Gospel views that touch Tory nerves

BY IAN MACKINNON

As Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, approaches his fourth anniversary in office, he can look back on several controversies he has excited among politicians and commentators.

His supporters and advisers argue, of course, that these have not been intended as direct attacks on government policy, merely areas encompassed by the gospel on which he feels he must speak out.

Those who attack him see it differently. They say his interventions in areas which impinge on policy are, at best, unwelcome, or worse, not the business of churchmen. He has refused to be put off.

Perhaps the speeches which have provoked greatest apoplexy among politicians are his comments about poverty, and the injustice of the growing gap between rich and poor in Britain.

His Christmas message in a sermon at Canterbury Cathedral portrayed poverty and selfishness as the "pits of darkness" of British life and as such demanded the immediate attention of all. For good measure, Dr Carey repeated his views on much the same themes during his Easter message.

In a similar vein, Tory politicians were angered last year by his description of Britain as a "pretty ordinary" country, a "fragmented, divided society which has lost its empire". The education system too came under attack: once second to none, it was now "pretty mediocre", he said.

Cutting overseas aid was another move over which the Archbishop felt unable to maintain his silence , even though it smacked of direct attack on policy. He urged that the Government should have the "moral courage and self-respect to increase it".

Even his trips abroad have been interpreted as hostile to the Government.

Most notably, on his trip to China he was seen as conniving with its government when he unexpectedly praised its policy towards religious freedom even though many observers had seen Peking's proposals to create a register of churches as an effort to curtail religious rights.

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