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Debate: Should the Church end its reliance on the state?

Or is it still possible to work constructively with a secular Government?

By on Friday, 17 June 2011

Catholic chaplaincies at prisons including Wormwood Scrubs, above, could be under threat by attempts to create a single 'generic' chaplaincy (Photo: PA)

Catholic chaplaincies at prisons including Wormwood Scrubs, above, could be under threat by attempts to create a single 'generic' chaplaincy (Photo: PA)

Last week it emerged that England’s most senior prison chaplain had resigned from his post after a row with the Government over his role. Mgr Malachy Keegan, principal Catholic chaplain at the National Offender Management Service, was asked to spend just 10 to 20 per cent of his time with Catholic chaplains, and the rest with chaplains of other faiths.

The move has raised fears that the Government may try to save money by replacing Catholic chaplains with generic, all-faith chaplaincies. But should the Church be relying on the state to provide Catholic prison chaplains? Surely parishes can raise money for these chaplaincies themselves.

In many of its activities – overseas aid, social action, education – the Church relies enormously on state support. If it were to cut its links with the state, it would be free to run its operations entirely in line with the magisterium, without the compromises and constraints of dealing with a secular state.

The down side, of course, would be money: the Church would have to scale down these operations dramatically without Government support.

So, should the Church end its reliance on the state? Or is it still possible to work with a secular Government?

  • Jason Clifford

    The Church will have no choice but to reduce and, probably in time end, it’s reliance on state funding. 

    It is entirely true to say that the state is becoming more and more hostile to Christian teaching on a whole raft of issues and that this is only going to continue. Giving authentic witness has to be focused upon what witness is actually given rather than how many people may hear that witness.

  • Ratbag

    The Roman Catholic Church should be increasing its presence in society…. NOT decreasing it!

    Generic chaplains???? What a load of latrine deposits!!!!! The very idea would be counter productive and divisive. It’s a failure from the off in ANY situation… whether it be prison, hospital or wherever chaplains are.

    Whoever thinks up these crackpot ideas clearly have not grounding or idea of faith or religion.

  • ms catholic state

    Aren’t Catholics tax payers too?!  How do people of other faiths feel about being seen to by a Catholic Chaplin.  Maybe this could be an evangelising opportunity…..though no doubt that’s against some law.  Is there a case here of discrimination against Catholics?!  This is the great Secularism in action.  Well….we wanted it.  Makes you long for the pre-Reformation days now eh?!

    I think we should take what we can get from the government (we are taxpayers too)….while building up volunteer action groups in our parishes…..and extending self help Catholic groups.  It’s a question of both/and….not either or. 

  • Martin

    Would it really have to scale down it’s operations? The largest growth within the Christian mission field is currently taking place in countries that are actively persecuting christians rather than resourcing them.

    Whilst i agree with ms catholic state that we as tax payers should currently get all the assistance we are entitled to from the state, the sooner we operate as a church under the active ministry of the Holy Spirit and resource ourselves the better!.

    For one we could really see if the church is hot or cold, it would mean putting your money where your faith is and finally, testing whether we are serious about mission work or failing the Gospel.

    There could be some good fruit there!

    As for Mgr keegan havng to spend so much time with other faith Chaplain’s, is this Christian Chaplains, or other religion’s rather than faith? Can anyone expand?

  • Cassandrawasright

    The age of freedom of conscience in the UK – an anomaly anyway – is over. It is a temporary anachronism that any religious group still receives state funding- the expectation, on the side of the state, is that the faithful should be ‘compatible with modern society’, as Trevor Phillips of the Equality Commission puts it in the Sunday Telegraph 19.06.11. In New Testament terms, this means that the salt is required to lose its saltness and the lamp must be put under a bushel before the state will fund it. Reasonable enough. Traditional Christians  constitute an ‘awkward squad’ from the point of view of society at large, and so they ought, as society at large is not Christian. Of course a democratic state won’t fund them if it can help it. Why should it?

