February 02, 2008

 Reacción Católica

A letter to the editor of the English-Language edition of El País.

The statement of the Spanish Bishops' Conference on the forthcoming elections amounts, as El País has noted [English-language edition, 1 February, page 1], to an endorsement of the Partido Popular; scarcely less veiled than the proverbial call to "vote Christian - vote democratic" from Italian pulpits in the 1950s. What you do not say is that it reflects a tendentious view of the Gospel; and on one issue a view that has no basis at all in Christianity or indeed ordinary logic.

The bishops assert (paragraph 5) that a society that seeks to be free and just "cannot treat a [terrorist organisation] as a political interlocutor." Where do they find this principle, in Leviticus, Isaiah, the Gospels, Saints Paul, Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas, in Suarez or Grotius, or in the magisterium of their Church? Christians - like adherents of other faiths - are enjoined to pursue peace; and this typically involves negotiating with enemies as well as combating them.

Clausewitz recalled that the object of war is peace, that is a peace that meets our own desires, not normally the annihilation of the enemy. Whether and when to negotiate with foes is a delicate matter of political tactics, and Zapatero and Rajoy are entitled to differ about the best current stance towards ETA. But it is not a question of morality. Would it be wrong to negotiate if ETA's leaders obtained a nuclear weapon and threatened to blow up Madrid, or alternatively merely demanded €100 million and free tickets to Caribbean exile as their price for ending the conflict? Was Tony Blair wrong to negotiate with the IRA in Northern Ireland, or de Gaulle with the Algerian FLN? The "no negotiation with terrorists" soundbite is a mere right-wing talking point, a display gambit to advertise the steroid-inflated muscles of political machismo.

The bishops' opposition to the government's social legislation is at least firmly grounded on Catholic doctrine. However, they take a very partial view of its demands. Poverty, sickness, violence, and the rape of the environment are moral issues at least as much as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriages (none of which are mentioned in the Gospels). The PSOE government has been timid in pursuing a fairer income distribution, but it has made stronger efforts on domestic violence and climate change than the PP ever did or would do if returned to power. Both parties deserve a mixed scorecard, from any moral point of view.

Spanish voters will, I am sure, use their moral compasses to inform their votes in March. I suspect their judgement will be more truly Christian than the trivialised, partisan and reactionary one of the bishops.

Yours faithfully

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