You should only speak when you are spoken to, Your Eminence!

An interesting thing is happening over at the Sydney Morning Herald’s opinion poll. The question for today (get in quick if you can) is on Cardinal Pell and the stem cell research debate. Readers are asked to:

Rate his warning to Catholic politicians about voting in favour of stem cell research

As of 2:25pm today, the results were:

A spiritual leader has the right to point out moral and religious consequences – 19%
He should keep out of politics. Churchmen shouldn’t make veiled threats against MPs – 63%
Let our elected representatives decide on their own – 18%
Total Votes: 5418

I find it interesting that, when you register your vote, the current numbers come up, along with the figures for past polls. In fact, the last poll taken was on the question:

The churches and the IR debate : Should the churches be in the IR debate?

for which the results were:

No. There needs to be a separation of church and state – 18%
Yes. IR is an issue that goes to heart of the family and society – 82%
Total Votes: 282 Poll date: 01/06/07

Basically this amounts to “if we wanted your advice, we would ask for it.” Of course, it also seems to point to the fact that some people reckon the IR Laws go deeper “to the heart of the family and society” than does the stem cell debate–which is obviously considered a private and personal matter in comparison. Go figure.

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8 Responses to You should only speak when you are spoken to, Your Eminence!

  1. Peregrinus says:

    It’s easily figured. If Cardinal Pell offers critical comments on government policy, that’s accepted as reasonable, even by (some of) those who don’t necessarily agree with his comments. But if he seeks to use church discipline or appeals to Catholic identity or loyalty to persuade Catholic legislators to implement a public policy in line with Catholic teaching, that’s not accepted.

    (Other possible explanations for the two survey results: The questions are obviously loaded in both surveys. The respondents are not scientifically selected or representative. The respondents to the two surveys are two different groups. Catholic teaching on social justice is closer to mainstream Australian opinion than Catholic teaching on life issues. Still, I think there’s something in my explanation.)

  2. Schütz says:

    So…lets get this straight.

    If he criticised the government (over whom he has no authority) for the direction it is taking on stem cell legislation, that would be OK, but it’s not OK for him to correct those members of parliament who, by their self-identification with the Catholic Church, have voluntarily put themselves under his pastoral authority?

    Could that be so, Peregrinus? I fear you are right. In other words (all other scientific factors for the disparity in the polls aside) the real reason for the difference is that people don’t mind the Church criticizing the Government (especially when they themselves disapprove of it), as long as the Church doesn’t step over the line and try to tell me (or my mates) how we should be acting.

  3. Peregrinus says:

    Remember, for all their visibility and prominence, Catholics are a minority in Australia.

    In a pluralist democracy, people should be (and, the SMH surveys suggest, broadly are) welcoming of contributions to public discussion from a variety of sources; that is seen as positive. Catholics (or Muslims, or Communists, or anyone) engaging in advocacy to seek to commend their views and ideas to the community at large, and to try to build support for them; no problem at all. That’s how a pluralist democracy is supposed to work.

    But Catholics (or Muslims, or Communists, or anyone) seeking to use organizational discipline to have their views implemented in public policy or legislation without securing broad support, rather than commending the views themselves, will be received quite differently. Stalinists, who made an art-form of this, called it “democratic centralism”, and it was generally not well-received (or, the label notwithstanding, regarded as particularly democratic). Why would the non-Catholic majority regard it as acceptable when practised by an Archbishop?

    Historically, and currently, Australian culture values independent-mindedness in the individual and is somewhat suspicious of God-botherers. Imposing a three-line whip with veiled, or not so veiled, threats to withhold communion plays to these traits in the worst possible way. It creates completely the wrong set of incentives; Catholic politicians can secure political advantage by “standing up” to the Archbishop and displaying “feisty independence”, and we can see them competing to do that even now. Those who are actually minded to vote against the legislation will now be embarrassed, and will have mumble about voting against it because they are persuaded that it is not conducive to the common good, rather than because they have been told to by the Archbishop, or they fear denial of communion.