    Loss of government funds, even if partly contributed by Christian taxpayers, is the least of it. Modern – i.e. unbelieving – society will not tolerate people of faith in its midst for long. The period of transition from Christian Britain to Secular Britain is drawing to a close. There is plenty of law already on the statute book that is now being used to persecute individuals and which was probably originally promoted with that end in view. It could easily have been drafted so as to achieve the same purported end of ‘equality’, yet leave people of faith in peace. However, neither this government nor its predecessor have had any interest in compromise. As Pilate found, Barabbas sways more votes than the tiresome spoilsport from Nazareth.

    Our brethren from places like Eastern Germany and Russia can tell us what is likely to come next. The first objective will be to cow the individual Christian or other religious person sufficiently to drive him under cover, and this is in process of being achieved. How many Christians have quietly removed crosses from clothing or car dashboards, or eliminated Christian references from lectures, or removed Christian pictures from walls, for fear of legal action, or the sack, or a reprimand? Then once religion has been forced into invisibility it is easy enough to tax and penalise it  into near non-existence. Catholicism amongst the English fell from 100 % to about 1 % in a handful of  generations, and in the face of a state infinitely less powerful than today. 

    It is too late to stop any of this happening, but far more could be done to prepare people for it. It is high time that all the churches of Britain read the writing on the wall and made their preparations for the time to come. It is much easier to build a priest’s hole or find hiding places for stockpiles of Bibles before, and not after, priests and Bibles are forbidden.

  • Nat_ons

    The body of Christ is here to offer redemption from sin .. even in its contact with saecular states. It must, of course, rely on the State – whatever the hue or cut – for a great number of things, from freedom to security to justice. Reliance on the world, however, or placing one’s hopes in princes, is the worst thing any Christian can do; this applies in manifold ways to the church catholic even in the UK (although not especially here).

    That a state may well seek to have greater release from the dirty task of hands-on action, yet at the same time demand seemingly un-Christian standards of delivery, is nothing new. Catholicism must always be wary, and evermore vigiliant, in seeking to take the opportunties made available - being mindful of the other more doubious aspects involved. Look to recent history for the diatribe levelled against religious communities who long ago took on the thankless mantle of caring for the uncared for, implimenting the requirements of these states in reform, discipline and worse still ‘punishment’ (the state changing its goals, promptly leaving these orders to take the flack of all the due and righteous indignation).

    This State / Church co-operation has always been something of a poison chalice, I suspect, yet a chalice that we may not pass if we are to follow Christ in self-sacrificing obedience to the Father’s will and the lead of the Holy Ghost. I trust, although I have grave doubts, that the current hierarchy is mindful of history and the future not merely the avenues opportunely laid open before us; but, I trust, more especially, that among our leaders there is an absolute and unwavering committment to the orthodox expression in faith required of Catholics. On this last score, there is often reason for the faithful to have grave and proper doubts - unfortunately; nonetheless, reliance on state funding for child welfare, provision of orthodox education, and the advancement of Catholic healthcare is inevitable if the State desires charitable involvement .. what no State may rightly demand for any reliance on such funding is an abandonment of Catholic Orthodoxy in Faith, and no one in the church catholic has any right to offer to compromise on this (even if many have done or do now or will seek so to do).

    God bless, Nat.

  • ms catholic state

    I agree wholeheartedly Cassandra….except for two factors you omitted.  Firstly….the amazing growth of Islam in the UK…..and the protection it receives from the so-called Secular State.  And on the other side of the coin…. the declining ageing secular population.  It seems that as the secular population declines….Islam grows to take its place.

    So the future may not be so godless after all….but as it is….it may not be Christian either.

  • Aunt Raven

    Caesar is already abrogating the “things of God” to Caesar — the church’s continued alliance with this State and its “Culture of Death”  is a continued temptation for secularist compromises with it.   Therefore,The Church should end reliance on the post-Christian state.  

