The Tablet: Roman Catholic Church needs to influence ‘the right Tories’
While the Church of England has attended party conferences and held numerous meetings with Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice to contribute to its agenda to restore ‘Broken Britain’, the Roman Catholic Church has ‘stayed behind’ and ‘been slow to develop a dialogue with the party’.
Essentially, The Tablet criticises the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales for sucking up to the likes of Edward Leigh who has ‘little influence in the party’, instead of ‘developing a relationship with its most influential figures’.
This is a curious criticism from a Christian magazine. Did not the Lord exhort believers to invite the last and fellowship with the lowliest?
It is, in any case, ill-considered nonsense to assert that the highly-respected Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee wields ‘little influence’. Indeed, Edward Leigh is one of the most respected MPs in the House. Archbishop Vincent Nichols is also unjustly criticised for contributing to a book by Edward Leigh because Mr Leigh is ‘right wing’ and perceived to be critical of David Cameron’s leadership, and ‘such friendships could be a hostage to fortune’.
And so Richard Kornicki has been appointed parliamentary co-ordinator at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and it is his task to develop ‘a relationship with its most influential figures’. The Tablet writes: ‘Kornicki’s role is to communicate between Catholic parliamentarians and the bishops on issues of mutual concern. With a background in the senior civil service he is also making contributions to policy work. The presence of such an experienced figure is a coup for the bishops, but the key question is how best to use his insights into parliamentary legislation and policy implementation in a way that can improve the Church’s influence. Before his appointment, the activities of the bishops’ tiny staff were largely limited to opposing Labour legislation that allowed gay couples to adopt, liberalised the law on embryology and sought to extend equalities. No wonder the Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green, complained that “the Church seems obsessed by sex and lacks a helpful view, or understanding, of the difficult judgements politicians have to make”.’
And then The Tablet continues to talk about sexuality.
The Anglican obsession appears to be spreading.
Damian Green’s view is not shared by all of his colleagues. Mark Hoban is Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury and he believes that his Church’s relationship with the party is improving. He refers to regular cross-party meetings with Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, and now with Archbishop Nichols. But The Tablet notes that Mr Hoban ‘sets limits on the areas in which the Church should intervene’: ‘For instance he feels it would be prudent to avoid involvement in cases where the government of the day is debating whether to bale out particular firms that have got into financial trouble.’
He says: “The key thing is for the Church to speak on matters where it is clearly credible – like inner cities and the family – but not on matters where it is has no practical engagement. It has to be clear what its priorities are, not least in determining what it wants to secure in the coming parliament.”
No, Mr Hoban. The key thing for the Church is to preach the gospel, in season and out. And this is not limited to ‘inner cities and the family’, but to ‘practical engagement’ with the whole of life and social existence. It is a task hopelessly beyond credibility, for it seeks to be transformative of society by bringing redemption to the individual. One may impose change from without, or nurture it from within. One can bend ears or change hearts. This is not about strategies, practicalities or political priorities, but prayer, reflection and inspiration. It is about knowing right from wrong, distinguishing between good and evil, and having the courage of one's conviction to defend one's creed against the spirit of the age.
Would to God that all Conservative MPs were prophets.