The Bulger Murder: Church 'strangely silent' on morality

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The Independent Online
CHURCHES WERE yesterday criticised by a Home Office minister for being 'strangely silent' on the importance of teaching children the difference between right and wrong.

The comments by David Maclean, a Minister of State, in the wake of debate over the Bulger case, were described by senior Anglican sources as 'bizarre'. They came as Dr David Sheppard, the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, said the two 11-year-olds convicted of the murder could be redeemed.

Speaking at a conference on juvenile crime organised by the Children's Society, a Church of England voluntary body, Mr Maclean said: 'As a Presbyterian, I find myself in the extraordinary position of saying that, apart from the Papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor - which was instantly dismissed by the media - the Church has been strangely silent.

'It is surely part of the problem that while the Church spends its time discussing social issues, such as housing, politicians are left to talk about the importance of the difference between right and wrong.' In his 10 years as an MP, Mr Maclean said, there had been no national campaign by the church to teach children about issues of right and wrong.

In a report published yesterday, the Children's Society said the system of dealing with young offenders was 'in disarray', with unacceptable court delays, inflexible sentencing powers and contradictory legislation. It had also suffered from under-funding.

Defending government policies, Mr Maclean said poverty, unemployment and poor housing should not be used as an excuse for crime. The problem was that too many children grew up without a proper family background and a respect for authority.

Emphasising that 'no one has blamed single mothers for crime', he added: 'Evidence and traditional common sense supports the view that, on the whole, children have a better chance in life if they have both a mother and a father helping to bring them up.'

Speaking on BBC Radio, Dr Sheppard said sometimes people accused the Church of being soft on criminals because it insisted that the Gospel was about forgiveness. 'People confuse forgiveness with condoning. There is no condoning the sheer evil of what they (the boys who killed James Bulger) have done. But they can be redeemed. We are not consigning them to the dustbin.'

Church leaders rejected Mr Maclean's comments. The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev David Konstant, head of Catholic education in England and Wales, said: 'The difference between right and wrong is taught daily by the 2,526 Catholic schools in England and Wales. The same applies to other church schools throughout the land. This may be one reason why places at these schools are in such great demand.' But he added: 'Parents are the first teachers of right and wrong.'

A senior Anglican source described the speech as 'bizarre and ill-informed saloon bar philosophy'. A spokeswoman for Lambeth Palace said it had asked for clarification of the speech.

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