Top Anglican and Catholic clerics clash over UK government policy

Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams and Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols Credit:Mazur
Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams and Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols Credit:Mazur


England’s top Catholic and Anglican clergy have gone head-to-head in a public war of words over the U.K. government’s policies on welfare, education and health.

In the June 8 edition of the English left-wing political journal New Statesman, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams accused the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government of causing “anxiety and anger” in implementing health, welfare and education reforms for which “no one voted.”

The Anglican archbishop also accused ministers of encouraging a “quiet resurgence of the seductive language of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor” in pursuing “punitive” action against “alleged abuses” in the welfare system.

And he reserved particular scorn for the London government’s plans to move power away from the state to lower level institutions - a policy the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron calls his “Big Society” - labeling it nothing more than a “painfully stale slogan.”

The Anglican leader’s public comments contrasted sharply, though, with those of Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster.

He used a speech to Catholic charities in London on June 9 – only a day after Archbishop William’s attack - to suggest that the Big Society could actually lead to “greater solidarity” and release “energy for local initiative and enterprise.” He referred to a poll recently taken at a recent conference organized by the Catholic Church to discuss the issue.

When conference attendees were asked whether or not they thought the “Big Society” was “a cover for cuts,” Archbishop Nichols reported that the "overwhelming majority said no. They felt there was a genuine moral agenda here.”

He warned, however, that “the growth of subsidiarity cannot be achieved simply by the withdrawal of the state” but “requires intelligent capacity building to reduce dependency, and the creation of conditions for the sustained flourishing of local initiative.”

Archbishop Nichols also praised David Cameron for his recent comments in praise of marriage and the family.

“The overwhelming evidence of the correlation between family instability and the outcomes for children in education, health and employment speaks for itself,” the Catholic archbishop said.

“It was good to see in his latest remarks a specific reference to marriage as a social institution which deserves and needs support.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic politician behind the U.K. government’s plans for welfare reform, Iain Duncan MP, also joined in the attack upon Archbishop Rowan Williams. He dubbed Williams’ remarks “unbalanced and unfair.”

“If a churchman can't endorse the idea of community and the voluntary sector, doing what is necessary to help people out of their difficulties, then I wonder who will?”

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