Thursday, March 04, 2010

Choosing the Common Good: the emergence of the Conservative Catholic Fellowship

The Roman Catholic vote could be pivotal to the outcome of the election. There are about five million in England and Wales, many of which are in urban areas with marginal seats. There is much speculation about whether or not the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have seen the light of their earthly salvation and, in their pre-election manifesto Choosing the Common Good, have decided to endorse the Conservative Party.

The answer, of course, is most definitely ‘no’.

And yet it is also ‘yes’.

They have not because they would not be so bold as to enter the party political fray in England. In Scotland, quite possibly; in Northern Ireland, most definitely; but not in Mary’s Dowry – that is simply not their style, whatever the personal politics or religious hue of the Archbishop of Westminster. Of course, one only has to look at Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and observe his very close relationship with Tony Blair to know he was New Labour to the core.

But it was never articulated other than symbolically.

And he also read The Tablet.

The present incumbent, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, appears to prefer more crusty daily bread. And he gives the impression of being a little more to the right in his politics.

Choosing the Common Good presents key themes of Roman Catholic social teaching as a contribution to the debate about the values and vision that underpin our society. The Bishops argue that finding a shared vision for society is more urgent than the detail of particular party policies. They remind us: 'Where there is no vision, the people perish' (Prov 29:18), and argue that social issues cannot be left only to government to solve, but are the responsibility of all.

In taking of a ‘just society’, the document makes the point that this must be preceded by the desire for love and truth, which is innate in all people. While there has been a fracturing in trust in institutions and in each other, the Bishops argue that it is up to all in civil society to lead the re-building of this essential trust. Central to that task is the understanding that we are not self-contained individuals but inter-dependent, where human flourishing lies in the quality of our relationships and the practice of virtue: 'The virtues form us as moral agents, so that we do what is right and honourable for no other reason than that it is right and honourable, irrespective of reward and regardless of what we are legally obliged to do. Virtuous action springs from a sense of one's dignity and that of others, and from self-respect as a citizen. It is doing good even when no-one is looking.'

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference, said: 'We encourage everyone to read this document and participate in the wide-ranging and necessary debate about the values and vision by which we seek to construct a just and civil society. Ultimately, Choosing the Common Good is about human flourishing. It does not offer a direction on how to vote, but forms a back-cloth to the more particular issues which may well dominate the election itself and offers an invitation to the political parties on how best to respond in all of our joint efforts to build a better society.'

The application of the key themes of Roman Catholic social teaching leads to some consequences which are summarised. They include life itself; poverty and inequality; care of the elderly, community relations and migration; the global community and ecology, marriage and family life and the role of faith communities. The Bishops argue that the Roman Catholic Church has a distinct role in building a society which allows for the flourishing of all, and warns against the privatisation of religion:

'The right to religious freedom means the right to live by faith, within the reasonableness of the common good, and to act by faith in the public forum. This arises from the fact that the human person is, by nature, a spiritual being, with a longing for love, truth, for beauty, for happiness.'

The Bishops conclude by urging confidence in the challenges ahead, quoting Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: 'The complexity and gravity of the present economic situation rightly causes us concern, but we must adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospect of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future.'

According to John Smeaton of the SPUC, the document is inadequate on many levels, but in particular on the ‘pro-life perspective’, and because it ‘fails to give voters clear guidance how to make the best choice when voting’.

And yet, for Cranmer, these are two of its strengths: the Bishops have found a very sensible via media which is rather hard-hitting where it needs to be (as with the unequivocal condemnation of the loss of virtue in public life). And yet it permits both Labour and Conservative voters to claim it as an endorsement of their decisions (His Grace has no comprehension of how a Roman Catholic of any hue could ever vote Liberal Democrat).

The reality is that this document is positioned precisely where the Roman Catholic Church has always been – socially conservative and economically socialist – but David Cameron’s emphasis on social issues such as marriage, education and care for the elderly, have had the inevitable effect of making the Conservative Party appear to be more family-orientated and ‘compassionate’.

There is no endorsement for the Conservative Party’s silence on religious freedom, at a time when secularist campaigning is on the rise as never before. And it clearly warns that David Cameron’s more liberal attitude to certain social issues, such as ‘gay equality’ and ‘gay adoption’, threatens to alienate many Roman Catholic swing voters in an election where the religious vote (of all faiths) will be crucial to the outcome.

The Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales produced a similar document in 1997 entitled The Common Good. At the time, after almost two decades of Conservative government, it was widely interpreted as being pro-Labour because it urged voters to make up their minds based on traditional concepts of Roman Catholic teaching, such as ‘social justice’ and solidarity, themes which Tony Blair exuded through every pore. Indeed, he said in one speech that it was his objective to re-cast the Labour Party in the mould of continental 'Christian Democracy'.

Perhaps Choosing the Common Good appears to be less clearly on the side of Labour because they are now perceived as the Conservatives were in 1997 – tired, incompetent, out of touch, out of ideas, aloof, arrogant, without a vision and mired in ‘sleaze’.

Or is it that the Conservative Party has shifted?

On some social policies, like the decision to support marriage in the tax system, undoubtedly so.

But perhaps it is the influence of Phillip Blond and ‘ResPublica’ and the work of Iain Duncan Smith and his ‘Centre for Social Justice’ which have brought the Conservative Party more in tune with Roman Catholic social teaching than ever before.

And that may strike the right chords of compassion; it may be the right symphonic mood music to help win a general election. But it makes no economic sense at all.

Perhaps His Grace might assist Their Graces with a clearer message: Why Christians should think thrice before voting Labour.

15 Comments:

Blogger Jared Gaites said...

This is the frustrating part to all of this for me Cranmer.

As much as I hate Labour and the damage they have done to the fabric of this country, I have no idea what the Tories are planning to do. Will I regret any vote? It's all very well for you to be telling the likes of D.Singh that you know a lot of things, but how is anyone supposed to have confidence?

It is clear in my own mind that Choosing the Common Good can only mean one thing --Get Rid! But where does this leave me? I may believe that the Tories are not the best thing in the world that could answer my problems, but I have to make a decision as a Christian about how to move forward, and this can only mean getting rid of this terrible Labour Government. If my vote comes back to bite me on the arse in certain ways then so be it maybe. I am certain there will be Tories who will piss themselves when I fall for it in their eyes, but at the end of the day this bastard government has to go.

I just wish the Conservatives could have been more up front and honest about what their intentions are that's all. This Ahscroft thing, and Hague trying to pretend he knew nothing does not help...it's called taking the piss Cranmer.

4 March 2010 at 11:26  
Anonymous Graham Davis said...

Cranmer says...

“In talking of a ‘just society’, the document makes the point that this must be preceded by the desire for love and truth, which is innate in all people. While there has been a fracturing in trust in institutions and in each other, the Bishops argue that it is up to all in civil society to lead the re-building of this essential trust. Central to that task is the understanding that we are not self-contained individuals but inter-dependent, where human flourishing lies in the quality of our relationships and the practice of virtue: 'The virtues form us as moral agents, so that we do what is right and honourable for no other reason than that it is right and honourable, irrespective of reward and regardless of what we are legally obliged to do. Virtuous action springs from a sense of one's dignity and that of others, and from self-respect as a citizen. It is doing good even when no-one is looking.'”

An excellent exposition of Humanist philosophy! So why do you need all the god stuff?

4 March 2010 at 11:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much as I laugh at God-head's, I still credit most of them with the ability to decide for themselves, as to which political party they might support.

This isn't America. We don't want any Bush candidate emerging in England, who is shovelled in with the mass votes of religious sheep.

English god-heads aren't that stupid - or are they? Cranmer seems to think so. I think Cranmer is not only wrong, but wrong to seek it.

4 March 2010 at 11:40  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

Anon

The Catholic vote is split just like it is with anyone else. There are those who couldn't vote anything other than left wing even if their life depended upon it. But it is too early for the Bishops to be pointing in any certain direction. We are facing a hung Parliament and if this happens then it could follow the same pattern like it did last time, which would mean another election in October - tie this in with the Pope coming in September and things get a bit clearer.

4 March 2010 at 11:58  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

I don’t think ‘Choosing the Common Good’ is a document that the average Catholic will understand – it seems to be aimed at graduate level.

