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Time to practice what we preach

The Church demands justice in the world when it denies it to its own people

  • John Murray, Bangkok
  • Thailand
  • February 22, 2011
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St Augustine of Hippo was bishop, theologian and philosopher.  He is noted for such groundbreaking writings as the City of God and remembered for some of his oft-quoted statements on women.

Something he is not so well known for is his passion for helping the poor.  While he touched the lives of the weak and suffering who came his way, he had a much more important official role acting as  the Emperor’s conscience, ensuring the state acted for the good of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

While justice is about reaching out to people unfairly treated in our world and giving them a “hand up and not just a hand out”, it is also about something much more.  It involves looking at ourselves, who say we act for justice, and judging how just we are.  For how can we act as the great builders of a just world when we are not just ourselves?

As we of the Church are called to act for justice in the world, we are also called to work for justice within the very Church we love, otherwise we leave ourselves open to the charge that we do not  practice what we preach.

And with those thoughts in mind, we turn to reports of the treatment of  Dr Lesley-Anne Knight, the present Secretary General of Caritas International, who, according to the UK Catholic newspaper The Tablet, has been blocked from standing for re-election for this position.

“The Secretariat of State officials met a Caritas International delegation …. and gave only a verbal account of why the Vatican refused to approve Dr Knight’s candidacy,” we are told.

But a letter sent out by Cardinal Rodriguez, the President of Caritas International, to the Caritas Confederation dealing with the matter, makes no mention of these reasons, leaving the public to draw its own conclusions as to why the Vatican has taken this stance and kept its reasons secret, even as many rally to Dr Knight, applauding her service to the poor.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must reveal that through my role in the Church in Thailand I have had the opportunity to meet Lesley-Anne and have always found her a hard worker, capable and a committed woman of faith.

So what is really happening in all of this?  And why this apparent shroud of secrecy surrounding her case? Why does the Vatican insist on this lack of transparency?

At the very least, transparency would allow for dialogue and understanding and, presumably, offer a greater chance of some amicable resolution.

One of the great tenets of the English doctrine of Equity is that everyone deserves a minimum standard of fairness in a dispute. Central to the doctrine are the rules of natural justice, the most important of which is the right to be heard - that each party to the dispute should be given an opportunity to answer any allegations made by the other party.

If it is good enough for a secular state, why is it not for the Church?

Just as the Roman Emperor needed his audible and visible conscience when it came to acting in the interests of justice, so maybe the Church of today needs its own similar conscience.

I am not that presumptuous to suggest I am that conscience, but as a faithful member of Church I do believe this issue must be presented to the  faithful body of the Church - if only as a reminder that the Church itself needs to be just in its ways and practices, in the way it treats its own, as it is in helping bring justice to those outside.

Augustinian Father John Murray works for Caritas Thailand
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