Greeting and Address
Right Rev. Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley
National Conference of the Christian Peoples Alliance
Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn Express
Saturday 21st October 2006
1. Good morning. I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ. I am here because you are here. I am here because I am the Bishop of Paisley and you are meeting in the Diocese of Paisley. You are a political party which has an avowedly Christian identity and which proposes policies which chime with core Christian values, especially as regards the sacredness of life and the status of the family. In so far as that is the case, I believe it is reasonable for a Christian leader to greet you and to welcome you to the political stage in Scotland.
2. Some people will interpret my presence here and my greeting as an endorsement. It is not an endorsement. It is no business of the Catholic Church in Scotland to endorse political parties. This is a welcome. When it comes to politics, it is incumbent upon Catholic bishops to tread a fine line, and I intend to follow that line in what I say to you this morning.
3. You present yourself as a Christian democratic party. This is new for Scotland, where we have no significant tradition of Christian democracy. So, to achieve anything, you will have to appeal also beyond the Christians of Scotland. Scotland is a diverse liberal democracy. Your party and your policies will need to appeal across the board to those things which are accessible to all human beings: to right reason, to human decency, and to a sense of the common good. You will need to be seen to be capable of offering policies which cover not just life and family, but education, the environment, finance, and other areas of political competence and of social relevance. One-issue politics does not usually work.
4. I note from your manifesto that you have taken up this challenge and have presented a well thought-out range of policies which are consistent with the principles of Christian social teaching. Your noble vision and high ideals are impressive. Politics is a vital area for the promotion of the wellbeing of every member of society and this can only be successful if the principles of the natural law are respected by those working in the political field.
5. These principles do not however provide a blueprint for government. There is no one Christian way to solve the problems and challenges of governance. It is important that Christians recognise the legitimate separation of Church and State. Back in the 1960’s, the Fathers of the Second Vatican set out this principle when they made this guiding declaration: “The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men. The more that both foster sounder cooperation between themselves with due consideration for the circumstances of time and place, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all” (GS 76).
6, So, far from attempting to usurp the powers of government, and far even from trying to dictate policy, the Church's social teaching limits itself to proposing principles for reflection, providing criteria for judgment; and giving guidelines for action” (cf. CCC 2423). This is what the bishops of Scotland set out to do when we published our recent statement on nuclear disarmament. It is what I did when I spoke on marriage and the family at the recent “Red Mass” in Edinburgh.
7. This gives rise in fact to numerous ways in which Christians can participate in politics. We would say that the creation of a confessional party is inadvisable because blurs the distinction between the sacred and the profane, and is not in keeping with the recognition of the different but complementary service to society given by politics and religion. It would be wrong of the Church, therefore to set up its own political party. It would be unwise of the Church, for the same reason, to sponsor a political party.
8. However, it has to be said that the presence of a democratic Christian party on the political landscape is in keeping with the noble tradition of Christian Democracy across Europe. (Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is a Christian Democrat. The Christian Democrats in Sweden now have a presence in the Cabinet of the Swedish Government.) These political parties have a proven track record of appealing to a constituency wider than just the Christian community. They promote values which can be respected by all people of good will and for that reason they are a legitimate choice of political action for Christians. These parties are all the more important at a time when we have witnessed the mainstream of political life move in directions which have alarmed many Christians as well as those who share our belief in natural law principles.
10. As a matter of guiding principle, the Church would insist argue that “a family policy must be the basis and driving force of all social policies” (EV 90), and it is particularly the family which has come under attack recently from myriad political initiatives. The wellbeing of society is tied closely to the wellbeing of the family, and the necessity of clearly promoting policies and laws which uphold and strengthen family life has rarely been more pressing.
11. Despite what I have been saying – or maybe what I have been saying just confirms it! - I am not a political animal. I am out of my comfort zone in politics. I have no political home. This is the case even more as time goes by, because the mainline political parties are less and less able to make room in their programmes for what I think are the core human values of life and family.
12. I suspect the silent majority of people feel much the same way. They have little choice in the contemporary political landscape, especially if they have misgivings about the present social status-quo. They possibly feel sometimes as if they have been bullied into conformity by the political class. There is a vacuum in Scottish politics because there is no political voice to challenge the social status-quo. If the CPA – or any other party – can fill that vacuum, this would be a service to Scottish politics.
