BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales have encouraged Catholics to vote according to their faith and to back candidates who support Church teaching.
With the publication of a new 100-page document, Cherishing Life, the bishops said they wished to “educate the conscience” of Catholics and those who “share our values”.
But they have declined to make abortion the key voting issue for Catholics and said people should vote on a range of issues, and according to their conscience.
Speaking at the launch in London last week, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, said the Catholic Church was taking a stand against the culture of death which predominates in Britain.
The bishops argued that the rising number of abortions, the demand for legislation which permits euthanasia, diminishing respect for the elderly and the lack of protection for marriage and the family were symptomatic of a culture that has rejected life.
However, the bishops said they would not be following the example of some American bishops who are recommending that the sacraments be denied to Catholic politicians who do not uphold Church teaching.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “I don’t think we would deal with that in that particular way. Sacramental discipline is between the shepherd and those to whom he is pastoring.” Cherishing Life is described as a complement to the bishops’ social ethics document The Common Good which was published in 1996, a year before the General Election. The Common Good had undoubted influence in the run up to the election. This document, released in advance of the European and local elections, is likely to have a significant impact again.
Cherishing Life covers a wide range of issues, from the moral grounds for a just war and the impact of euthanasia to the sexual obsession of modern society. The bishops have attacked specific elements of government legislation and practice. They said laws for same-sex relationships threaten marriage. State-sponsored sex education is described as “morally cor rosive and practically ineffective”.
But the bishops denied that the document has been prepared with an overtly political agenda in mind.
Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth said: “We don’t generally say to people who they should vote for. We flag up issues. People must come to a judgment taking into account a number of factors.” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said Cherishing Life was an antidote to the grave misconceptions about Catholic moral teaching. “People think it [Catholicism] is about sin and guilt when really moral teaching is about life, love and forgiveness,” he said.
The document was warmly welcomed by Nuala Scarisbrick, the chair of Life. Mrs Scarisbrick said Cherishing Life was accessi ble and easy to read. “I think it’s excellent and I think it will help a lot of people,” she said. “The language is firm but gentle and very understanding of the human condition and all the dilemmas that modern life throws at people.
“I particularly recommend the chapters on sexual morality and the family which are excellent. The bishops are to be congratulated. The guidance is clear: life must be respected from the outset.” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said The Common Good had focused on the Ten Commandments, setting a blueprint for Catholic responsibility. This document, he explained, could be viewed in terms of the Beatitudes, a way of living the good life. He denied that the publication of the new document had been timed for maximum political impact.
“Every couple of years the bishops issue a teaching document,” he said.
He added that it was not the Church’s intention to discourage or discomfort the weak. The document was intended to provide guidance, he said.
A spokesman for the ProLife Party said Cherishing Life endorsed pro-life activism.
“We encourage all undecided voters to read the uplifting statements of the Catholic bishops,” the spokesman said. “Their message is ours.”