    Leave aside for the moment whether this is moral behaviour on the part of Catholic politicians; it is the Archbishop’s behaviour I am concerned with. What he has done is to increase the political advantages of supporting this legislation, and to increase the political cost of opposing it. Why, in the name of all that’s holy, would he want to do this? Should he not be roundly criticised for it, by anyone who actually hopes to see the legislation defeated?

    And that’s not all. There are two other undesirable consequences of Dr Pell’s intervention. First, it creates the impression that Dr Pell has no confidence in the intrinsic merit of Catholic ideas and principles in this area or, at least, no confidence in his own ability to articulate them. It will seem that he doesn’t believe that pro-life principles will secure broad acceptance, so he seeks to impose them, without broad acceptance, through the ecclesiastical equivalent of a party machine.

    The other undesirable consequence is that he has moved the focus of the debate away from the proposed legislation and the issues surrounding it and on to the role of the church, and the tactics it uses. Is that really the most important thing for the Australian community to be discussing today?

    All in all, a bad day’s work.

  4. Peter says:

    You were quick off the mark David! I should have read your blog this morning before posting on the topic myself. I usually read all my favourite blogs before posting, but I was SO ropeable this morning about the matter I just HAD to engage in some therapeutic blogging.

  5. Schütz says:

    Minority?? Well, yes, but at least we’re a MAJOR minority, Peregrinus. 26% of the pop I last read. Yes, that’s a minority, but its the religious MAJORITY, which is something in this multi-cultural context. In fact, I wonder if it isn’t the single biggest institutional social grouping in the whole country. There’s a thought.

    But the rest of what you say–which is largely about strategies rather than any doctrinal or canonical issue–has some merit. I was listening to a program on Spirit of Things the other night about the Chinese classic “The Art of War”, which says “don’t engage the enemy unless you know you are going to win.” I rather think that his Eminence knows that he is NOT going to win on this matter, but (contrary to the Chinese wisdom) prefers to be seen to be taking up arms on the issue rather than being accused of doing nothing after the battle has been (inevitably) lost. Again, just a thought. I do pity the poor Catholic pollie though. What a job. Although Senator Haradine made rather an artform of it.

  6. Schütz says:

    And: That’s the way the news story crumbles, Peter!

  7. Peregrinus says:

    Sure, we’re a big minority, but still a minority.

    But, of course, a moral or ethical view doesn’t derive validity from being the majority view, or lose validity by being a minority view, or retain a little validity from being the view of a large minority.

    My “minority” point is simply to underline the fact that, in engaging in debate on proposed legislation, Dr Pell is addressing a largely non-Catholic audience.

    I’m not attacking the soundness of Pell’s view (that the legislation is morally unacceptable). I’m attacking the prudence – and therefore the rightness – of seeking to impose that view on a largely non-Catholic public in the way he did. It seems to me to have damaged the cause, and to have made the passage of this legislation more likely, rather than less likely. And, furthermore, that was the easily forseeable outcome.

    I agree that, even if Dr Pell reckons he is unlikely to win in this matter, he 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.

  8. LYL says:

    It’s easily figured. If Cardinal Pell offers critical comments on government policy, that’s accepted as reasonable, even by (some of) those who don’t necessarily agree with his comments. But if he seeks to use church discipline or appeals to Catholic identity or loyalty to persuade Catholic legislators to implement a public policy in line with Catholic teaching, that’s not accepted.

    I think it’s more basic than that, to be honest. On sanctity of life issues, partly because they touch on sexual issues (eg abortion facilitating sexual “freedom”) 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.

    On such issues as IR, where the Church is often in agreement with most Aussies, there is no problem in hearing what the Church has to say. Indeed, I’d bet you $1000 that if Cdl Pell had “threatened” Kevin Andrews with excommunication over that piece of legislation, our fellow Aussies would have said, “right on!”

    I might be wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time) but I’m pretty sure that whether or not people are happy with Cdl Pell “interfering” in politics depends entirely on how popular his view is among Aussies.

    I reckon that’s all there is to it.

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