Catholic Herald: Bishops call for renewal of Britain

Some time ago, Fr. Aidan Nichols set out radical and comprehensive program for Catholic renewal of England in a book The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England. (For readers in the UK click HERE to buy.)

Fr. Nichols called for:

  • UK residents click to order

    Firmer doctrine in our teaching and preaching

  • Re-enchant the liturgy [My constant drumbeat.]
  • Recover the insights of metaphysics
  • Renew Christian political thought [Catholics must act in the public square.]
  • Revive family life
  • Resacralise art and architecture
  • Put a new emphasis on monastic life
  • Strengthen pro-life rhetoric
  • Recover a Catholic reading of the Bible

From the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald, comes this.

My emphases and comments.

Bishops call for renewal of BritainCatholic Herald
By Ed West

5 March 2010

The bishops of England and Wales have called for a wholesale reform of public life. [Is this possible?]

In a major intervention ahead of the general election, expected on May 6, the bishops addressed the crisis of trust in Britain’s institutions following the financial meltdown and the MPs’ expenses scandal.

Choosing the Common Good, a 10-page statement issued on Wednesday, argued that Catholic social teaching offers a solution to the country’s most pressing problems.

The bishops did not endorse any of the parties contending possibly the closest election in years. [Human nature being what it is, some will say they did.] But their call for politicians to "recognise and support marriage" was widely seen as a boost for the Conservative Party, which has promised to give married couples tax breaks if it is elected.

The bishops said that one of the key challenges facing the next Parliament was to restore trust in Britain’s battered institutions.

"Few need reminding of how major institutions have failed to live up to their calling," they wrote. "Members of Parliament have been pilloried for their use of expenses and allowances. Bankers have earned astonishing bonuses and brought the world economy close to collapse. The Catholic Church, too, has had to learn in recent years some harsh lessons in safeguarding trust. We understand the damage inflicted when trust is betrayed. But from our part we value enormously the individuals who meet our needs with patience, compassion, skill and often great generosity. "The challenge for society is to build up our structures and institutions so that they command the same respect and trust as the individuals who represent them best. We know it can be done, but it requires a new sense of service to others at the heart of our institutions." 

The bishops said that trust could not be restored by increased regulation, but rather by an expansion of virtue. [How about a return to practice of the Catholic faith by fallen away Catholics a more committed practice by the practicing, and then a return to the faith by others?]

They wrote: "Our society will rediscover its capacity to trust by the recovery of the practice of virtue, and through an ethically founded reform of many of our social and economic institutions. This will itself begin to restore the economy to a path that is both sustainable and just. In this way trust will be re-established. 

"We believe that this is what the vast majority of ordinary British people instinctively want. They want to belong to a world in which people care for one another. They are alienated by a selfish society. At a profound level they care more for social capital as we have defined it than for financial capital, for quality of life than for the value of property.

"Yet the structures and values built into the way society works often frustrate them. Ways need to be found to liberate the generosity of the people not only when an extreme emergency arises, but routinely."  [How about a return to the Catholic Faith?]

The document also touched on contentious issues such as the defence of human life, poverty and inequality, migration and community relations, the environment, marriage and family life and the role of faith communities.

The bishops described abortion and euthanasia as a "fundamental denial" of the common good.

They called for renewed efforts to support older people on low incomes, tackle persistent poverty and promote equality of opportunity.

They said the debate about immigration should not be reduced "simply to a matter of numbers", but must clearly distinguish between the different types of migration. Immigration policy, they said, should start from a recognition of migrants’ human dignity and the inalienable rights that follow from it. They also deplored politicians who "whip up fears, prejudices and anxieties" about immigration.

The bishops urged leaders to "work to protect the environment from permanent damage, for instance through climate change".  [Change?  How about the bishops telling Catholics to return to the practice of their faith and then get involved in the public square in a big way?]

They also highlighted the "tragic personal, social and economic costs" of family breakdown. Government should promote stable families, they said, without usurping the rights of parents. And they called on all political parties to support marriage as a key building block of a stable society.

The bishops wrote: "The future of society passes by way of the family. Families, for better or worse, are the first school of life and love, where the capacity to relate to others, to develop moral character, is founded. The tragic personal, social and economic costs of increased family breakdown are unmistakable.

"Whilst we recognise and applaud the many parents who, despite family breakdown, provide a loving and stable home for their children, we have also as a society to accept that the promotion and encouragement of family stability must be a high priority if this trend, so damaging to the common good, is to be reversed.

"Families require financial as well as relational stability, access to affordable housing, and fair conditions of employment that respect family responsibilities. Families have a right to a life of their own, and governments do well when they interfere as little as possible while supporting parents in the exercise of their responsibilities. But at the heart of necessary policy initiatives to support the stability of couple relationships, it is essential to support marriage

"Marriage brings considerable and measurable benefits to individuals, children, family life and society. It deserves protection. A strong future for marriage is both achievable and desirable.