Like the Church of England the document is in favour of the discredited global warming agenda. Under the section headed ‘The Global Community and Ecology’ it states:

‘The community to which the principle of the common good applies extends globally and includes future generations.’

What a pity it did not mention how the Nazi EU keeps people in poverty by erecting high trade tariffs at the EU’s borders forcing higher the price of sugar imported from the Third World (into the EU) and simultaneously ensuring that the price of sugar produced domestically stays low (as it is subsidised). Then it dumps its sugar mountains onto the world markets further depressing the price.

And isn’t it odd how these socialists who come and post here are not ashamed of their support for this disgusting immoral practice?

The Socialists will go down as ensuring that the history of farmers in the Third World remains poverty.

I am pleased with the Catholic Church’s strong support for marriage and family life – that clearly is against the current national socialists’ government’s agenda. Indeed it is only a matter of time before homosexuals begin suing Protestant and Catholic priests for failing to provide ceremonies for ‘gay marriage’.

4 March 2010 at 13:18  
Anonymous Stuart said...

Jared said:-

As much as I hate Labour and the damage they have done to the fabric of this country, I have no idea what the Tories are planning to do. Will I regret any vote?

This comment completely sums up how I feel.

4 March 2010 at 14:40  
Blogger Simon Harley said...

To Stuart and Jared - the Conservative party website is a good place to look at draft manifestos on certain subjects such as healthcare, society and education.

4 March 2010 at 14:59  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

Would they be todays draft maifestos or yesterdays? And are they cast iron promises?

It's the wobbly nature of things which is the main piss off Simon. It feeds the impression that we are being fed bullshit. Further Example:

Hague kept Ashcrofts non Dom status a secret.

Yeah right, highly believable bullshit.

4 March 2010 at 15:04  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

In my own mind, the Tory campaign comes over as a teenage toff fantasy world creation. They seem to be completely off the mark, taking extremely bad advice from some of the most detached aresholes in the universe, and are caught out each time over some of the most fundamental underestimations that could ever pass for political decisions.

And I am supposed to feel enthused with confidence because Cranmer knows things. God help the lot of us.

4 March 2010 at 15:12  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Men

We simply have to go down on knees in private and tell our Father in heaven what is troubling you.

After some persistence and talking it over with Him, I am sure each one will find peace – and on that day when, each of us alone with his thoughts, walks to the Poling Station: we’ll know what to do.

[P.S. for the first time I have added information to my ‘Blog’.]

4 March 2010 at 15:34  
Anonymous William Wallace said...

Catholic bishops do not endorse political parties.

The Catholic church has better things to do.

4 March 2010 at 16:21  
Anonymous RobertTheDevil said...

"Braveheart" (sic)
yeh yeh, if you say so....
would that only be in Scotland then ?

4 March 2010 at 16:48  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Interesting BBC news report on trying to win the catholic vote in Scotland:

http://www.christian.org.uk/news/labour-must-respect-faith-voters-values-to-be-elected/

4 March 2010 at 17:16  
Anonymous Pageantmaster said...

I am a member of the Church of England and have always voted Conservative. However, I have been worried by the increasingly autocratic style: imposing approved candidates on constituency parties; and pushing every and any gay provision however wise or unwise [and I say that as someone who sees sense in Civil Partnerships]. The vote taken late on Tuesday evening over Lord Alli's amendment to the Equality Bill report stage in the Lords, was only possible due to the conservatives unexpectedly agreeing to extend the sitting. Thus those who would have opposed the amendment were not there expecting it to be debated on the following day. Now if unamended this provision which was passed thanks to its proponents being there and prepared, will enable civil partnerships to take place in religious premises and potentially open churches to use of anti-discrimination legislation against them notwithstanding some vague words in the amendment.

Making policy without consultation and doing things on the hoof, seems to be what we are in for with a conservative win under the way Mr Cameron is running things. It is not that he is wrong, it is that his approach and style and increasing failure to consult anyone else is guaranteed to come a cropper before long.

But then perhaps that is why having thought that he was a dead cert not so long ago, the figures are plummeting.

Is this the way things are going to be once again, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

Oh dear, I have been very opinionated for a maiden comment.

Thank you so much Your Grace, I am a big fan.

4 March 2010 at 20:54  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Pageantmaster

Good comment.

5 March 2010 at 07:56  

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