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Fr Billy Swan

In the run up to the upcoming local elections and the next general election, a significant number of sitting TDs and local councillors have announced that they will not be running again. Many of them were Catholic. Who will replace them? Probably candidates who are less Catholic or not Catholic at all. If we don’t see this as a problem then we are failing to appreciate the essential contribution of Catholic politicians to society – not just because they are Catholic but because of the cohesion and wisdom of Catholic Social thought they bring to their role as servants of the common good. All the more reason therefore to encourage our young people in schools and universities to consider a career as a public representative or as Pope St John Paul II put it “to embrace the noble vocation of politics” (Mass at Drogheda, 29th Sept. 1979).

The influence of their faith on Catholic politicians has long been held in suspicion. It is argued that the Catholic faith of politicians should be a private affair and left at the door of meetings that decide policies and laws. Otherwise, people argue, we would end up in a theocracy where legislation would not be governed by the will of the people and their needs but by divisive religious beliefs. The example of Sharia law in places like Nigeria is a case in point. There are a number of robust responses to this criticism. A basic presupposition of Catholic Social teaching is that it is intelligible to all human beings. For this reason, Pope Francis and his predecessors address many of their encyclicals “to all people of good will”. They appeal to the light of reason and rational argument to evaluate the validity and soundness of their teaching and to show how a particular teaching upholds human dignity and supports the common good. This does not mean ‘imposing’ one’s beliefs but ‘exposing’ the truth and values that such teaching offers. Very often the protest of “imposing your values on me” is a visceral protest that follows being exposed to a truth we don’t want to hear.

It is important for the Church at this time to encourage Catholic politicians, condemn abuse of them and empower them with the cohesive vision of Catholic Social teaching. Urgent too is ongoing faith formation that helps all the baptised appreciate how our faith is called to shape culture and the society we inhabit. In the words of Pope Francis: “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it” (The Joy of the Gospel, 183).

Retreating from politics will not fix anything. If we do retreat from the political realm then Catholics will become victims rather than protagonists. To evangelise is to go where people are. The coherence and wisdom of Catholic Social thought is needed now more than ever to reach people increasingly trapped in dead-end political ideologies.


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