They discussed education, vocations, Europe and asylum. But child abuse dominated proceedings, reports
THE BISHOPS' conference of England and Wales focused on six issues including vocations, child protection within the Church and education, at their meeting in Leeds last week. Thirty-one bishops of England and Wales attended the five-day conference. which took place at the diocesan curial offices at Hinsley Hall.
THE bishops welcomed the involvement of the Nolan Committee in a review of the Church's child protection guidelines. A preliminary report will be published next April. At a press conference on Monday, Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said: "We have asked the Nolan Committee to look at the guidelines to see how we
can tighten them. For example we need to ensure the selection procedures are OK."
Speaking of the recent conviction of paedophile Fr Joe Jordan in Cardiff, he said: "We have to ask how such a man was able to get through the process. There is no question that the Nolan Committee recommendations will be implemented."
He added: "One thing about the Church when things like this happen, we are determined to do whatever we can to make sure that the mistakes of the past do not happen in the future. The Church right through the ages has had those who have sinned profoundly, and we thank God that they are a tiny minority, but this has never affected the Church's teaching and speak
ing out for what the Christian faith demands."
Commenting on society's values and youth, Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor said that the trivialisation of sex was detrimental to society and young people in particular, who were barraged with sex "outside the context of marriage and life". He warned: "This is having a very profound effect."
The archbishop criticised the "unfettered individualism" prevalent in society.
He said: "People think that what is good is just what's good for 'me'. This selfishness is damaging society. There are values that should be held by everybody. Therefore you need new voices to address certain things in this country and I'll be one of them." The bishops also discussed young people and World Youth Day. Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor said: "We did not think that young people were really alienated from the Christian faith. But how do you cast out the net to them within our culture?"
The conference decided that it would combine the Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors and the bishops' conference Diocesan Vocations Service of England and Wales.
Fr John Armitage, vocations director for the Brentwood diocese, called the move a "tidying up". He said: "It's two-fold. Firstly, we're tidying up our present structures. The bishops also want to set up a new agency for evangelisation and one thing vocations directors are saying is that at the heart of it needs to be an office for vocations."
Fr Armitage said that it was not a new programme. He said: "This is a very important distinction. Vocations don't come because of a new poster. They come because people living the Christian life are inspired by those around them. Evangelisation and vocations arc two sides of the same coin. The key element is discovering God's will. My vocation wasn't firstly to be a priest. It was to discover God's will. In trying to do this, I ended up a priest."
This was the basis for the 1997 European Congress of Vocations' document In Verbo Tuo: New Vocations for a New Europe. Fr Armitage said: "There are no easy throwaway answers on the way forward.
Today's culture is very antivocation. It is weak right across the board from the priesthood to nursing. We need to strengthen this, which is what we intend to do."
The bishops expressed their gratitude to the British and Irish governments for their influence in obtaining an acceptable compromise to the draft European Union Directive on Employment, which is to be incorporated into national legislation.
Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary to the bishops' conference said: "It was a fascinating turnaround. A lot of it was due to the stand of the Irish government. There was the danger that the wording of the initial draft removed the right of churches, in their educational and social institutions, to control who they employed as is guaranteed under British law.
"This new draft doesn't contravene anybody's rights. It's pretty good. It makes sure that the Church can refuse to appoint people who are unsympathetic to its ethos. This also goes for those already employed, if they then demonstrate through their activities that they are in opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Faith. It seems to me you can't pussyfoot around.
"It is clearly a different matter in the case of a person who does not agree with the Church's teaching, but is willing to teach it."
The bishops welcomed the Government's programme to protect asylum seekep, from
social exclusion and harassment. They particularly welcomed the review of the voucher system and the move to enable shops to give change to voucher users. They also applauded the creation of a central body to ensure that successful applicants have access to accommodation and employment and educational opportunities.
However, the bishops continued to express concern about the "increasing violence and hostility towards asylum seekers" and called on politicians and the media to ensure that the asylum debate is conducted in a positive and balanced way.