Open Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea to our Political Leaders
The Catholic Church values greatly the good relationship it has with Government in Papua New Guinea. It is one of mutual respect. It has the potential to bring about many good things for the people of our nation.
In the social services, health and education, the relationship is a partnership. Catholic Church education and health care services are large and widespread in PNG. We believe that the partnership in health and education services is good but still needs to be strengthened through better communication and consultation at both national and provincial levels.
The Catholic Bishops, who shepherd and guide the Church, are actively seeking to improve collaboration with Government in these and many other areas of integral human development. We are encouraged by signs that Government also wishes to strengthen this cooperation, for the benefit our people everywhere, especially in the remotest areas of the country.
The most important ministry of the Catholic Church is evangelization, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Papua New Guinea, which declares itself to be a Christian nation in its Constitution, has heard and accepted this message with faith. With this in mind, the Catholic Church recognizes its responsibility to speak out in encouragement and admonition on issues that affect the spiritual and material wellbeing of our society. We have done this often. In the recent past we spoke out against the death penalty. Here we remind our leaders that it is not too late to change a decision many believe to be misguided and morally wrong. We also publicly admonished both the Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments for what has become a shameful and failed policy, the Manus Island detention centre where asylum seekers, innocent people seeking freedom and a better life, are imprisoned.
Today we face new and dangerous trends we feel compelled to speak about. Traditionally Papua New Guineans have always been open to new life, to children born to their families. Abortion, which the majority of our citizens find abhorrent, remains illegal in Papua New Guinea. However, political leaders face great pressures from within and outside of PNG to take another view. Will the PNG Government one day decide that killing the unborn child is a good thing for PNG, something that will bring the blessing of God upon our people? We pray that our leaders will never bow to this temptation for political and economic gain.
This brings us to another concern of the Catholic Church, the growing political ideology that links development with population control. The thinking of many politicians these days aims them in this direction. Why is it, they wonder, that education and health services are rapidly worsening in Papua New Guinea, and what can be done about it? And look at all the unemployed and frustrated young people who gather on the streets of our towns and cities every day looking for opportunity where there is none. This is becoming a dangerous situation. What can we do?
Unfortunately, instead of looking creatively for positive solutions, government seems to have settled on a strategy that does not address the underlying causes of our decline. Many politicians think that population growth, too many people, is the culprit. Put the brakes on having babies and everything will be okay again, they say. Thus the door is opened for such organizations as Marie Stopes to come in and temporarily “sterilize” great numbers of women as a way to slow the growth of population. Hormonal implants are promoted and injected on a massive scale with little thought about the physical, emotional and social effects on young girls and women and on the community as a whole.
Have you, our political leaders, really thought this through? Do you know what the people of your electorates might think about this strategy? Do you worry about what could be the consequences of tampering with nature in this way? Do you really believe that population control, seemingly an easy-fix, will actually work, will solve the serious problems we continue to face? Such a young, proud and energetic independent nation, and now some want to take aim at fertility as the solution to our troubles?
We are all fond of speaking about the great riches of our country, of our culturally diverse population and its energy. We rejoice in the great wealth contained in the abundance of the natural resources God has put here in our care. Perhaps a much better plan would be to link these two things, our wealth and the natural growth of a vibrant population, as we seek to find the secret to becoming a successful nation with prosperity, peace and justice for all.
But, of course, that means there must be an end to corruption that benefits a few and impoverishes others. The wanton exploitation of the environment by interests that have very little concern for the common good, must also be stopped. And there are a host of other factors which damage sustainable development that must be dealt with. The Catholic Church, and we are sure other Christian churches too, are eager to work with Government to meet the challenges of PNG today in a more positive way.
We end this letter to our political leaders with comments made by Pope Francis. He said, “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.” “I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of evils in our world!” (Evangelii Gaudium no. 205)
Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea
May 14, 2014