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The Rector writes ...   

There were suggestions when both Cardinal Hume and Cardinal Murphy O’Connor were in office as Archbishops of Westminster that they should be given a place in the House of Lords. On the surface it seemed a reasonable enough idea that representatives of other faith communities should join the Church of England in having nominated places in the House of Lords – but the Vatican reiterated its rule that Catholic clerics should not become directly involved in the legislative process of a country and the suggestions were shelved. In his First Letter to Corinthians (9:22) Saint Paul talks of making himself “all things to all people”, and the Vatican’s policy is a sound one in that bishops and priests whose relationship to those they serve is essentially pastoral should not normally become embroiled in party politics: to do so would be to risk alienating those of differing view in matters that are open to legitimate debate. The Church’s consistent position has been that its ministers are there to help form the consciences of its people – primarily through preaching the Gospel and opening up the particular Catholic emphases of social teaching – and to encourage individuals to play as generous and responsible a part in the political process as they can. The whole principle of “subsidiarity” (that decisions should be taken as close to those involved as is possible) means that Catholics are urged to involve themselves in the welfare of their local communities.

All this is a rather tortuous way of saying that one of the present candidates for leadership of the Labour Party is someone I know reasonably well.  My last parish straddled two Boroughs (Hackney and Islington) having the dubious honour of being represented by four different members of Parliament, one of whom was/is Jeremy Corbyn. In the many column inches which are being spent on his present candidacy no one seems to have picked up on the fact that Mr Corbyn has always been assiduous in caring for his constituents. My own experience over ten years was that he would go to enormous lengths to follow up any problem with which he was presented – often going the Scriptural “extra mile” when he did not have to do so. Although he has consistently voted on moral issues in what I would see as the ”wrong” way, whenever I have written to him he has taken the trouble to reply carefully detailing his own reasoning. On occasion, he would come to Mass and although not a practising Catholic (“my family tell me I should go to church more often”, was his most recent comment to me) he is respectful towards people of faith. If I had a vote in the Labour contest (which, I hasten to add, I do not) it would probably go for Jeremy Corbyn as someone of integrity (with whom I would have profound disagreements but still be able to trust).

We are fortunate that the political process in this county is basically a variation of nuances in managing the centre ground: we do not, thank God, have to face the polarisation that leads to the violence experienced in some other countries. But that is not the position of so many of our brothers and sisters who are faced with difficult choices today. To try to live a Christian life in, for instance, North Korea or one of those areas of the Middle East under the control of jihadists, involves life and death choices for individuals and their dependents: for them the political process is not about where to put a cross on a ballot paper but about how to survive at all. What it comes down to for all of us (in differing degrees) is conscience … that God-inspired antenna by which we sense where truth lies. Consciences, of course, needs to be formed - we have to learn to listen to the “still small voice” of the Spirit within – and it is never easy to pick one’s way through the social and moral (and political) complexities (and compromises)which are part of every life, but as Christians we are committed to trying to do just that. The Second Vatican Council said: “conscience is our most secret core and sanctuary. There we are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths”, and Saint Augustine adds the injunction: “return to your conscience, question it. Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness”.

Christopher Colven

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