Mindful of the Common Good

All citizens ought to be mindful of their right and their duty to promote the common good by using their vote.

Pope John Paul II

It is in the interests of political parties and candidates to know what the public wants. So it comes back to us: we are the public. What do we want? More importantly, what are our wants based on?

The focus of this election reflection is our Catholic values and attitudes, because what we expect of our candidates comes back to what really matters to us as a community.

It is tempting to say: everybody’s wants are different; what difference will my vote make among so many? Probably not much if all we do is cast a vote. And probably less still if our vote is determined by uncritical affiliation to a party, or some single issue, or a personality cult. We need some way of evaluating all party manifestos, all issues and all personalities.

Can Christ’s gospel be any help? Obviously the gospel does not give us a blueprint for social and economic policies. But social and economic policies should be in the service of human dignity and a humane society, in which every person matters. The gospel is about how much we matter to God. This is the basis for everything the Church teaches concerning human life and human dignity, right across the spectrum of human life from conception to death.

The Church does not tell people how to vote. Nor does it endorse any political party. There is often room for legitimate differences of opinion because it can be difficult to judge which policies – and especially which packages of policies – will contribute best to making “human life more human” (Pope John Paul II). However, the Church has considerable experience in applying the gospel to life-situations, especially from our long record of providing health care, education and social services.

Political debate can often appear to be a mixture of rhetoric, appeals to personal and special interests, slogans and media hype. In contrast to this, the Church asks us to consider a different type of political engagement: one which is focused on the common good of all members of our society. Sometimes that can mean looking further than our own individual preferences.

In our form of democracy, the party system presents us with manifestos that are a package deal. Not every part of the package might be to our liking, or even to the liking of some candidates. And so strategic voting and coalition considerations can be called for. Part of that strategic voting is to put into parliament people of personal integrity and values, which brings us back to values, starting with our own values as members of the Catholic community.
These are some issues where we may need to consider what are our values and the values of political candidates, particularly in relation to points where human life and dignity are most vulnerable:

Life itself

The Church teaches that human life begins at conception and lasts until we draw our final breath… When society decides that certain types of killing are moral the door is opened to many others.

NZCBC, Consistent ethic of life, 1997

Every abortion involves taking one person’s life for another person’s reasons. But we need to do more than condemn. Our responsibility to protect unborn children includes considering the legal framework for abortions, and also supporting pregnant and single mothers, and ensuring all children are welcomed and supported.

  • What is the position of political candidates on the protection of unborn children?
  • What do they say about the social and economic circumstances which contribute to higher or lower rates of abortion?
  • What protection and support do political candidates offer for children likely to be born with disabilities?

The Church supports stem cell research using adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood, but not creating embryos for the purposes of research and other people’s medication and then discarding them.

  • What do your political candidates say about research or medical procedures based on embryos?

Those who support euthanasia and assisted suicide sometimes seek our support by claiming they are acts of mercy. The Church in contrast sees this as an abandonment of people who most need our care and protection, particularly when they themselves are concerned not to be a burden to others.

  • What do political candidates offer as policies on access by all New Zealanders to adequate palliative care for those who are dying?
  • What is the personal position of candidates on euthanasia and other conscience issues?

Family life and the rights of children

When parents are forced to work long hours at the expense of time spent with each other and with their children, we see children and young people who are left without the comfort and security of traditional family interaction.

NZCBC, Easter trading statement, 2007

Some employment policies and practices affect family life. For example, families can be deprived of adequate time together, workers may have experienced a reduction in job security and real wages, and children and young people may not be sufficiently protected.

  • What do political candidates in your electorate say about the impact of employment changes on family and whanau life?
  • What practical steps do candidates and political parties intend to take to ease financial pressures on New Zealand’s poorest families and whanau?

Psychologists point out that a father’s love and a mother’s love are different and that each contributes differently to a child’s development. The Church continues to recognise and respect the need for a child to receive both kinds of love.

  • What political views on same sex couples conflict with this wisdom?
  • What commitment do political candidates have to a child-centred approach to decisions that are sometimes framed by adult agendas?

Economic policies

There are needs and common goods that cannot be satisfied by the market system. It is the task of the State and of all society to defend them. An idolatry of the market alone cannot do all that should be done.

Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991

Ten years ago the Churches joined together in the Hikoi of Hope to ask the government to give more weight to the impact of the economy on people’s lives in the areas of employment, poverty, housing, health and education. New Zealand now has the lowest unemployment figures in the OECD, but this has not been reflected in improved living standards for the poorest New Zealanders, and inequality continues to grow. Our Catholic social tradition recognises that the effect on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community is the measure of our public policies.

