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Debate: Should Catholic bishops follow Rowan Williams’s example and intervene more forcefully in politics?

Or should they only intervene when they have the weight of the Magisterium behind them?

By on Friday, 10 June 2011

The Houses of Parliament (PA photo)

The Houses of Parliament (PA photo)

Dr Rowan Williams’s remarkable attack on the Coalition Government this week dismayed many Christians. In a guest editorial for the New Statesman, he not only criticised the Government’s policies, but questioned its mandate to implement them. The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote:

With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted. At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context… The anxiety and anger have to do with the feeling that not enough has been exposed to proper public argument.

It is hard to imagine the Catholic hierarchy intervening as forcefully as this on any subject at all. Occasionally, they will oppose some Bill or other, when the issue is clear-cut, and when Church teaching offers an obvious guide: the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2008, for instance, which approved experimentation on human embryos and the creation of animal-human hybrids, was opposed by the bishops (though not perhaps as strongly as it might have been).

Yet since the Coalition Government came into power last May, the bishops of England and Wales have been remarkably quiet. Is this wise? After all, the Government is making radical, far-reaching reforms. Should the Catholic Church speak up more loudly? Or are the bishops right only to intervene in areas within the scope of the Magisterium?

  • Anonymous

    This intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury was a breath of fresh air. Yes our Bishops should definitely intervene! Particularly in the case of human fertilisation and embryology. They need to take a leaf out of Cardinals Burke’s & O’Brien’s book and speak more forcefully.

  • UKviewer

    I think that Bishops and Church leaders of any denomination have a pastoral responsibility to their flocks to speak up and voice concerns on policy, whichever direction it comes from.  Particularly in this postmodern era, where ethics appear to be something only fools hold to and politicians please themselves and break electoral promises every time.

  • Alban

    Bravo for Archbishop Williams. Certainly Catholic bishops should follow suit, indeed some have done so in the past.

  • Ratbag

    Yes, our Bishops should speak out – especially about the divisive, laughable Equality laws which have forced Catholic child rescue and adoption agencies to close, thanks to the militant gay and atheist lobby; power-obsessed councils - and other bodies who should look after the welfare of people have , instead, wasted time and money suspending Christians from their work just for wearing crucifixes; Government money thrown here and there for so-called sexual health clinics which are always empty.

    … and they should not be lily-livered about it, either!

  • Juandi1977

    Seems to me that it depends on the nature of the intervention. When we have bishops being praised by Labour ministers for supporting sex education reforms which will result in Catholic schoolchildren being taught how to access abortions and the glories of civil partnerships (themselves something about which our bishops, unlike the Vatican, seem to have had no complaints) it’s clear that something has gone wrong with the Church’s political operation in England and Wales.

  • Ratbag

    … they, meaning THE BISHOPS should not be lily-livered about speaking out, either! Nor sugar-coat the truth.

  • elizabeth

    No – the churches have enough to do sorting out their own problems Both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church are are real mess.  When the Churches start growing again – we can start telling everyone else how to do it.

  • Anonymous
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    No. Most of them have their work cut out just trying to any kind of Shepherds of their flocks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie


  • Chris

    I wish they would step in and stick up for young people…

  • ms catholic state

    Yes….the Catholic Bishops should intervene more forcibly in politics.  Secular politicians like to think they can run a nation without reference to God….which is the definition of secularism.  I think we know by now…..that they have failed in this.  Secularism is leading secular nations to demographic meltdown and wipeout and all that goes with that…..which must be the very definition of failure.  Why Catholic Bishops haven’t even pointed this out to our politicians is beyond me. 

    And it is the duty of Catholic Bishops to ensure the central place of Jesus Christ and Christianity in the life of a nation.  They are not called upon to support a generalised secular vision of society.

