On May 7 there will be a general election in the United Kingdom. On Wednesday the bishops of England and Wales released a letter to all Catholics setting out a number of principles they should consider when choosing how to vote.
“As Catholics, we are called to work for a world shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel proclaims the mercy of God and invites us steadfastly to love God and our neighbour,” the introduction stated.
The letter urged people to think about the kind of society they want. It emphasised that whomever an individual votes for is their own decision, but also proposed some points of reflection in making that decision.
The first point was about respecting life. As we are created in the image and likeness of God: “Each person matters and the foundation of Catholic teaching is the respect for human life from conception to natural death.”
The letter mentioned matters such as abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia and urged more support for palliative care. It asked people to find out where the candidates they have the possibility to vote for stand on these issues.
Second in the list of themes was the subject of marriage and family life. “The Christian understanding of marriage, founded on a loving and faithful relationship between a man and a woman, is the basic building block of society. It provides stability for the nurturing and education of children,” the letter commented.
Today, it continued, families are more diverse and fragile, but what society needs is good and strong families who are dedicated to the well-being of their children.
“A commitment to support the family should be at the heart of social and political life,” the letter added.
Helping the vulnerable
Poverty was another theme of the letter and it pointed out that there are many families who are financially vulnerable.
“Government policies should be assessed on the ways in which they impact those most in need, including those who are homeless or hungry, and how they support and strengthen the family and its capacity to flourish,” the letter observed.
Education also came in for mention with the letter explaining that: “The provision of good education is fundamental to the future of society.”
The bishops noted that Catholic schools serve over 845,000 children in England and Wales.
“They make a positive contribution to society as they help pupils to become good citizens with clear moral principles to guide their lives and thereby help build up the network of relationships in society,” the letter said.
In the section titled building communities the letter covered a variety of topics. Included among them was the need for people to take action in order to take care of the lonely, those in need, and the poor, and not just to leave everything to the government.
A living wage, fair pay and the dignity of work were other topics covered. “People are not merely economic units to be exploited. The dignity of work should always be respected,” the letter said.
Asylum and immigration were also mentioned. Every country needs a policy to control immigration the letter admitted. It is also necessary to avoid blaming immigrants for the ills of society, it added.
The section on communities also included the topic of religious freedom. It decried violent extremism and persecution based on religious beliefs.
“The recognition and respect given to religious belief is now a crucial issue in many societies including our own,” it said.
A last brief section dealt with caring for the world, regarding overseas aid and climate change, although the latter only received a very small mention.
On the subject of aid the letter noted the large gap between the rich and the poor and the need for richer nations to help those that are in need.
Followers of Christ
In conclusion the letter stated that: “As followers of Christ, we work with him to renew the face of the earth.”
“As his disciples, we search for mercy, compassion and justice in all we say and do, and challenge where these are absent in our world. Together with the state and politicians, we are responsible for the kind of society we build,” the letter said.
Politics is a vital and necessary vocation, the bishops stated, with important responsibilities.
“In deciding how we vote the question for each one of us is then: How, in the light of the Gospel, can my vote best serve the common good?” the bishops asked.
They suggested that before voting people might wish to say the following prayer: ““Lord, grant us wisdom that we may walk with integrity, guarding the path of justice and knowing the protection of your loving care for all.”