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Distinctive Catholic voices in the election campaign

  • 26 April 2022
There are many different types of Catholics with quite distinct Catholic voices in this election campaign. When the Church speaks we should expect diverse content despite the unifying force of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The Plenary Council consultation has shown us where we stand as a diverse community, and further analysis shows that Catholics occupy the full spectrum of political opinion from the Greens and Independents, via Labor and the Coalition, to One Nation and the United Australia Party. 

The Church must speak up to be relevant, but those who seek to ‘speak for the church’ must be brave. They risk exposing themselves to claims of bias unless they stick to a very narrow agenda and speak in extremely measured terms. Yet if they are too bland they risk being irrelevant to the sharp end of political debate and their intervention becomes little more than a symbolic ritual. 

Statements do not stand on their own but should be measured against the dynamics of the political contest. It is not just ‘views’ but, more importantly ‘priorities’, that will be taken to support, oppose or even ‘wedge’ political adversaries. Every statement has a political consequence.  

Election statements must not only make an impact, but should also be a faithful representation of the views of those they seek implicitly to ‘represent’. That is a difficult task. If they make an impact which cuts across the platforms of the major political parties, then they will divide their own community. 

The best way to make an impact is to energise the Catholic community. Statements should have ‘legs’ in the wider electorate. This can come from media exposure, and each statement is invariably accompanied by a media release which focusses attention on the key messages; but competition for media attention is intense. 

The real ‘legs’ are the ready-made implementation mechanisms of the church: parishes, schools, agencies, and volunteers, who can spread the messages on the ground. The Church exhibits this strength in its statements. The St Vincent de Paul Society (St V de P) has 60,000 members and 3,000 employees. Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) represents 150 or more congregations with more than 5,000 members. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) reports that Catholic education has 100,000 staff and 770,000 students in 1755 schools. 

'The greatest need in raising the voice of the Church is to provide a greater sharpness and increased urgency. Bland content and style makes less impact than a prophetic