Thanks to those who engaged in the discussion on the SMH Newspoll about Cardinal Pell’s “interferance” in politics over the NSW stem cell research legislation.
I just want to clear something up. In the comments, Peregrinus said:
I agree that …[Dr Pell] is right to engage in the struggle. But he needs to do so in a way that will advance society’s openness to Revelation, not in a way which will hinder it.
And Louise said:
the majority of Aussies don’t want to know what the Church teaches, because they wish to be “free” to do whatever the hell they like.
I think that there is a fundamental distinction to be made here–and Tony Abbot makes it in a speech that is partly reported on the Religion Report from last Wednesday morning:
The things which people of faith should pursue in politics are the things which reason mandates in any particular set of circumstances. But luckily for Christians, our social teaching is based on human reason rather than biblical revelation. It was, I believe, Cardinal Newman who once said that if our faith and truth contradicted each other, either it wasn’t really faith, it wasn’t really scientific truth, or there was no real contradiction. And it seems to me that some of those positions which are regarded as emblematic of Christian social teaching, such as opposition to abortion, or scepticism about the worth of certain sorts of stem cell research, are not based on the Bible, but on respect for human life and the understanding that there’s little distinction, in principle, between a newborn baby, an 8-1/2 month old foetus and a fertilised egg.
Whether you agree with the assertion he makes in the rest of his speech that “faith is a very personal thing” and that faith is “belief in things which can’t be demonstrated in the temporal world, or proven by reason”, you have to agree that his distinction between “revealed” or “biblical” principles and principles based on science and reason (what we would call, but he doesn’t in this speech, “natural law”) is spot on.
So, what are the issues in the Pell debate? As I see it they are separate and distinct.
1) All politicians, whether Catholic or otherwise, should be guided by their knowledge of the natural law. If they do not know what that is, they should educate themselves in it.
2) All Catholics, whether politicians or otherwise, are obligated to give assent (in thought, word and deed) to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Where individual Catholics choose to speak or act in a way that publically indicates serious dissent–especially in “grave matters”–those individuals must not be surprised if there are (in Cardinal Pell’s words) “consequences for their place in the life of the church”.
I think that is clear enough. However, whenever His Eminence and the media come into contact with one another, things tend to get a little garbled in the area of clear statements following logical order.