Global Solidarity
  23. Does the Church Teach About Issues Affecting Public Policy?

To these I might add: War and Peace; Migration; Ireland’s part in the European Union and the United Nations; Local Government; Domestic Violence; Homes for People; Ethics in Business and Employment; Whistleblowing.
Yes, I know Christmas is coming. But the election posters are already being prepared! If someone comes to your door canvassing for the election, what questions (including perhaps pressing local needs) might present a challenge?
Pádraig McCarthy

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