Church's social guide angers Clarke

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The Independent Online
The Catholic Church came under strong attack from both Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, and anti-abortion campaigners last night over its views on the economy and abortion contained in its new social teaching document

Almost every distinguishing practice of the Thatcher years is attacked by the 35-page document, although at its launch yesterday Cardinal Basil Hume, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, insisted it is not party political.

"Left to themselves, market forces are just as likely to lead to evil results as good ones. The end result of market forces must be scrutinised and if necessary corrected in the name of natural law, social justice, human rights, and the common good."

Mr Clarke, rounding on the Catholic bishops, rejected as "disastrous" their call on BBC radio for a statutory minimum wage. "If I had a Roman Catholic bishop here [I would tell him] the statutory minimum wage is a quite disastrous way of going about it.

You don't create more jobs that people can move to from benefit. What you do is destroy jobs and increase unemployment, particularly among the low-skilled."

Anti-abortion campaigners reacted with fury at the suggestion that Catholics might under some circumstances vote for pro-choice candidates. Phyllis Bowman, of the anti-abortion charity Spuc, attacked Cardinal Hume as "totally disloyal to the Pope". The document condemns abortion only as one of many evils afflicting modern society.

"I just feel a total sense of outrage," said Mrs Bowman yesterday. "If it were still legal in this country to kill Catholic bishops and priests, there is no doubt that the church would recognise the right to life as the most fundamental social injustice of the day."

At the launch of the document Cardinal Hume said: "We have to try to change the law but by a constitutional manner. A person has to vote in accordance with their informed conscience, and this could be different for different people. Abortion is immoral.

It is not worthy of a civilised nation." He added that the same thing was true of denial of rights to asylum-seekers.

The central theme of the document is that "The poor are not a burden; they are our brothers and sisters." It is never justifiable to create an alienated under-class to benefit the rest of society, say the bishops.

The document defends trade unions and attacks use of the market to set wages: "Employees have a duty to pay a just wage, the level of which should take account on the needs of the individual and not just his or her value on the so-called labour market

The Common Good, a statement by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, pounds 3.