Securing the Common Good: Whakamaua te tikanga pai o te katoa
The more we strive to secure a common good
corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours,
the more effectively we love them.
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate 7
Elections are times when every adult citizen is called upon to debate the value of different political policies
and decisions, and hold to account those with political power.
In our society citizens may sometimes think they are passive consumers of options that are pre-made and presented to us. Are we merely considering a “shopping list” of political choices and trying to choose the options in accord with our values, or at least those that don’t offend them?
Our Catholic faith calls us to a very different way of approaching political debates. We can be dynamic and active advocates for political choices such as valuing human life and human dignity; protecting the poor and vulnerable members of our society and our global family; enhancing our social relationships, whanau and communities; preserving the goods of the earth given to all human beings; and creating peaceful, reconciled communities.
For us as Catholics, key values such as respect for human dignity are not subject to majority decision. Even if, for example, most New Zealanders agreed that unborn human life was not of value, that could not make that
decision valid or right. We will continue to hold and proclaim the truth that we know, which has been taught to us and which has been passed to us by our spiritual forebears. Additionally, we do not “trade-off” or sacrifice the rights and responsibilities of some vulnerable groups in society for those of others, but look for policies and political choices that uphold the dignity of every person and address the good of all.
However, the Church also recognises there are many different possible political policies or options which could achieve a just and fair society. It is right and appropriate that Catholics and other New Zealanders debate and weigh up the merits of different policy choices being offered to us. For that reason, as Catholic Bishops we do not endorse any particular political party, but ask all people of goodwill to inform and use their consciences in challenging and debating the options put forward by all political parties.
Politics is not a private affair. Elections are times not for considering what political choices will be “better for me”, but what political choices will be “better for us”. Do political policy options enhance our life together as
a community; do they protect the vulnerable; and will they work for the common good of all? There is great richness in Catholic teaching to guide us in making these judgments. Principles we ask New Zealanders to take into account in the 2011 election include:
Human life and human dignity: Above all else, we value human life and human dignity. Human life is precious and requires protection from conception, throughout our childhood and adult lives, and to the end of our natural lives. The many threats to human life include those that are overt, such as abortion and euthanasia, and also those that are more subtle, such as policies which discourage the birth of children, fail to adequately care for the health of particular sections of our population, or which provide conditions in which violence thrives.
An inter-dependent community: No person lives as an individual – we are social creatures and we value our inter-dependence. At different times in our lives we are able to offer or receive the support of those around us. However New Zealand society increasingly appears to value individualism and personal independence over a
sense of community solidarity. Some of the ways in which this is seen are in prenatal attempts to screen out people who might be born with disabilities and so have some degree of dependence on others; resentment towards those whose life situations leave them for shorter or longer periods needing our collective support; attitudes towards those at the end of life who need the ongoing care of family or community; and attitudes to refugees and asylum seekers. Our society is enhanced by the solidarity and compassion we feel and
extend towards one another.
Reconciliation, repentance and restoration: We believe that peaceful and right relationships are best achieved through a focus on reconciliation. Whether in the justice or prison systems; in our responses to historic or present day injustices against Maori as the indigenous people of our land; or in our approach to international security threats and concerns, we believe that reconciliation is always possible and we can and must strive towards it.
Solidarity: We are a community consisting of connections between many different groups. We value the many different cultural and ethnic groups that contribute to the richness and diversity of our communities. We also reach out across the divide between rich and poor, both within our society and between rich and poor nations,
through aid and development programmes which genuinely involve and respond to the needs of vulnerable communities.
Stewardship: We hold in trust the many great gifts God has provided for all people, including future generations. These gifts include the natural environment and natural resources. They also include the social capital – our relationships of mutual trust and cooperation – built up in our many communities, networks and relationships.
Common good: Outcomes from the political process must build the common good of all. Beyond the good which we strive for in our own families and immediate circumstances, we look to the good of all of us in our communities, societies and as a national and global family. During elections, we have the opportunity to practice what is our right and also our responsibility as citizens – to address the needs of all.
Participation in the democratic process is important. It is vital that you vote. We ask you to give priority to these principles in assessing the party policies and candidates for election. These are criteria by which we judge all political policies, and challenges that we make to all political parties.
Archbishop of Wellington
Bishop of Auckland
Bishop of Dunedin
Bishop of Christchurch
Bishop of Palmerston North
Bishop of Hamilton
Coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North
Authorised by Archbishop John Dew, New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference,
Catholic Centre, 22-30 Hill St, Thorndon, Wellington