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Reporting to the Church
LAST SUNDAY'S Observer newspaper made a great splash about Church leaders, including our own Cardinal Hume, apparently lambasting the government in a leaked document on unemployment to be published shortly by the Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland.
A Catholic spokesman made the helpful clarification to this paper that the report is written to, not from, the Churches.
Whilst it is good for Churches to speak prophetically — denouncing evil and sin, affirming virtue and so forth, it behoves them to tread carefully on matters of economics and politics, particularly shortly before a general election.
Of course unemployment is a tragic waste of human potential, with consequences of poverty, homelessness and depression. Glib euphemisms such as "downsizing", "rationalising", "slimming down the workforce" mask the sufferings in countless homes that "shedding staff" entails. Companies and strategists need to be made aware that economics should serve people, not the other way round.
However, no political party welcomes unemployment. Government over the past eighteen years has had to make some highly unpopular decisions in order to create a modern economic state. The Industrial Revolution created havoc in its day, but brought about eventual prosperity. The recent revolution has been no less traumatic, but who knows where we would be today if it had not been forced upon us. Collapsing economies, as in Albania and in many African countries, cause yet more hardship.
There is much that a new government can do in steering the economy towards fulfilling the requirements of the Catholic bishops' valuable document, The Common Good. Taxation, subsidies and legislation can, for example, engineer a return to a more labour-intense form of agriculture, achieving both job-creation and healthier food and environment.
However, before Church leaders pronounce on economics and unemployment, they should ensure that their own employment practices and records of financial management are all that they should be. Unlike politicians, they are not accountable, and unlike business people, when their accounts run into debit there are always good people willing to hold jumble-sales to cover the debts.
No doubt the report they have authorised by the CCBI for themselves, in some, at least, of its 220 pages, will remind them of all that.