Bishops refuse to forswear politics
by Jonathan Petre ARCHBISHOP Derek Worlock of Liverpool this week gave his own answer to Conservative minister Mr John Butcher who urged churchmen to give up politics for Lent.
The Archbishop. whose involvement in political issues over recent years has been well reported. said "my actions speak louder than words." On the same day that Mr Butcher, Under Secretary of State for Industry. had issued his admonition. Archbishop Worlock told Liverpool's leftwing Labour leaders to avoid "political suicide" by plunging the council into bankruptcy with an illegal rate later this month.
"Appeals for total unity in political strategy are quickly dismissed as being unrealistic." he told city councillors at a Mass on Sunday. "Indeed without a party-political system. with differences in approach to fundamental questions, much that is precious in our democracy would die. But that democracy can still be damaged by extremism."
Mr Butcher told a Tory meeting on Sunday that the Church would benefit if clerics gave up politics. "First it would allow those who suffer from this temptation to concentrate on their major tasks of saving souls and filling churches." he said.
"Secondly. it would help to reduce the dangerous possibility that members of the public could begin to view the clergy with the same cynicism that they usually reserve for politicians."
A spokesman from the Catholic Information Office said that the Church was in a dilemma over its role in politics. "The Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camera once said If I give" food to the poor they call me a saint. It I question why the poor have no food I am called a communist'. The Church has always been involved in politics in the broadest sense because it is involved in people's lives. It has a duty to highlight the moral issues underlying so many contemporary issues."
Cardinal Hume. who has had to deal with the problem at first hand after Mgr Bruce Kent, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, had spoken to the British Communist Party, declined to comment on Mr Butcher's statement, but he said his views on the subject were to be found in his recently published bestseller To Be a Pilgrim.
In the book the Cardinal said that Christians who committed themselves to the reality of the kingdom of God committed themselves to building a new• society on earth which would endow humans with a new dignity and a new future.
"This new-found identity has profound consequences in practice. We can no longer remain indifferent when those who are one with us in Jesus Christ suffer injustice. exploitation and discrimination. We are called to act and suffer. if necessary. on their behalf. Inevitably this leads to involvement in issues which are usually thought of as social and political."
Cardinal Hume said the question of the Church and politics is often bedevilled from the start by different people's definitions of the terms involved. The word politics literally embraces all that effects the life of people in the state, and therefore religion, which is involved with people at their deepest level of being, should never be excluded from politics in the wider sense.
But the Cardinal said that in the United Kingdom at least politics had a more restricted meaning as well. "It is used . . to denote the actual functioning of the political process, and the ways whereby vested interests or groups of like-minded citizens achieve their aims .
If 'politics' means this it is hard to see here a legitimate role here for the Church as an institution or for its leadership."
Having stressed the essential role of the laity in political life, the Cardinal said: "The bishop and the priest will have a role to play as important as the lay Christian's but different. Even in a democratic and free society it is often necessary for them to take the lead in rousing public opinion."