Closer relationship between Govt and Church

One positive outcome of Covid-19 has been the closer relationship forged between central Government and the Catholic Church of New Zealand.

Bishop Michael Gielen has welcomed the change. As a member of the Auckland church leaders’ group, he saw a constructive bridge form during lockdown.

“Our main topic during Covid was how we were responding, what were our options, and how do we communicate with the Government,” he said.

The first successful connection with the Department of Cabinet and Prime Minister (DPMC) came in November last year.

“Suddenly we were invited into the conversation, where before we’d been sending letters and emails randomly. A noticeable element of mana was raised. I really felt we were being prioritised,” Bishop Gielen said.

                 Sarah Sparks

It was at the instigation of Community Panel chair Sarah Sparks (Te Ātiawa/Ngāti Tama/Ngāti Whiti), and the DPMC Covid-19 group chief of staff at the time, Natasha D’Costa. Both parishioners joined forces to advocate for the faith community.

It led to an invitation for the New Zealand Catholic Bishops and Catholic ethics advisor Dr John Kleinsman to meet with senior officials to discuss proposed policy initiatives.

“There were so many meetings on a regular basis. It was really refreshing to be asked our opinion. To be heard and to be respected by Government authorities as a faith leader group, rather than an NGO,” Bishop
Gielen said.

The framework for the basis of the discussions was based on the principles of Catholic social teaching, which includes promotion of the common good and a preferential option for the marginalised.

Dr Kleinsman from the Nathaniel Centre, the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, appreciated the fast-tracked opportunity without having to go through the cumbersome process of select committee submissions.

Being able to bring the Catholic lens to key discussions was a “wonderful initiative”, he said.

“The Government has a place to act with a certain degree of decisiveness, but any power needs to be moderated. Including as many voices as possible, particularly during times of  crisis, is key.”

The consultation with faith leaders throughout Aotearoa in meetings facilitated by Aupito William Sio and Priyanca Radhakrishnan led to the creation of the COVID protection framework guidelines for places of worship.

The engagements activated by “the right people in the right place” impressed Bishop Gielen.
He would like to see more of it continuing in the future.

“We understand our importance in society and it’s nice for it to be reciprocated.”

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