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Archbishop of Canterbury ignites British debate on welfare, politics, and faith

Catholic World News - June 10, 2011

With a sharp attack on the British government’s welfare policies, the Archbishop of Canterbury has thrust the Church of England into a heated political debate, and exposed differences between the Anglican and Catholic bishops.

Dr. Rowan Williams, writing in the New Statesman, questioned the morality of policies adopted by Prime Minister David Cameron and his ruling cabinet. The government’s approach to welfare, the Anglican leader said, is causing “anxiety and anger” among the nation’s people.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the nation’s leading Catholic prelate, has generally been regarded as sympathetic toward Cameron’s government, viewing the Conservative Party leader as more supportive of marriage, family life, and religious involvement in public life. Although Archbishop Nichols, too, has questioned cuts in welfare spending, the more outspoken criticism by Dr. Williams has created a situation in which the Anglican hierarchy may be seen as opposing the Cameron government, with the Catholic hierarchy supporting it.

The harsh critique of government plans by the Archbishop of Canterbury has, predictably, drawn very different responses from commentators. In the left-leaning Guardian, Nick Spencer said that the Williams argument should be taken quite seriously. “Quite apart from the fact that the article is a model of clarity,” he said, “it is studiously even-handed.” William Oddie of the Catholic Herald thought otherwise. In answer to the Anglican leader, who had expressed discomfort with a debate that distinguished between “deserving” and “undeserving” poor people, Oddie questioned “who precisely has been using the seductive language of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor? The “quiet resurgence” of such language was so quiet that nobody else except Archbishop Williams seems to have heard it: does he have unusually acute hearing?”

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 10, 2011 6:58 PM ET USA

    This sounds like an excellent beginning for a rational debate on issues that certainly are bitingly relevant on this side of the pond. I only wish that Maggie Thatcher could join in.

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