By Maggie Beirne, Independent Catholic News
The West London Justice and Peace Network meets three times a year, bringing J&P activists together from a dozen or more parishes across West London. On Saturday 8 October, it was delighted to hear Nigel Parker – Director of the Catholic Union of Great Britain – talk about its work.
Established in 1870, only a few decades after Catholic Emancipation, when anti-Catholic discrimination was high, the Catholic Union was a voluntary organisation aimed at influencing public policies of interest to Catholics. At the outset, it probably consisted only of the ‘great and the good’ but it now has 1,300 members and it is open to all lay Catholics.
Nigel explained that it is non-party political and that its officers are elected to reflect all political parties. The current president is Sir Edward Leigh (a Conservative) who succeeded a Labour peer. Its website reports that it is “a membership organisation dedicated to the defence of Catholic values in parliament and public life, and the promotion of the common good”.
In practical terms, the Catholic Union makes submissions to parliament and government; it comments on current events; it meets with ministers and special advisers etc. It has a broad range of interests ranging from beginning to end of life issues to social justice, human rights, religious freedom issues. The staff team is small and the Union therefore makes a very conscious effort not to duplicate the work of other groups such as CSAN/CAFOD/ACN/PACT/SVP etc. but instead tries to add value to their efforts.
There is a particular emphasis on religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and it works via a mixture of education, public lectures, webinar events. In the fairly recent past, it has addressed issues such as: covid and the closure of churches; the murder of David Amess and the importance of access to last rites even (or especially) at crime scenes; hate speech legislation; Public Space Protection Orders (and protests outside abortion centres); freedom of conscience for pharmacists; the Bill of Rights Bill and other foreign and defence policies. The Catholic Union works alongside many other groups and tries to represent the many issues of concern to the 4.5m Catholics in the country.
Members of the Network were interested in how strategies and priorities are set by the Union; how at the parish level we can effectively lobby our public representatives; and more information about the Union’s work across the gamut of justice and peace issues. Nigel explained that membership gives access to a weekly parliamentary briefing; encourages active engagement via committees and monthly briefings; and includes an invitation to an annual summer gathering. Though they have consultative status with the Bishops’ Conference, and work closely with the bishops, they are a lay organisation and set their priorities according to the concerns of the Catholic laity across Great Britain.
Their website also carries detailed practical advice for those people wanting to lobby their local MP on concerns around refugees, climate justice, poverty, prisoners, racism or other J&P issues. Members of the West London J&P network reported on their efforts to influence local elected politicians on a broad array of social justice and peace issues, and how useful it was to learn how they might best cooperate with the Catholic Union, which is doing the same at the national level.
Catholic Union: www.catholicunion.org.uk