Vatican document on participation of Catholics in political life
John Hogg is a federal senator for Queensland, a member of the Australian Labor Party and deputy president of the Senate. He was recently interviewed by the Zenit News Agency on how politicians could balance their duties as Catholics and as elected representatives of a pluralistic constituency.
The interview followed the recent publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of a doctrinal note 'On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life'.
Zenit: Some politicians say their function is to represent the views of their electors, and therefore that they are not able to obey the Vatican or Catholic doctrine. Is this just an excuse, or is there a real conflict here?
Senator Hogg: The electors that they represent have a wide diversity of views. Politicians are invariably not elected to office because of a view on a single issue.
It is therefore quite improper to confine a politician to a certain view on a given moral/ethical issue because of the perceived public view. The public view may well be based on poor facts or misinformation or straight out prejudice.
The politician, particularly on matters of moral or ethical issues, needs to have the unfettered right to a conscience vote regardless of the public view. If the public is dissatisfied with the stance taken by the politician the ultimate sanction available is to vote the politician out of office.
There is no valid excuse for not doing the right thing. There may be mitigating circumstances where a politician might not be able to go as far as some of his/her supporters may wish, but this may be necessary to limit the impact of some proposed changes.
How can the Church and lay Catholic leaders help Catholic politicians in their task of being faithful to moral principles?
Easy. Just speak up for what they believe in. In some cases, it is difficult for the politician to be so forthright when the Church is acting benignly on the issue at hand.
The Vatican document criticises moral relativism, but today's society places a high value on tolerance and respect for diversity of opinions. How can Catholic politicians tread the line between being faithful to moral principles, but not being seen as intolerant?
Not very easily. There needs to be a more aggressive stance by the Church since sometimes the politician is left like a shag on a rock when some/many so-called Catholic organisations are diametrically opposed to the stated Catholic view and make the politician's stance difficult to defend.
Martyrdom might be great but it is not always the answer. St Thomas More does teach the politicians of today the need to properly inform their conscience on the issue.
Could you speak about your own experiences as a Catholic politician and how you try to live your faith in the midst of political life?
Briefly, there have been four critical issues I can recall over the last six-and-a-half-years as follows: euthanasia; availability of IVF [in vitro fertilisation] to single people; cloning; and research on human embryos.
It was really not difficult to come to my view on these issues. However, it should be noted from my perspective that there were difficulties for those who were lapsed Catholics or who had succumbed to the popular secular argument of the day. They were generally the ones who were most strident for the proposed change.
In all but one of the four issues, availability of IVF to single people, there was access to a conscience vote. The moral ground on the availability of IVF to single people was cut from under our feet when those "lapsed" decided this was an issue of equality not of morality. The basis of this view can, in my view, be traced to the weak position propounded by the Church on the matter, and by the weakened position, if not negative position, adopted by a range of Church groups and ministers.