Jesuit calls for rules of engagement for religion in politics

There is a need to set right the parameters for Christian participation in public life if Australia is to forestall Muslim fundamentalist aspirations for an Islamic state, Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan has argued at a Jesuit conference in Melbourne.

"Muslims and other members of minority faiths in Australia should have the same opportunity and be subject to the same constraints as Christians from the major denominations when contributing to public debate," he told the "Evangelisation and Culture in a Jesuit Light" conference.

"It should be no disrespect to Muslims to insist that Australians exercise their rights including free speech without legal restraint but with due regard for the sensitivity of others," he said.

The conference, hosted by the Australian Catholic University, the Jesuit Theological College and the Melbourne College of Divinity, coincided with the 500th birthday of St Francis Xavier and the 450th anniversary of the death of St Ignatius Loyola, both founders of the Jesuits - one of the largest Catholic religious orders.

In his address, Fr Brennan called for "a stronger insistence on the primacy of the individual conscience in the performance of civic duties [in a pluralist democracy]. Religious authorities can assist the citizen or public official seeking to form and inform conscience."

He told the conference that there are no easy options between a rock and a soft place for religious citizens looking to select electable candidates in a modern democracy.

"The committed Catholic cannot be satisfied that his conscience is properly formed and informed simply by pledging adherence to Vatican declarations," Fr Brennan said.

"Authoritative church teaching is a privileged guide to be discounted only after mature reflection and prayerful discernment.

"History is replete with examples of religious authorities mistaking the moral good in times of changing uncertainty. A living tradition is the fruit of inter-generational affirmation of the primacy of conscience as the means for reaching truth, the primary end for which we strive," he said.

"There is a need to set right the parameters for religious participation in public life," he concluded. "Religious leaders who insist that conscience can err and therefore should be subject to church edict risk creating a situation in which their candidates are unelectable."

Other keynote speakers included Fr Daniel Madigan, Director of the Pontifical Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Gregorian University in Rome, and Dr Romaldo Giurgola, architect and designer of the new Parliament House in Canberra and the new St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta.

More than 114 participants, including local and international Jesuits, attended the conference to discuss challenges to those who profess the faith, the importance of social justice and the idea of finding God in all things. The conference also explored the role which music and art can play in faith development.

Welcoming the collaboration with the Jesuits, ACU National Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gabrielle McMullen, said that their commitment to social justice and education resonated with the work of the University.

"The Church and the wider community have much to be grateful for in relation to the work of the Jesuits and we are delighted to be celebrating these significant anniversaries with them. This conference is an exciting collaboration between the Jesuits, ACU National and the Melbourne College of Divinity and I value that immensely," Professor McMullen said.

Australian Catholic University Media Release, 27/7/06)
Acting on Faith-Based Conscience in a Pluralist Democracy (Fr Frank Brennan S.J.)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Evangelisation and Culture in a Jesuit Light (Jesuit Theological College)
Feast of St Ignatius (Province Express 27/7/06)

Mixing Law, Religion and Politics, Professor Frank Brennan SJ AO (CathNews 21/9/05)
Cardinal's "Primacy of Conscience" comments still drawing flack (CathNews 16/6/04)
Ratzinger criticises Islam for mixing politics, religion (CathNews 27/11/03)

31 Jul 2006