Statement on the 2016 Referendum From Fr. Clifton Harris, O.P Administrator of the Diocese of St. George’s-in-Grenada

Greetings, Brothers and Sisters,

Our historic Referendum on the Constitution Review is just around the corner. Deciding how to vote is not always an easy decision.  Nonetheless, we all have a civic right and responsibility, as Catholics, as citizens of Grenada, to reflect carefully before deciding how to vote on the seven Bills.

Fr. Clifton Harris

Fr. Clifton Harris

While many among us may feel confused and uncertain, the Referendum has provided us an opportunity to reflect and dialogue on those values we cherish as a Nation.

High among these values are Marriage and Family Life, Freedom and Responsibilities, Democratic Governance, the Dignity of the Human, Person, particularly our ways of valuing Gender identities. Such values are of vital importance in this national conversation about the very future of Grenada itself and its significance on the World Stage.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that it is our duty to “contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.” (§2239). As Catholics we, therefore, recognize that our obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of our society is a requirement of our Faith, a part of the Mission given to us by Jesus Christ.

In order to do this faithfully, we should search our consciences, bearing in mind that “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act… [Every person] is obliged to follow faithfully what he [or she] knows to be just and right” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §. 1778).

In a spirit of justice, we must respect the rights of all, seek to ensure that each is given his or her due, and promote harmony in relationships. We would do well to bear in mind that the rights that each one claims for him or herself are bound to be restricted by rights others claim for themselves.

Laws and policies must respect the dignity of the individual and promote the Common Good of all. A useful litmus test of the fairness of particular institutional arrangements or policies is: Who are the ‘winners’ and ‘losers?’ (e.g., Bill 1. CCJ and Other Justice Related Matters; Bill 3. Ensuring a Leader of the Opposition; and; Bill 7. Term of Office of Prime Minister). Are good results being achieved for all (or most) without trampling upon the rights of others?

We all have a responsibility to respect the Dignity of the Human Person. At the forefront of this debate are Marriage and Family.  The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the fundamental unit of society. This sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children must not be altered, redefined, undermined, or neglected. While the wellbeing of human being remains the centre and the reason of all laws in our land, our faith calls us to safeguard the sacredness of life and the sanctity of marriage as God intended it to be (cf. Gen. 2:23-24).

We must watch that we do not redefine family and marriage, as given to us by God. Should we go against the order established by our Creator, we will not just shake our core values, but also open the doors to alternative lifestyles that make us look good in the eyes of the world and cause us to substitute the revealed God for idols made of gold.

The state must ensure gender equality for all: (1) equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men; (2) take into consideration and recognizing the interests, needs, and priorities of both women and men, and; (3) consider equal pay for all, social roles and responsibilities considered appropriate for women and men. Our roles in society do not exist in isolation, but they are defined in relation to one another and through the relation between men and women as God’s creatures.

The Catholic Church strives to stand squarely on the side of human dignity and the equality of all citizens under the law.

We must ask ourselves, what will best preserve the dignity of all people of our nation? How are the Bills before us affirming these rights and values?

Prudence tells us not voting at all, or not weighing carefully the consequences of the way we vote could make easier the path for undesirable, even oppressive, policies to become entrenched into our Constitution.

As a Church, we do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience.

The moral weight of voting is indeed very heavy. In other words, every vote counts, those are difficult considerations, and I don’t say any of this in a kind of easy way. But I do think that Catholics especially need to be very cautious and not simply opt out. You need to register your vote one way or another.

The next few days will determine the next decade and more of our beloved nation’s life. We need to clear our heads of media noise and sound bites, party nuisances and flyers and read all seven bills with a critical mind, since there is more in the Bills than meets to eyes or the ears!

Converse with your parish priest, with others for clarification on the bills, familiarize yourself with what the Church teaching is on the issues raised or at stake in these bills. Attend the discussion sessions organized by the Church or the NGOs so that we may inform ourselves of the arguments on both sides of the debate. Before voting, ask yourself: How in the light of the Gospel, can my vote best serve the Common Good?

Let us call on the Holy Spirit to grant each of us wisdom on referendum day! As you vote, you may wish to use this prayer to the Holy Spirit:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.”.

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