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Faith, politics and reconciliation: the Roman Catholic Church, New Zealand Maori and indigenous Australians

The Roman Catholic Church claims from Jesus Christ a mission to teach consistently religious ideals in accordance with its understanding of God’s constant truth. These ideals include the belief that human creation in the image and likeness of God establishes rights to dignity, to culture, to religious freedom, to self-determination and a share in the common good. These ideals form the basis of the unique contribution to human affairs which the Church claims it can make. Although these are religious goals for the Church, they require political realisation, which means that the Church cannot but be alert to the formation of alliances of common intellectual aspiration around concrete political issues so that secular expression and context can be given to the magisterium (the Church’s body of teaching). At the same time the Catholic hierarchy is conscious of a need for caution in how it responds to political events lest that religious mission be compromised by a perception of it as a partisan political lobby group, thus lessening its capacity to make its unique contribution to human affairs. The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed that the Church’s religious objectives do not exist in isolation from the political order because human law, which is developed through the secular political process, should conform to the religious natural law. Prior to the Council’s reaffirmation the Australian and New Zealand Churches generally, but not exclusively, understated or misunderstood this relationship and became impotent in challenging secular objectives inconsistent with religious aspiration. In contrast when the Church has accepted the relationship, as it has since the Second Vatican Council, it has positioned itself to identify opportunities to give secular context and expression to religious thought. Such opportunities increased from the 1960s onwards as political developments in both Australia and New Zealand saw a secular questioning of racism and a broadening of the parameters of secular political debate to the extent that established Catholic thought was shifted from the fringes to the widening mainstream of public opinion on indigenous policy. Although the Second Vatican Council required attention to the relationship between religious ends and political means, the changing secular environment was a significant factor in encouraging public advocacy in support of indigenous aspiration, which peaked in Australia in the 1990s with substantial Church interest in the native title debate and with the Church playing a leading role in the entrenchment of reconciliation - a religious concept - on the Australian political landscape. In New Zealand there has been an equal but less vocal interest in reconciliation because the political process itself established the Treaty of Waitangi as a political context for reconciliation and a context around which the Church has been able to focus its interest in the advancement of Maori aspiration. Yet, while the Treaty of Waitangi and the associated bicultural discourse have provided contexts for the expression of religious principle, they have also detracted from the Church’s use of its own magisterium as the moral authority for the articulation of its aspirations for Maori.
Type of thesis
O’Sullivan, D. (2003). Faith, politics and reconciliation: the Roman Catholic Church, New Zealand Maori and indigenous Australians (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13889
The University of Waikato
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