How do political candidates intend to address the economic hardship experienced by New Zealand’s poorest members, especially those on benefits and low wages?
What do political parties say about disparities in living standards and life expectancy between Maori, Pacific and Pakeha New Zealanders?
A truly humane society would ensure that people have times of stillness to see more deeply into life; times of quiet to hear from the heart; time for wonder, beauty and thanksgiving – and other things the Treasury cannot count. These are dimensions of life and of being truly human that are squeezed out when the market forces which should be in our service, somehow become our master.

  • What is the position of political candidates on issues like quality of life, and a work/life balance versus the demands of unrestrained consumerism?
  • Have your political candidates ever traced the link between having more, wanting more, spending more, borrowing more, earning more, and putting more stress on families and marriages, and what this is doing to the environment?

Refugees and asylum seekers

We must not let our own problems cause us to overlook the extreme needs of the destitute people whom we call refugees.

NZCBC, Statement on refugees and migrants, 2002

Ultimately the planet belongs to all people – not to some more than others. How we share the planet comes back to decisions that are made by people. Some of those people represent us.

Millions of men, women and children are forced to leave their homes because of persecution. Many live in refugee camps for years on end, often sinking into despair and mental illness. Others reach New Zealand as asylum seekers.

How do the policies of political candidates recognise our obligations to refugees and asylum seekers? How compassionate and humanitarian are political policies?
Is our country doing enough for such people? Are our processing procedures and refugee laws just, honourable and expeditious?
International aid and development

The superfluous wealth of rich countries should be placed at the service of poor nations. The world which up until now held good for the benefit of those nearest to us, must be today applied to all the needy of this world.

Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 1967

Allowing huge disparities of wealth and poverty to co-exist in our global community, and allowing some communities to become extremely marginalised and impoverished, has many lasting outcomes which also impoverish our own society in the long term. Through the international development and aid work undertaken by our development agency Caritas, we can see how a relatively small funding investment, combined with vision and personal sacrifice, can produce inspiring and long-lasting outcomes.

What is the position of political candidates on implementing New Zealand’s commitment to increase aid to 0.7% of gross national income by 2015?

Cultural diversity

A peaceful and harmonious society is the fruit of justice, not of false understandings of what constitutes equality.

NZCBC, Cultural diversity statement, 2005

When diverse groups work together for the common good, they enrich our society through their respect for one another’s uniqueness and shared human dignity. We live in a diverse society, which has been vulnerable in recent years to those who wish to stir up division rather than create understanding between peoples.

  • Do the policies of political candidates and parties promote dialogue and understanding, or division and misunderstanding? 
  • Is there any stereotyping of different ethnicities, religious and cultural groups by any political party?
  • What are political parties’ views on understanding the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand society today?
  • What is the response of political candidates to the Religious Diversity statement issued by leaders of different faiths and Christian denominations in New Zealand last year?

Crime and punishment

A new approach, not new prisons, is the answer to our growing prison population.

NZCBC, Crime and Punishment statement, 2006

A divisive debate is currently taking place between those seeking harsher and longer penalties for prisoners, and those seeking more opportunities for reconciliation and rehabilitation. The Church makes a strong commitment to the human dignity of those in our prisons through our prison chaplaincy service, and other social services.

  • What is the position of political candidates on restorative justice?
  • What do they say about support for victims?
  • What is their response to the disproportionate number of Maori in prison populations?

Environmental justice

The very life and ecology of the planet faces severe threats from pollution, exploitation and mismanagement of its resources. Too often the driving forces for social change are greed and the desire for power, rather than the common good and solidarity of humanity.

NZCBC, A Consistent Ethic of Life, 1997

The suffering of many of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world through environmental degradation and the effects of climate change is becoming an urgent and pressing issue for us all.

  • What steps are political candidates proposing to reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels?
  • What is the position of political candidates on responding to the needs of people in the Pacific who will be displaced by environmental changes?
  • How do political parties respect the relationship of New Zealand’s indigenous people to land?

Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 28

Denis Browne
Bishop of Hamilton
President, NZCBC

John Dew
Archbishop of Wellington
Secretary, NZCBC

Colin Campbell
Bishop of Dunedin

Peter Cullinane
Bishop of Palmerston North

Patrick Dunn
Bishop of Auckland

Barry Jones
Bishop of Christchurch

Robin Leamy
Bishop Assistant in Auckland