Articles by Anthony Horan
Anthony Horan, Catholic Parliamentary Office, 2 Feb 2019
The Church and politics: should they mix?
I have received quite a few comments on Facebook over the past few days about the role of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, with particular concern being expressed about the mixing of religion and politics.
To be clear, it has always been the position of the Church that the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing. And just as the political community should guarantee the Church, and other religions, the space needed to carry out their respective mission, the Church also respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order. This separation of Church and state is important.
However, this separation does not mean that all cooperation should be excluded. The Church and the state both put themselves at the service of humanity and this common purpose will mean that the state and the Church may on occasion share common ground in their pursuit of a more just society.
It also means that the Church and the state may sometimes be at odds on particular issues. The Church has the right and duty to provide a moral judgement on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral law. One example would be the state supported killing of innocent unborn human beings in the womb. The Church would be failing in her duty to serve humanity by ignoring the plight of innocent and defenceless children.
The separation of Church and state does not mean that people of faith should disconnect from public action. This is something a small number of intolerant and illiberal people would like to see: religion confined to the private sphere. This is not helpful for society. The fundamental right to religious freedom should be maintained and provide protection for religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life. This is a basic human right.
The Church does not seek to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding political questions. Instead it seeks to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may serve the promotion of the human person and the common good.
On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland the Catholic Parliamentary Office seeks, among other things, to promote the dignity of the human person and the common good. Furthermore, we encourage lay Catholics to active participation in the democratic order.
Catholics have a significant role to play in politics
In a time of considerable uncertainty and in an increasingly relativistic culture when many people of faith feel disconnected from society, I was delighted to read Bishop William Nolan’s call for Catholics to get more involved in politics, including a suggestion for people to seriously consider joining their preferred political party.
Exercising our right to vote is critical, and informed by the teaching of the Church, provides a way of directly influencing the direction of travel of our country. But is it enough?
There is much more we can do to influence politics for the better; to ensure that our Parliament and Government recognises the inherent dignity of each human being and works for the Common Good. One suggestion, put forward by Bishop Nolan, is to become a member of our favoured political party. The value of this suggestion cannot be overstated. Whilst many Catholics may rightly feel detached from the mainstream political parties operating in the UK today, with so many of them failing to protect the dignity of the unborn or to meet the needs of the poor, we cannot simply rely on working from the outside to try and influence and bring about political change. We must be part of the process. Becoming members of political parties and exercising the right to vote at party meetings as well as being in a position to contribute to the direction of travel of the party on important political issues puts us at the heart of the process.
If we do want to bring about positive change we need to look at innovative ways of initiating that change. In the world of politics we need to seriously consider being more closely involved in the decision-making process of political parties, we might even consider standing for election as an MSP or MP.
Young people can also get involved, becoming members of political parties and putting themselves forward for election in the Scottish Youth Parliament. The Youth Parliament is open to people aged 14-25 and elections take place every two years, the next elections being held in 2019. You can find out more about the Scottish Youth Parliament here, including how to stand for election.
Inverclyde Councillor Chris McEleny recently told the Scottish Catholic Observer that politics can be a tough place for Catholics, saying that staying true to your faith is often “not popular”. This is very true but it shouldn’t put us off becoming involved. Our message may be counter-cultural but it is only counter-cultural because our world has embraced relativism, where individualistic demands have resulted in a factious society of competing interests where nobody is able to reach fulfilment. The world needs to hear our message of love, hope and peace. It needs to be encouraged to work for the Common Good of all people, not just the few; and it must be encouraged to recognise the inherent dignity of every human being.
Surely this is a message worth sharing?