13. There are, across many parties, good candidates who hold the values of their faith dearly in their political lives. The Church commends this as a vital way in which Christians should be the leaven of society. Ideally Christians should be able to work in every party, but for many people that noble effort is still not having a significant enough effect on party policy. I can imagine that there are politicians who feel as if they must support the dominant party line for the sake of their careers. With regard to the public at large, at election times I have encountered situations where individuals feel that they cannot in good conscience vote for any of the candidates on the ballot paper. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why voting patterns are in decline.
14. People will see me here, and will say: Bishops should not be involved in politics. In saying this they are only partly right. If a bishop chooses to speak on a political matter that has no significant religious or moral dimension, then his words may well carry the authority of a prominent and respected member of society, but no more than that. But when a bishop chooses to speak on a religious or moral issue on which politics has a bearing, not only may he speak, but he must speak, and his words will carry authority to the extent that he speaks the truth of the Gospel of Christ. And so a bishop must speak on matters to do with war and peace, with poverty and oppression, with marriage and the family, and above all on the sacredness of life, on which all human rights are founded. A bishop must bring before politicians and legislators their duty before God, whether they like it or not, and whether they acknowledge God or not.
15. Despite persistent caricatures of the Church’s teaching, her teaching is in fact motivated by compassion for individuals and by concern for the common good. The Church understands and deeply regrets sin and brokenness in her own members and in humanity as a whole. The work of the Church is mercy and forgiveness. She specialises in the forgiveness of sin. She specialises in compassion to those who are needy. Her record of commitment to the poor and needy in the developing world is unequalled among nations and institutions. The Church must also serve the truth. And the Church is convinced of the mutual in-dwelling of compassion and truth. Without compassion, there is no truth. Without truth, there is no compassion.
16. But tell me this, is easy ‘quickie’ divorce a compassionate answer to the needs of spouses and children, and does it help the common good of society? Is abortion a compassionate answer to un-born human life? Is the arms trade a compassionate answer to the poor of the world? Is the stockpiling of nuclear weapons far beyond the needs of legitimate deterrence a compassionate answer to the world’s cry for peace? Is the affluence and wastefulness of western society a compassionate answer to hungry dying children? Is the distribution of condoms a compassionate response to HIV/AIDS or does it just encourage the promiscuity which caused it in the first place?
17. Is so-called value-free sex education a compassionate answer to the needs of young people who are thus reduced to hopeless cases who cannot be trusted to live their sexuality with dignity? I do not mean to turn this address into a sermon. But to discover true compassion, we all need to look on the face of the crucified dying Christ, who prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
18. You live in the political world. You aspire to public office and to a share in government. It is a noble and challenging office to be an MP or Councillor. As a religious leader, it is important to be able to work cordially with the civic authorities and political leadership of the local community. I am glad to say that I have good and even friendly working relationships with the Labour and Lib-Dem controlled authorities which make up the Diocese of Paisley. The Councillors and Council officials work very hard for the common good of the communities they serve. The MPs and MSPs also have the right to my respect because they represent the people, and because they are serious about what they are doing.
19. If the CPA manages to win any seats at local level, I trust they will do their best to support the common good. If the CPA contests and wins any seats at the level of the Scottish Parliament, it will be there on merit and can take heart from the strong showing of other small parties which punch above their weight and are not without influence on the national stage.
20. You may feel that the highest priority for you is that your party flourish. That is understandable. But please consider this. The presence of the CPA on the political landscape of Scotland will also be of help to Christians in other parties. It is inevitable that Christians will differ in their views on economics, health and education, defence, and other matters. It is debate around these differences which is the lifeblood of democracy. We have seen how the existence of the small pro-environmental parties in Europe has not nullified the aim of all parties to exercise wise stewardship of the environment. It is my hope that a Christian democratic party would not lead to a desertion of the other parties by Christians but rather a flourishing of the role of those committed to such values in the parties in which they feel most at home.
21. To serve the community as councillor or parliamentary representative is a worthy ambition and a serious duty. If your party manages to achieve that to any degree, I trust that your Christian convictions will be an inspiration to help you carry out your duties with integrity, with responsibility, with equity and with a sense of openness to the diversity and democratic instinct of the Scottish public.