Bishop Lucey on the Responsibilities of Citizenship
From the Irish Press, March 4th, 1957:
Responsibilities of Citizenship
Dealing with the responsibilities of Christian Citizenship, Most Rev. Dr. Lucey, Bishop of Cork, said the first duty of those in authority was to show themselves good citizens.
“How far short of their duty in this respect public representatives fall if, for instance, they fail themselves to pay the tax or rates they help to levy on others.
And what must be thought of those in public life who, instead of upholding the authority of the established Government, use their position to voice encouragement of those actively undermining it by arming men and sending them to make war and take human life on their own authority?”
The Welfare State provides us with well-being in the material sense but at the expense of well-being in its broadest and fullest sense.
“Yet it is not wholly to be rejected,” said His Lordship. “Some measure of State welfare we must have. What is vital is that those in power and those aspiring to power among us should not encourage the public to sell themselves into bureaucratic bondage by promises of unlimited ‘free’ services and benefits.”
Referring to emigration, Dr. Lucey said: —
“There can be no doubt but that in one respect at any rate those in power are failing sadly in their duty. They are not promoting the welfare of all the citizens. The proof of that is the many among us who have to emigrate because they cannot make a living here at home.
“True, the standard of living for those who remain is high. But smaller numbers leaving the rest to fend for themselves as best they can in some other country is against all the canons of distributive justice.
“Every Irishman forced by economic circumstances to emigrate is a living indictment of the nation and all who hold power in it.”
The first rule of conduct for those in positions of public trust, Dr. Lucey continued, is that in all their official acts they must make the public good their paramount concern. To use the office to advance their own interests or those of their friends is gravely to abuse it.
“There are no serious abuses of this among us, thank God. While there was no feathering of their own nests on the grand scale by public men, was there not some lowering of the standards.”
“What of the multiplication of appointments just to place friends and political hangers-on? What of the sums spent on entertainments, holidaying and conferences in far-away lands and the other extravagances tending to become part of the perquisites of office?
“Finally what of the practice — so common as to be taken for granted in almost every country by political commentators — of having an ‘election budget’ in election years, for example of granting some popular tax relief or an increase in old age pensions to ensure a higher standard and other social security benefits at the approach of a general election, something suspiciously like buying the people’s votes with the people’s own money?”
The second essential thing in public life, Dr. Lucey continued, was absolute impartiality. There must be no discrimination and no favouritism.
“Some unjustifiable practices in public life, which are taken altogether too lightly,” he continued “are the making of ‘election promises’ which the candidate has no intention of fulfilling; the vilification through deliberate lies of rival candidates and policies; personation at elections; the double standard of payment for services; extravagant planning and spending on the argument that nothing but the best is good enough in public institutions or that it gives much-needed employment; sanctioned increased expenditure without at the same time arranging for the increased taxation to meet this expenditure.”
A characteristic of the good citizen was that he made good use of his vote. Catholic teaching was definite on this. At election time the citizen was bound to inform himself as to the issues at stake, to consider the views and abilities of the candidates and to vote for those he conscientiously believed most likely to serve the public interest best.
“Only when there is a candidate in the field who is notoriously unfit for public office … are voters certainly bound to exercise the franchise. In such circumstances there is the obligation to do what one can to keep out the unacceptable candidate — and the fact that every vote cast for any other candidates is equivalently a vote against him.”