Bishops issue voter guidelines ahead of ‘pivotal’ general election

[Austen Ivereigh] In advance of what they describe as a “pivotal” general election on 8 June, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued their customary considerations to help voters decide in conscience whom to vote for, suggesting 10 issues to raise with their local candidates.

As always, the bishops urge everyone with a right to vote to do so. They say: “Please do vote. Your vote is a matter of conscience. It is your judgement about all that God wants of us, both personally and as a society.”

But in their pastoral letter to be read in all parishes this Sunday, the bishops turn to Pope Francis’s magna carta, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, to draw out general considerations to guide voters’ thinking at this time. They stress the importance of leaving this earth in a better state than we found it, of bolstering families as the primary vehicle of God’s mercy, as well as human fraternity and solidarity.

Noting how “these broad principles impact directly on many of the practical issues being debated at this time” the bishops  point to what they call “a pivotal moment in the life of our nations as we prepare to leave the European Union”, observing that the outcome of the election will help to determine the shape not only of Brexit but of post-Brexit Britain’s place in the world — including whether the Kingdom itself remains united.

The bishops stress in particular ten issues.

On Europe, they flag the rights of UK citizens following Brexit, as well as human and workers’ rights in future trade deals. On migration and asylum they urge a “fair migration system” that is “respectful of the unity of marriage and family life” and ask future governments to commit to and expand the UK’s current pledge to take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

They also urge political support for efforts to fight modern slavery and assist its victims, and say they want to see the parties committing to helping poorer countries and to assisting religious, including Christian, minorities facing persecution abroad.

The bishops also ask for candidates to protect the family and oppose euthanasia, urge urgent prison reform to deal with the unprecedented levels of suicide and violence, and call for action to help those in poor housing and struggling to make ends meet. The bishops of England and Wales also urge support for Catholic schools as part a commitment to parental choice in the education of their children.

They conclude the letter with a prayer: “Lord grant us wisdom to act always with integrity, seeking the protection and flourishing of all, and building a society based on justice and peace.”

The Catholic bishops’ letter, which can be downloaded in PDF here, follows the pastoral letter issued over a week ago signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

They, too, stress the significance of the historical moment, arguing that the election takes place “against the backdrop of deep and profound questions of identity,” and offers a rare opportunity “to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country and a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

A recent study by St Mary’s University in Twickenham suggests that the decline in Anglicanism has “stabilized” on the back of an upsurge in patriotism which has made it more acceptable to own up to being Christian.

Last Sunday the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, pre-empted the bishops’ conference pastoral by issuing his own ten-point election letter which differs substantially from it. The letter makes no mention of Pope Francis, Europe or asylum and immigration, but asks of candidates: “How will they strengthen Britain’s Christian patrimony, its history, classics and values, whilst curbing fundamentalism in its various forms, scientific and religious, and promoting a fruitful dialogue between faith and reason?”

In Scotland, meanwhile, Catholic bishops have also penned a letter to be read at all 500 Catholic churches there. According to a preview summary sent out today by the Scottish Catholic media office, the bishops say society will be judged on how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

The letter highlights life, marriage and family, poverty, asylum, and religious freedom, while urging Catholic voters to “remind our politicians that abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are always morally unacceptable.” The bishops will also ask voters to ensure their candidates are “committed to the right of people not to be forced to act against their conscience.” The letter concludes: “Our nation, our Parliament, and our Government will be judged on how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.”

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