    “Put not your faith in princes, but in God.” – If we (= our bishops) have faith, we will recognise that it is immoral to work with this secularist government and end our reliance on it.   It doesn’t matter if there will be less money — the Church’s charity will be what Christ wants it to be –pure and untainted by worldly agendas.  If the Church “seeks first the kingdom of Heaven, all else will be given (including sufficient money) besides.” Pray for our Bishops to have the courage to “set out into the deep” and trust God, not Caesar, in our duties of ministry and stewardship.  

  • Aunt Raven

    Ah, “building up volunteer action groups in parishes. . . .”  I’m all for it.  But how do you do it?  All the people willing to volunteer are already volunteered; the rest are overworked and don’t have the time.  How do you propose motivating those few who have the time, but don’t volunteer ? 

  • ms catholic state

    Well… you quoted….’put out into the deep’!  I have no doubt….Catholics will come forward to build up and support their immediate Catholic community and the wider society.  For example nuns are now settling in run down housing estates….and administering to the needs of the unChurched instead of living in convents.  Catholics just need to be asked….I’m not sure they are asked. 

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great idea, but…straight away comes along CRB clearance and maybe, in the case of prisons, other clearances. These, as I know from being a school governor, can take a long time. Many folk are put off just with the thought of the intrusive questions asked on their form. In my parish the SVP ceased to exist when the stalwarts of same became venerable and younger parishioners were just not able to give time.
    Roman Catholic chaplains in prisons (and hospitals) should not have to be ‘jacks of all faiths’. If the state insists on this, then just as Mgr.Kegan  did – they should resign.
    It should not be beyond Eccleston Square (and the Diocese) to fund this important chaplaincy. I am sure their entertainment bill can probably be cut to cover this!

  • Anonymous

    The Church must work for the greatest good that it can achieve, like all effective leaders and governments it must value compromise and co-operation as these lead to results, whereas remaining too steadfast may appear correct, but may little to a less effective Church.

    In the case of overseas aid for example, sure overseas aid can, and does at times have a political motivation, and can be siphoned off in part to corrupt regimes and dictators.

    However, aid workers on the ground will tell you how much genuine good work the tax-payers money is doing.

    The state gives 90% of all overseas aid, and for the Church not to support it would be criminal.

     The Church must speak out against fraud and abuse that can occur in the system, but it cannot not praise and support moves such as David Cameron’s pledge for 500,000 immunisations against deadly illnesses. We should be proud of our country’s collective generosity which will surely save tens-of-thousands of lives
     - what Christian could be against this kind of state intervention?

  • Anonymous

    I think it is very poor to discus this debate as ‘the state’, or ‘the secular-state’ and ‘us’.

    The state is not some monolithic, unchangeable and autonomous ruling body; no, it is successive governments voted in by the people every 5 years. As such it is accountable to us, and as tax-payers and voters we should want to have the influence and representation demanded by our votes, and through our taxes.

    As the number of Christians has decreased, the debate has moved from questions of co-operation, to hatred and suspicion of the ‘state’ entity. But it is not the state that has changed, but the population; the electorate that voted each government in.
    Scapegoating the state is simply to ignore the changes in society.

    We must remember that the state is a powerful tool for Catholic morals, and Catholic teaching to be put into action. People may want to distance ourselves from the role of the state now, but many prominent Catholics, priests and Bishops all supported a Welfare State as an alternative to ideas such as communism.

  • Dcruz

    Most mainlen christian denomination and the catholic church have enough og funds and resourses to function without state funding or help. But they are not using their resouces properly and helping and providong services to the wrong people but their own.Charity should begin at home and not the home of the enemies who refer to christians as infidels.

  • RJ

    I think we have to do what we can within a framework that we endeavour to make as Christian as possible as long as that does not involve compromising our faith. If there is an official paid Chaplain’s post, it would not be wrong to accept the funding and we should argue the case for maintaining any such posts that exist. To my mind, it is better to have a resident chaplain – available 24 hours a day for moments of crisis – rather than a visiting chaplain, who would probably also have other duties, and might not be able to acquire such a good inside knowledge of the prison and the greatest possible trust from the prisoners.

