BY ANGLTS MACDONALD CATHOLIC CHURCH LEADERS this week rejected suggestions that the Church has concentrated too much on social issues whilst neglecting to teach children the basic differences between right and wrong.
The James Bulger verdict, in which two 11-year-old boys were convicted of the Liverpool toddler's horrific murder, has sparked off a bout of national soul-searching which last week threatened to erupt into a row between Church and State.
Criminal justice minister David Maclean said that the Churches had remained "strangely silent" about the importance of teaching children right from wrong.
Whilst Church leaders spent their time discussing social issues, such as housing, politicians were left to talk about the importance of fundamental moral values, he said.
But Cardinal Basil Hunie, writing in the News of the World, said that teaching the difference between right and wrong was the responsibility of everybody, "not just the Churches". "There is an African saying: `It takes a whole village to bring up a child'. This does not mean every adult can be held responsible for what other people's children do, but we each have some responsibility for what our society is like."
Though Mr Maclean subsequently played down the significance of his remarks, there was clearly irritation amongst some senior Anglican Churchmen, who called them "bizarre" and "illinformed".
Cardinal Hume said parents and schools "above all" shared the task of teaching moral values, though "no school can make up for the lack of a loving parent".
Being a parent was "the most important role a human being can undertake", he said.
Earlier, Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool said the Bulger case should cause each of us to ask, "without moralising", what sort of society we had helped to create.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 the day after the verdict was announced, the archbishop said: "Perhaps we should be asking what part we have played, in even the smallest way, in bringing about soci ety as we have it today, capable of producing brutal violence of this kind."
Liverpool Catholic MI' David Alton said ministers were attempting to shift responsibility: "The 'very thing the government is blaming other parts of society for the poor upbringing of children is something it is responsible for itself." • But he acknowledged that the Churches' trumpet had been "blowing an uncertain sound" in recent years.
Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales announced that they have set up a working party to look at the problem of youth crime.
The group approved at the bishops' November meeting aims to focus on ways of supporting young offenders on their release back into society.
Top of the list for consideration is the possibility of establishing a network of volunteers who would "befriend and support" young people who leave care or custody.
Fr Patrick Cope, secretary to the bishops' Committee for Young People, said young offenders were usually "crying out for someone to care for them".