25 February 2015, The Tablet

Bishops urge Catholics to engage in politics before May's election

Cardinal Vincent Nichols made an impassioned call for Catholics to engage with politics in the run-up to this year’s general election for the sake of society and to avert a crisis of trust in government.

At the launch of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference guidance for the general election, due to be held on 7 May, Cardinal Nichols told Catholics: “Stir yourselves.”

“We’re citizens, we’ve been called to play a part in this society,” he said. “We have these 10 weeks to raise the game and to make sure that some of these debates address the crucial issues. We’re talking about the future of our society.”

He strongly condemned those such as the comedian Russell Brand who encouraged disaffected people to withhold their vote, saying: “I would ask them to pay more attention to me than to him.”

But he lay blame for this disaffection with politicians and the media, and said that headline-chasing debates that “to use a football metaphor, play the man and not the ball” risked creating a crisis of trust in society, particularly in institutions.

CBCEW election guidance 2015The bishops’ four-page letter, which will be circulated in parishes this weekend, asks Catholics to consider some fundamental ethical questions before they vote.

Cardinal Nichols said that the document was principally concerned with solidarity, both with the wider world and the poor, but said that life issues such as abortion and euthanasia were the highest priority.

Commenting on Monday's failed attempt to make abortion illegal on the grounds of sex-selection, Cardinal Nichols told a press conference that it was time the 1967 Abortion Act was changed, saying: “We should be looking to amend the Abortion Act and to see it as a law which is unjust to human life in its beginnings.”

The bishops’ letter goes on to ask Catholics whether their candidates supported marriage, alleviating poverty and access to faith education.

Religious freedom is also highlighted, and at the press conference yesterday Cardinal Nichols paused to remember 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by Islamic State this month.

It concludes by asking candidates views on aid and development, stressing that richer countries have a responsibility to help poorer ones, and links the need to tackle climate change with protection of the livelihoods of the poorest people in the world.

Cardinal Nichols described as shocking the current demand for food banks among poor people, in particular those in employment, which he said was an unintended consequence of the Government’s social welfare reform.

Photos: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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