Bishops attack politicians over 'offensive' language

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Britain's senior church leaders are to mount a stinging attack on both main political parties for their "offensive" criticism of asylum seekers, telling them to clean up their language.

Britain's senior church leaders are to mount a stinging attack on both main political parties for their "offensive" criticism of asylum seekers, telling them to clean up their language.

Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops will release a joint statement this week, condemning the Conservatives for their inflammatory views on asylum seekers and criticising the Government for its lack of generosity.

In a highly unusual move, they will be joined by the leaders of Britain's 1 million evangelical Christians, who usually steer clear of party politics.

The heavyweight grouping is to issue a joint communiqué criticising the Labour and Conservative parties for "hyping" the asylum seekers issue for political gain. They will also attack the Government's decision to hand out vouchers rather than money.

The call comes from the official church spokesmen on asylum, the Rt Revd Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Patrick O'Donoghue and the leader of the Evangelical Alliance, the Revd Joel Edwards.

They are now calling for formal talks with the main political parties to stamp out such inflammatory rhetoric. The statement to be issued this week will say: "What's needed is a response to people based on higher ideals than the ballot box or party political survival.

"That's why politicians from all the main parties should be sitting down with churches and other voluntary organisations in dealing with the issues of asylum and immigration."

It says that politicians from both parties have been pressed "beyond their capabilities" on the issue.

The Rt Revd Patrick O'Donoghue, the Catholic Bishop in West London, and spokesman for the Catholic church on the asylum issue, described the country as "a powder keg" of tension at present.

His words were echoed by one of the UK's senior black churchmen, the Reverend Joel Edwards of the Evangelical Alliance, representing more than one million Christians. In an address to be given tonight at St Martin-in-the- Fields in London, he will say that he is "disturbed and concerned by the recent pre-election rhetoric about asylum seekers that seemed to put political capital above humanitarian concerns."

His criticism will concern Tory leader William Hague, who has recently made overtures to Britain's evangelicals, addressing their Spring Harvest conference.

The call for the establishment of a cross-party symposium on asylum comes just days after the Catholic Bishops Conference meeting appealed to the Government to "help educate people about the reality from which asylum seekers have fled".

The mood of outrage was triggered last month by the new head of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who used his Easter television broadcast to criticise politicians of all parties for "demonising" asylum seekers.

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