Reform of the House of Lords- Response of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Scotland

In expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to make a submission to the Royal Commission in the reform of the House of Lords, the Catholic Bishops Scotland welcomed the Government's stated intention of looking "for ways increasing the representation in The Lords of other religious traditions"

The Bishops considered that it would be inappropriate for Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church to take up seats in the reformed House of Lords.


"Our preferred solution", stated the Bishops, " would be for the appointment of lay people, of wisdom and experience, to the House of Lords with the explicit mandate of representing the interests and concerns of the Roman Catholic community in Scotland".


ENDS




Introduction

The Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland is grateful to have the opportunity to make its submission to the Royal Commission on the reform of the House of Lords.

The future shape of the second chamber is still unclear. The Church has no "model" which it would seek to recommend to the legislature, therefore we confine our response in this paper to the question of religions representation within a reformed House of Lords.

Religious Representation

Since the current position whereby only Bishops of the Church of England serve as "Lords Spiritual" is widely recognised as being anachronistic, we welcome the Governments stated intention of looking "for ways of increasing the representation in the Lords of other religious traditions." (Modernising Parliament, 22)

This explicit recognition of the value of the spiritual dimension in politics is much to be applauded.

Roman Catholic Representation

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the progress of our nation by having a role in a reformed second chamber.

The question is how best to achieve that.

If the House of Lords were to remain largely structured as at present, that is, intimately connected with the machinery of government, shaping and passing legislation, It would appear inappropriate for Bishops themselves to act as members.

The reasons for this are as follows:

1 The Bishop's prime role and duty is to be a spiritual guide and shepherd to all in his diocese. This is clearly spelled out in the Holy See's Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops. It states: "The pastoral nature of the Bishop's office and his ministry of God's word and grace, clearly show, especially in today's religious and social circumstances that the office and work of a Bishop are only spiritual and ecclesial." (Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, 20. Sacred Congregation for Bishops, 22.2.73)

2 Taking part in debates and divisions in the House of Lords, a Bishop would run the risk of alienating those of his flock who did not share his position on a given issue

3 In the modern Church the pastoral role of the Bishop is extremely demanding and it would seem an inappropriate use of the Bishop's limited time were he to be required to attend regular sessions of the House of Lords.

4 The Bishop shares the essentially prophetic mission of the Church, a mission which requires that he should be, and be seen to be, independent of the legislature. To discharge his role the Bishop has to be entirely free of all links to secular institutions which are involved in the administration of government and legislation

5 These considerations are reflected in the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, which is binding throughout the world. The Code forbids clerics (by which is meant deacons, priests and Bishops) from assuming "public office whenever it means sharing in the exercise of civil power." (Canon 285,3). It is hard to see, therefore, how any cleric could represent the Church in a reformed second chamber which in any sense "exercised civil power."

6 The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) insisted strongly on the need for lay people to actively engage in apostolate with the modern world. "It belongs to the laity to seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will." (Lumen Gentium, 31) In the light of this, it would seem more appropriate for lay members of the reformed House of Lords to speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic community.


For these reasons we consider that it would be Inappropriate for Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church to take up seats in a reformed House of Lords.

Lay Representation

It is our considered opinion, however, that the voice of the Roman Catholic Chinch in Scotland should be heard in the House of Lords. As previously stated we agree with the Government's desire to find ways "of increasing the representation In the Lords of other religious traditions." (Modernising Parliament, 22).

In these circumstances, our preferred solution would be for the appointment of lay people, of wisdom and experience, to the House of Lords with the explicit mandate of representing the interests and concerns of the Roman Catholic community in Scotland.

In general terms it would be desirable for the Church to be offered the statutory right to make submissions to Parliamentary Committees responsible for legislation in which the Church has an interest or by which the Church would be affected.

These options would ensure that the reformed chamber had true representation from the Catholic community of Scotland; they would allow the Bishops' Conference to make its voice heard on areas of concern while at the same time respecting the differing roles of laity and clergy in accordance with the official teaching of our Church.


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