QUEENSLAND’S Catholic Bishops have taken an unprecedented step into the political arena ahead of the Queensland election, demanding action on key social and economic issues and delivering a community call to arms to work with “common purpose” to find a way out of the COVID-19 crisis.
“As Catholic citizens, we have the opportunity, like all citizens, to participate in the electoral process, to use our voice and our vote for the benefit of the whole community,” the statement delivered by Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Townsville Bishop Tim Harris and Toowoomba Bishop Robert McGuckin, said.
Government and opposition decision makers and key community stakeholders gathered at St Stephen’s Cathedral today, to hear the bishops outline key areas they believed Queensland Catholics should consider when casting a vote on October 31.
Archbishop Coleridge said he believed people were concerned to find their way through the pandemic, and “ask big questions about what awaits us on the other side”.
“What we are seeking to do is not tell people how to vote or politicians how to govern… , but overall this is a time for a new kind of dialogue, new kinds of partnerships, and a reimagining of the relationships between church and state,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
Key to the bishops’ statement is the call for “solidarity” to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges it poses, particularly for the poor and vulnerable.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, the common good is critically important because it obliges us to look beyond our own needs and our own desires to consider the interests of the broader community. It’s at the heart of what we mean by solidarity,” the bishops said.
“Queensland is seeing an alarming increase in mental health problems, especially among the young. It is also seeing rising levels of violence in personal relationships and families, as the time of lockdown has shown in appalling ways.
“How can our community support women and their families in creating a more supportive and child-friendly community? What factors are causing women to take the agonising decision of abortion?”
The Queensland bishops urged policymakers to ensure there was an adequate safety net for low-income and vulnerable families, to protect victims of violence and exclusion and “particularly people like the survivors of child sexual abuse to whom we must offer care and support in every way possible”.
The bishops also urged policymakers to focus on providing funding for better palliative care as pressure mounted to legislate for euthanasia in the state parliament.
“Euthanasia and assisted suicide puts some of the most vulnerable people in our community at risk by endorsing – even in law – the judgement that some people’s lives are no longer of value,” the bishops said.
“The State Government needs to provide better funding and resourcing for palliative care so that all Queenslanders have access, not just the few.
“Access to palliative care for older Queenslanders receiving aged care, especially in regional and rural settings, is a critical area of need.”
Condemning the push towards legalised euthanasia the bishops said “there is a dark irony in this at a time when the shadow of death looms over us at this particular time of crisis and the Government’s target of halving suicide rates in Queensland by 2026”.
“Governments must also provide for sustainable aged care services, continue to improve the quality regulatory framework in aged care and provide older people and their families with choice and control over the services they receive,” the bishops said.
The bishops’ statement highlights the importance of climate change as an election issue.
“Pope Francis appeals to all of us to start ‘a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet’ and calls for a ‘new universal solidarity’,” the bishops said.
“It is both social and environmental, with solutions that the Pope says demand “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature”.
The bishops called for better resources for social and pastoral care along with a commitment to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
“This is a running sore at the heart of the State. Through our agencies, the
Church plays a critical role in working with Indigenous peoples in health, education and welfare,” the bishops said.
“But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to suffer grave disadvantage and should not have to keep waiting for justice.”
The bishops’ statement is not designed to tell Catholics how to vote, but to stimulate discussion around issues important to the church.
“As bishops, we offer this statement as a way of sharing key points of Catholic teaching that you may want to reflect upon as we prepare for the state election,” the bishops said.
“No political party fully aligns with Catholic teaching, but we can point to clear and enduring principles which can help us make the kind of responsible judgements that allow us to be both faithful Catholics and good citizens.”
The bishops stressed the importance of supporting Catholic schools.
Across five Queensland diocese – Brisbane, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns – there are 150,000 students in 300 Catholic schools across the State.
“The Catholic Church is Queensland’s second-largest provider of schooling, and our schools are a vital part of their local communities,” the bishops said.
“The Church campaigns strongly for funding because we want to give students, particularly disadvantaged students, the best education and support we can.”
The bishops highlighted the role of charities, including Catholic agencies, making an enormous contribution by providing community support for people facing hard times like these.
“This will be especially true once Jobkeeper and other forms of government assistance cease,” the bishops said.
Among political leaders attending the bishops’ statement launch were Education Minister Grace Grace and Local Government Minister, Stirling Hinchliffe, opposition leader Deb Frecklington, and Katter Australia Party leader, Rob Katter.
The full bishops statement entitled “The common good in a COVID world” can be found at: https://bit.ly/324nStx