Catholic leader raises political temperature with attack on Labour

Catholic leader raises political temperature with attack on Labour

By staff writers
2 Aug 2010

What is being seen as an attack on the Labour Party by the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, is ruffling feathers in Westminster and beyond.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols praised the new coalition Government for its "fresh attitude" while simultaneously accusing the previous government of "dangerous" interfering over religion and belief.

Catholic and other church leaders have been angered by equality legislation which requires them not to discriminate against gay people, in particular - demanding opt-outs and exemptions instead.

In contrast, equality campaigners have complained that Labour was too compliant over these issues.

But the Archbishop made plain in his article that any attempt to require the Church to comply with such legislation in the same way as other civil groups and employers was unacceptable - a view which an increasing number of Christians are embarrassed about.

The Cutting Edge Consortium is one initiative that has brought religious believers and members of secular voluntary groups and trades unions together to argue that the churches and other faith bodies need to change their mindset and embrace equalities as an ethical commitment rather than an unreasonable external encumbrance.

Archbishop Nichols also welcomed the Conservative 'Big Society' idea, which may see large swathes of public welfare handed back to voluntary and faith groups.

In his article, he wrote: "We have highlighted the need for society to not fall into the trap of thinking that everything is to be provided and not live by the myth that everything is somebody else's responsibility. In recent years many factors have contributed to a sense that we can leave social problems to be solved by the Government.

"In some ways this sense was created by the last administration which had, in practice, too strong an overarching view of how our society should be. In attempting to create a state that provided everything, it ended up losing touch with the people it was trying to serve."

The Archbishop went on the attack the Labour government for the way it had allegedly treated the Catholic Church and faith groups in general.

He declared: "I think the last Government required quite a high degree of conformity to its own theories and principles and practices. And if they clashed with those of a faith community then either the partnership came to an end or the faith group had to conform."

Westminster observers have suggested that this assessment is far from the reality. Under Labour there was direct consultation with faith groups, encouragement of faith-based service initiatives, and a significant expansion of faith schools taking taxpayers' money but with special dispensations to discriminate in employment and admissions, as well as opt-outs from equalities provisions.

However, what seems to have particularly spurred Archbishop Nichols' anger is the decision of the Blair government that Catholic-supported adoption agencies should not be able to sidestep equal treatment for gay couples, even though they were given an additional period to comply with new rules.

Catholic leaders threatened to close the agencies rather than follow the law, but in the great majority of cases a resolution was found.

[Ekk/3]

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