  • http://mikegprint.wordpress.com/ Mike Print

    I certaintly agree with a number of those who’ve post here that Bishops ought to speak into every situation including the political. No area of life is out of bounds for God and spiritual leaders ought to attempt to shine the light of Christ into every area. I think ++Rowan has taken this to heart and asked some great questions which I hope will be the start of the debate. Catholic bishops please join in!

  • Patgritton

     As a catholic for 60 years , I  cannot understand how a follower of Christ`s gospel can support Conservative policies. For Archbishop Nichols  to support cuts sickens me . I am ashamed with his comments. Rowan Williams is more of christian than Nichols is.

  • Joel Pinheiro

    They should intervene, but please change the moralistic tone (which is not only found in the bishops, but in their case it becomes even more destructive of public debate, because of the moral authority they carry)!

    Rowan Williams should have given the arguments why he thinks further deficit spending on welfare would be good for the poor and society as a whole, instead of merely antagonizing (as so many Catholics also do) those who disagree with him as being immoral, undemocratic, not caring for the poor or something on those lines.Catholics are more guilty of this than protestants. “Oh, so you disregard Catholic social teaching and have no concern for the poor?” This kind of empty, antagonizing remark does nothing to improve society. Instead, state your case as best as you can, with the best arguments you know. Whatever the truth is, that’ll be the Christian position.

  • James J ODonnell

    How could we justify entering the political world when the Church ADMIRES VP Joe Biden—he NEVER once denounced the evils of abortion albeit he states his “belief in life begins at conception , but, publicly doesn’t want to force his belief on others..What type of Catholic is that? 
    He is a politician through and through and a Catholic when he derives some benefits.
    I find his type of  “Catholic” politician to be repulsive ‘

    James J ODonnell
    3452 West Ave
    Ocean ity, NJ 

  • Michelle Eves

    The Roman church hase no authority of comment here in our Anglican church’s.

    Can I suggest Rome and the Vatican as a good place to start?

  • veronica

    The most fundamental issue of our day of abortion is the most important issue affecting the destruction of our world, yet the Catholic Churches hierachy say nothing much at all, if anything. This is true also of the other faiths. The churches do have a moral obligation to speak out. You cannot seperate church and state when the state is  going against GODs Laws, which are above mans laws. The silence is deafening, and we have to ask why. The pro-abortionists said that if the church had spoken out in the first instance they would not have got away with abortion,or the lies they told to get abortion passed.Donot forget that abortion wasnot made legal,only it ensured that the doctors were not prosecuted. So speak out on what is important,but you wont will you.

  • RJ

    I’m an English Catholic so I guess that gives me as much right as anyone else.

  • Magnacarta

    Archbishop Nichols is quoted in numerous sources as supporting the so called  ‘moral agenda’ of Mr. Cameron.
    It is unclear on what planet our Archbishop appears to inhabit.  Or, what morality might be said to attach to a coalition government that daily carries out bombing raids on Libya, that has so far resulted in the deaths of several hundred innocent people and horribly injuring many more.  It is the same coalition government that wishes to dismantle what remains of the structure of our society, put millions into destitution and snatch the food from the mouths of babes to pay for their criminal wars in Afghanistan Iraq and now Libya.
    Dr. Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has sounded a very welcome note of reason, compassion and informed insight, all sadly lacking  in the head of our own Church in England, Archbishop Nichols, a man who also appears to think that a coalition has a mandate to carry out far reaching and damaging changes in our society and  lethal attacks overseas. He has failed to heed the wise words of Dr. Williams on these issues and made himself and by implication catholics in England look extremely foolish and naive.
    It is unclear again to me why  Archbishop Nichols chooses to support Mr. Cameron in this way.  He can only be , I would respectfully suggest, either enormously simple and ill informed, or gulled on a massive scale by the propaganda that this government emits.
    Either way, he is manifestly proving that he is really no leader at all of the Catholics in England, who rightly, one feels, have come to expect something rather more following the disastrous tenure of his predecessor.Michael Cassio