Prisons and opposition to Trident replacement on C of E agenda

By staff writers
6 Feb 2007
The Church of England's General Synod

The Church of England's General Synod is to be debate the Government's proposals to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system, as well as the crisis in Britain's prisons, it was announced yesterday.

The meeting of what is often referred to as the Church's 'Parliament' is to be held in Westminster at the end of the month, with other key debates on schools, the media, issues in human sexuality, clergy pensions, clergy terms of service, and marriage law.

The Synod debate about Trident will come near the end of the three months’ period of public debate initiated by the Government’s White Paper on The Future of Trident, which will culminate in a debate in the House of Commons in March.

The Government is planning the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system. However Christian leaders across Britain have opposed the move.

In a joint New Year’s statement, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rev Alan McDonald, and Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, President of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, spoke out against the “menace of nuclear weapons”.

Large numbers of Christians will be joining an anti-nuclear demonstration in London on 24 February 2007, and attending a service beforehand in the centre of London.

The Synod debate will be informed by the statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury when The Future of Trident was published and by a submission from the Mission and Public Affairs Council to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee.

In the statement Dr Williams underlined the grave ethical questions posed by manufacture and use of such weapons saying; "these are still weapons that are intrinsically indiscriminate in their lethal effects and their long-term impact on a whole physical environment would be horrendous."

The motion raises further questions about whether the Government is right to proceed in the way proposed, given the underlying ethical issues.

There will also be a debate on criminal justice, following the Archbishop of Canterbury's call last week for a commission of enquiry into the penal system which, he said was failing both offenders and victims.

His remarks followed another scorching annual report from Anne Owers, HM Inspector of Prisons. Last year the government tried and failed to abolish her post and roll it into a wider remit.

A Commission is needed to explore different models of penal justice, Dr Williams argued, because problems stem from an inadequate sense of responsibility, not simply on the part of offenders, but especially on the part of the society which imprisons them.

He declared: “If we seriously want to address the problem of re-offending, it is clear that a penal culture in which there is no real attention to how offenders change is worse than useless – literally worse than useless, in that it reinforces alienation, low self-worth and the lack of any sense of having a stake in the life of a community.”

The real neglect, Dr Williams argued, was that like society as a whole, the system does not adequately explore how offenders might reform: “If the underlying problem in crime is a breakage in relationship, this means that the offender has lost the active sense of being answerable for others.”

He continued: “That sense is … inseparable from the assurance of having others who are answerable for you. The most unhelpful and indeed damaging way of treating this is thus surely a system that leaves the offender without any grounds for believing that he or she is the object of anyone’s responsibility. This is emphatically the message that much of our present system still gives to the offender."

The February Synod, to be held in the newly refurbished Assembly Hall, at Church House, Westminster, takes place from February 26 to March 1.

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