"A more realistic view of married life should be encouraged and couples should be prepared with the skills to maintain and develop their commitment. There should be more resources for relationship support. Society has a vested interest in supporting marriage as the surest basis for family life. Politicians of all parties should recognise and support marriage as a key building block of a stable society." The bishops also expressed concern about threats to freedom of religion

"Care must be taken not to put obstacles in the way of religious belief and practice which reduce it to devotional acts," they said.  [How about helping Catholics be better Catholics so that they can act as a leaven in society?]

They added: "Partnerships between Government and faith communities should be mutually respectful and permit these communities to act with integrity in the provision of public services for the common good. This has long been the case in the provision of education and the benefits brought by that partnership are substantial and clear. Faith communities also have their part to play in the formulation of public policy and have a right to make a proper contribution to the life of our democracy."

In his introduction to the document, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the bishops’ conference, wrote: "We offer this statement as a contribution to the wider debate on the important themes of the moment. It forms a backdrop to the more particular issues which may well dominate the election itself. But it proposes that without a wider debate about a shared vision for our society, the electioneering may well be confined to bitter arguments over issues of particular policy. We need a more wide-ranging debate about the values and vision which can underpin all our joint effort today."

Choosing the Common Good is available from the bishops’ conference website, Tory leader David Cameron has offered to answer readers’ questions ahead of the election. If you have a question for him, please email us at or write to us at the address on Page 13 by next Wednesday.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Our Catholic Identity, SESSIUNCULA, The future and our choices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Henry Edwards says:

    I hope it is not impertinent of me, out here in the colonies, to suggest respectfully that their excellencies call next for a renewal of Catholic Britain.

  2. Leonius says:

    The Bishops need to take out the plank in there own eye.

    “the bishops addressed the crisis of trust in Britain’s institutions”

    They need to address the crisis of trust many of the laity have in this country concerning them due their failure to teach the Catholic Faith, obey Rome’s wishes, ensure proper discipline and stand up for the Church and the Pope against the attacks of Anti-Catholics.

  3. JuliB says:

    10 pages? That’s it? Seems a lot shorter than what the USCCB issued before our elections last year. It even appears to be ‘readable’ versus the committee-speak we had to wade through.

  4. Ed the Roman says:

    What did C. S. Lewis say about the dangers of doing the will of the Father if you weren’t prepared to know of the doctrine? ;-)

  5. New Sister says:

    More than a few British clergy seem embarrassed about being Catholic. What first jumps to mind is the Westminster Cardinal who had urged Tony Blair to keep his conversion to the Catholic faith private until he was out of office… and who doesn’t seem to have done much to catechize him either. (at least not properly)

  6. catholicmidwest says:

    Many people want to be good on a basic level. Even in the really perverse, there are moments of wishful trying. Life is worth living: remember that even in saying not, one is saying something and that is an act of living.

    The problem is that the Church must be made beautiful and compelling again. A person ought to be able to step inside a church, unlocked, and receive a breath of heaven on any anonymous day. It’s widely misunderstood how important this is.

    I’m trained as a philosopher. When people are in trouble, or they feel pushed by circumstances, unless they’re very well-experienced in the moral/spiritual life, they will tend to telescope their options into one or two, and generally at least one of those will be disastrous morally. Great swaths of evil come from this tendency, but it’s very human, especially in the absence of recourse. (Abortion is a good example of this.) Being able to step into a refuge in times of trouble, and being rehearsed to do so in order for it to become second nature, is a great help for all of us, from the most simple to the most experienced. Churches are essential: beautiful, unlocked, silent and inviting churches, particularly Catholic ones with tabernacles.

    For more on this topic, a good author is Sisela Bok.

  7. catholicmidwest says:

    Stepping into the church invites asking why, and how, and the moral life is awakened and the choices broaden. There are always more choices than people think.

    [This is why the abortion movement plays on the word choice. It’s a cruel joke. There are always more choices than are immediately perceived in those initial hours and days of a negative turn of events.]

  8. catholicmidwest says:

    New sister,
    I think there’s cultural expectation, and a long history there. People, even I think English people, think that the categories English and Catholic seem juxtaposed to one another in some way by history, temperament and practice. And it doesn’t help that the RC Church has some really abysmal music and slovenly English translations.

    Actually, I believe that the American English translations of nearly everything, from the Mass down to the CCC, are different from the British English translations, because of the crappy character of the American English translations and all the “exceptions” we seem to garner for some reason.

  9. Supertradmom says:

    Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us. Recently, a C of E bishop on British television, said that multiculturalism was a “mistake”. Perhaps, leaders are waking up to the loss of Christian culture. It is never too late…

  10. catholicmidwest says:

    Take it easy, Supertradmom,

    Christian life can appear anywhere. It doesn’t need to be dependent on a certain sort of civil arrangement which may be harmonious of sorts, but perhaps also dated and corrupt. Remember that Christianity flourished in ancient tribal Britain and broken Rome because it offers so much on its own over anything else available, by virtue of its truth. It flourishes and is growing like wildfire in Asia and Africa for this very reason.

    Catholics need to keep their eyes open and see through these cultural arrangements to the faith as it is preserved through the Church. Cultures change; the truth doesn’t.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    Courage. The church flourishes in times of upheaval, even though those times can be very frightening.

Comments are closed.