Calling on Catholics “to build a world in which respect, dignity, equality, justice and peace are our primary concerns”, the bishops of England and Wales have produced a checklist of issues they wish Catholics to raise with candidates at May’s general election. Above all their letter — signed by the conference president and vice-president, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark — call on Catholics to engage with the elections. Reminding them of their duty to vote, they ask Catholics to think and reflect on the issues, follow the media debates, quiz candidates and to recognize the good intentions of politicians.
The bishops’ letter — introduced by Cardinal Nichols in this short video message — sets out four core principles from which a politics geared to the common good should spring: respect for life in all its stages; support of marriage and family life and the alleviation of poverty; education for the good of all; building communities; and caring for the wider world.
While stressing that voting should never be based on a single issue, the bishops suggest that some issues — “especially those concerned with the dignity and value of human life and human flourishing” — are “more central than others”.
Calling for “politics that protect the fundamental right to life”, the bishops reiterate the Church’s opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia laws while calling for more palliative care, as well as “a robust National Health Service on which we can all rely”.
They also argue that “commitment to support the family should be at the heart of social and political life” and point out that too many families depend on food banks.
The Catholic bishops have long called for a “just wage”, and in 2015 implicitly call for the extension of the living wage — which is now paid to all staff of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales and all employed in the Diocese of Westminster — in noting that too many families “do not have a living wage to support them and their families” and are forced to rely on state handouts. (Unlike the statutory minimum wage, the living wage is a recommended minimum that reflects living costs). The bishops say government policies should be assessed “on the ways in which they impact those most in need” and on “how they support and strengthen the family and its capacity to flourish”.
Noting that over 845,000 children in England and Wales are educated in Catholic schools that are more ethnically diverse than average, the bishops say government policy should “ensure that the poorest have access to high quality education and that Catholic parents have true choice for educating their children in Catholic schools”.
The longest section of the document, ‘Building Communities’, reflects the bishops’ concern at the loss of trust in society and their view that trust will be restored by enhancing community life in all its forms.
They ask Catholics to apply the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity in thinking about the future of Europe, and call on the parties to consider how to enhance the work of the voluntary sector. They also call for a market economy that serves human needs, noting that “people are not merely economic units to be exploited”.
On immigration, the bishops focus on its roots in violence and conflict, and the way immigrants contribute to the common good through working to raise their families. While acknowledging that every country needs to control numbers of newcomers and to facilitate their integration, the letter however warns against blaming immigrants for social ills while calling for policies that recognise “the rights, dignity and protection of refugees and migrants”.
Under “Caring for the world” the bishops stress the duty of wealthy nations to assist poorer ones, and note that caring for the planet entails both concern for the environment and protecting the livelihoods of the poorest.
Concluding their letter, the bishops note that “our actions are more important than our opinions”, and that a general election is not just about expressing an opinion but about contributing to an action towards an objective.
“It is important that we vote,” they write, adding that “it is a duty which springs from the privilege of living in a democratic society.”