How Catholic Politicians Can Balance Their Duties

Interview with Australian Senator John Hogg

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BRISBANE, Australia, FEB. 17, 2003 ( Catholic politicians can use the support of Catholic laity as well as Church leaders when it comes to moral issues, says a top Australian senator.

John Hogg, a federal senator for Queensland and member of the Australian Labor Party, is deputy president of the Senate.

In this interview with ZENIT, he outlined how politicians could balance their duties as Catholics and as elected representatives of a pluralistic constituency.

The interview is part of an ongoing series in the wake of the recent publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of a doctrinal note «On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.»

Q: Some politicians say their function is to represent the views of their electors, and therefore that they are not able to obey the Vatican or Catholic doctrine. Is this just an excuse, or is there a real conflict here?

Hogg: The electors that they represent have a wide diversity of views. Politicians are invariably not elected to office because of a view on a single issue.

It is therefore quite improper to confine a politician to a certain view on a certain moral/ethical issue because of the perceived public view. The public view may well be based on poor facts or misinformation or straight out prejudice.

The politician, on particularly matters of moral or ethical issues, needs to have the unfettered right to a conscience vote regardless of the public view. If the public is dissatisfied with the stance taken by the politician the ultimate sanction available to the public is to vote the politician out of office.

There is no valid excuse for not doing the right thing. There may be mitigating circumstances where politician might not be able to go as far as some of his/her supporters may wish, but this may be necessary to limit the impact of some proposed changes.

Q: How can the Church and lay Catholic leaders help Catholic politicians in their task of being faithful to moral principles?

Hogg: Easy. Just speak up for what they believe in. In some cases, it is difficult for the politician to be so forthright when the Church is acting benignly on the issue at hand.

Q: The Vatican document criticizes moral relativism, but today’s society places a high value on tolerance and respect for a diversity of opinions. How can Catholic politicians tread the line between being faithful to moral principles, but not being seen as intolerant?

Hogg: Not very easily. There needs to be a more aggressive stance by the Church as sometimes the politician is left like a shag on a rock as some/many so-called Catholic organizations are diametrically opposed to the stated Catholic view and make the politician’s stance difficult to defend.

Q: The Vatican document calls to mind the example of St. Thomas More and praises how he followed his conscience, even at the cost of losing his positions and ultimately his life. What lessons do you think More can teach Catholic leaders and politicians today?

Hogg: Martyrdom might be great but it is not always the answer. St. Thomas More does teach the politician of today the need to properly inform their conscience on the issue.

Q: Could you speak about your own experiences as a Catholic politician and how you try to live your faith in the midst of political life.

Hogg: Briefly, there have been four critical issues I can recall over the last six and a half years as follows: euthanasia; availability of IVF [in vitro fertilization] to single people; cloning; and research on human embryos.

It was really not difficult to come to my view on these issues. However, it should be noted from my perspective that there were difficulties for those who were lapsed Catholics or who had succumbed to the popular secular argument of the day. They were generally the ones who were most strident for the proposed change.

In all but one of the four issues, availability of IVF to single people, there was access to a conscience vote. The moral ground on the availability of IVF to single people was cut from under our feet when those «lapsed» decided that this was an issue of equality not of morality. The basis of this view can, in my view, be traced to the weak position propounded by the Church on the matter and by the weakened position, if not negative position, adopted by a range of Church groups and ministers.

On the issue of embryo research, there was almost complete confusion as the Catholic position was either not enunciated to Catholics or not capable of being explained to Catholics as few really understood our position. Hence, the populist view prevailed, i.e., the view arrived at by the media.

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