There is a very useful post by Mgsr Charles Pope on the ongoing debate over the appropriate role (and its proper limits) of bishops in speaking on matters of public policy.
Msgr Pope is responding to criticisms of the bishops for not speaking up on some issues (such as the repeal of the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' principle for the US military), as well as critiques of what they did say on some issues such as health care. But his arguments do have application in Australia.
He points to the virtues for priests, of avoiding partisan politics and the appearance thereof, and the difficulties this poses in a world of sharply divided views on many issues. And he points to the particular problems of engaging as bishops on issues such as the appropriate and role of Government in relation to the (weird to most Australian eyes at least!) debate on whether there is a proper role for Government in ensuring health care for the poor (sorry American readers, but to us it's a no brainer!).
His basic point is that it comes down to a matter of prudential judgment. On the one hand, the bishops shouldn't engage too much in areas more properly the domain of the laity.
But on the other, the bishops do have a duty to teach, to ensure that the laity are properly informed and actively engaged on issues that need to be tackled. And it is good to see that some serious efforts are being made in this regard at the moment on the question of homosexual 'marriage'.
Personally, I'd like to see a lot more action in Australia against individuals who take positions (and particularly vote for legislation) that directly contravenes the Churches moral teachings. In the difficult year ahead, I would like to see other bishops, for example, echoing Cardinal Pell's warnings to Catholic politicians (even if only privately at first), and taking swift action if they do vote (directly or indirectly) in favour of euthanasia, gay 'marriage', abortion and so forth.
Taking individual action against dissenters such as NSW Premier Keneally, for example, for her position on conscience votes would be a much better approach in my view, than coming out and saying don't vote for Labor in the upcoming State elections (although such an injunction would in any case seem to be superfluous; it is hard to see why anyone would vote Labor in that State!).
But maybe a few less words might be spoken in those highly charged party political areas (but perhaps more constructive, practical action and engagement) in those areas where the correct prudential judgment on the issues is surely open to debate?