  • Elizabeth

    As A Catholic volunteer in a large male prison, I have been following this blog with interest and not a little dismay. I have the privilege to be part of a superb multifaith chaplaincy where in one office we work alongside Anglican  priests, both inspirational women, an Imam who recently spent a long time using his IT skills to help me put together a new leaflet to encourage RC prisoners to attend Mass, A delightful Sikh. A Free church chaplain and from time to time a Rabbi, a Mormon, and a Hindu minister.I have the upmost respect for all of the team; we work with each other in an attempt to support prisoners and also their families in any way we can.The dedication of these men and women, their compassion and wisdom is remarkable and I have learned much from them. We do not have a Catholic priest or even a Deacon at the moment but all the team try to do their best for the prisoners regardless of denomination but always with respect for their various faith traditions.Generic? I don’t think so, just fellow travellers who want to help those who find themselves in the miserable situation of being ‘inside’. The local parish kindly supply one of their curates to say Mass on Saturdays.Neither of those priests are comfortable in the prison environment and have no training in prison ministry but they do their best. 

    There are 3 Catholics among the volunteers and we do our best to engage with any Catholic prisoner we come across and the non Catholic chaplains frequently refer Catholic prisoners to us. I do however see inmates of all religions and none. Every day when travelling to the prison I pray for the prisoners and ask God to use me as He will, and on Sundays I take the prisoners I have encountered during the week to Mass with me in my heart…whatever their religion or none.

    I have realised that to be effective as a prison chaplain it is vital to earn the respect of the prison officers. ~They are often the ones who will notice when a prisoner is particularly low and will ring the chapel to ask if they can send the man over for a chat. The chaplaincy team is recognised as being a valuable tool in the prison and a source of support too for prison staff who do a very difficult job. I feel it would be a disaster if the Catholic Church wwas to remove its chaplains from the NOMS system; it would then be even more difficult for them to be effective and credible and I feel sure that simply to drop in occasionally to’ see the Catholics’ would be retrograde step. We need to be seen as part of the team not separate and set apart.

    If the Catholic bishops are serious about the welfare of the many Catholics in prison, and I am sure they are, then above all they need to provide priest who have been  trained in prison ministry who can do the job properly and who are not expected to do it just as an add on to parish responsiblities. Not all priests are suitable to work in a prison, or for that matter in a hospital, and although the Sacramental dimension will always be the most important for the priest he also needs good interpersonal counselling skills, and a willingness to engage with whoever comes to the chapel whether he be Muslim, Sikh, Anglican, Catholic or more likely ‘No religion Miss’!
    We do need to fight to maintain resources for all chaplains at a time of cuts across the prison services, but send us holy men who will LOVE the prisoners and God will do the rest.A good priest will soon be known a as such on the prison hotline and then he may well be inundated…and effective.

  • Cassandrawasright

    I entirely take the point about Islam. It will be interesting to see how conflicts between the Secularists and the Moslems play out- they must eventually come, and I strongly suspect that Secularism will collapse like a house of cards. Then the Moslems will have their innings- and then, sometime, we shall have ours…but one guesses. Right now, it is the Government of the United Kingdom that scares me.

  • Fr E

    What a moving and inspirational response, Elizabeth.

    Like you, I am a RC prison chaplain and find it wonderful and really satisfying working as part of a team and have never found my RC identity to be threatened. Malachy Keegan has done us RC Chaplains a grave disservice. The majority of us RC Chaplains applaud the Chaplain General for the support and encouragement he gives us in  our work. Shame on Bishop Brain for allowing this to happen!

    And by the way, why should ordinary Catholics now be expected to fund yet anothjer position at the Bishops Conference HQ when it is totally unneccessary and could have been avoided?