24 September 2008

Two Catholic politicians in the news - in Japan and the UK

Catholic politicians in Britain and in Japan are in the news today – and not for negative reasons.

Miss Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet, has informed him that she’s resigning. The report of James Kirkup and Jon Swaine in The Daily Telegraph speculates on the possible reasons for her decision:

She is understood to have had serious doubts about Mr Brown's leadership, and her decision to quit has reignited speculation about the Prime Minister's future.

However a source close to Miss Kelly inisted her decision was made on purely personal grounds, telling reporters she "thought the time had come to spend more time with her four young children."
In an attempt to minimise damage from the move, No 10 linked her departure to her religious objections to Government plans to liberalise stem cell research.

It was said that Miss Kelly, who is a Catholic, told Gordon Brown she could not reconcile her strict faith with the Government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

The minister has been linked to Opus Dei, the devout Catholic group featured in the novel The Da Vinci Code.

I find that last sentence rather inane, though not quite as inane as Jon Swaine’s statement in his profile of Ruth Kelly in today’s Telegraph:

Miss Kelly has also come under close scrutiny for her links to Opus Dei, the devout Roman Catholic group made famous by Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code.

I haven’t read that novel or seen the movie, having gathered from reviews of both that they completely distorted Opus Dei. But I know that Opus Dei are grateful to Dan Brown for bringing many to inquire of the movement itself what it is about.

Whether Miss Kelly is resigning to take care of her children – she will continue as a backbench Member of Parliament, with a considerably smaller salary – or for reasons of conscience, or both, she is to be commended.
Ruth Kelly with Derek Gadd, her husband.

The other Catholic politician in the news is Taro Aso, the newly-elected head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan who will replace Yasuo Fukoda who has resigned as prime minister. Mr Aso will be the first Catholic head of government in Japan, a country of 128,000,000 people of whom about 509,000, or 0.40 percent only, are Catholic.

The Vatican-based Agenzia Fides carried this report about Mr Aso two days ago.

ASIA/JAPAN - Taro Aso, Catholic, running for Premier

Tokyo (Agenzia Fides) – Taro Aso’s decision to run for Premier has sparked the curiosity and attention of Japanese citizens, the Christian churches, and the international press. Aso is currently serving as Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan. Elections are scheduled to take place at the end of October. Interest has arisen from the candidate’s personality, and most of all, from the well-known fact that he is a member of the Catholic Church, which in the city of Sol Levante has 1 million faithful, out of 128 million inhabitants. (This figure for the number of Catholics is twice as high as shown in the statistics for the dioceses of Japan here.)

As he goes campaigning, in the aftermath of the political crisis that the country has suffered, Aso has not given much importance to his religious affiliation, focusing on the fact that today the priority for Japan is economic growth and in its foreign policy, form a close alliance with the United States.
However, analysts have not ignored the fact that the Aso family, related to the royal family, has ancient Catholic traditions that date back to the island of Kyushu, site of the first Christian evangelization effort in the 16th century and later, in the 19th. (It would seem that Mr Aso's Catholic roots are very deep).

Aso’s Christian name is “Francis,” named after the great missionary St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit who evangelized Eastern Asia and is one of the Patrons of the Missions.

The presence of a Catholic in the country’s governing could shed new light on the Catholic community, offering it the chance to be better known and to better fulfill its mission. The Church in Japan continues to bear witness in a society now marked by consumerism and new technology (see Fides 13/5/2008 and 26/7/2008). However, as several media sources have indicated, Aso will not be the first Catholic to occupy this position. Former Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira (1979-80) was also Catholic. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 22/9/2008).

I would dispute that last statement. I am relying on my memory here but backed up by this item from a blog, posted yesterday:

The Western media has focused on Mr. Aso’s Roman Catholic faith. In fact, he will be the third Christian Prime Minister in post-WW II Japan, after Tetsu Katayama (1947-48) and Masayoshi Ohira (1978-80), non-Catholics both. That’s three Christians out of 29 PMs, not bad when you consider that only 2 million out of 130 million Japanese are Christians. Sokagakkai has what, 16 million members? And all they get is one measly Minister per Cabinet. I’m pretty sure that you won’t find any Christians among the pre-WW II PMs though.
I wasn't aware of Tetsu Katayama but I remember reading about Masayoshi Ohira and of his being a Christian. As I recall, he didn't belong to any particular denomination. But this is only my memory speaking.

Let us pray for Mr Aso that he will do a good job and that while he won't be working as an agnet for the Church that his decisions will be informed by his Catholic faith. And may his very presence in the country's highest political position make more Japanese aware of Jesus Christ and of the Catholic faith, as the Fides report above suggests it may do.

1 comment:

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

What excellent posts Fr Sean!