Leading article: A church with the power to divide, but also to heal

Under Archbishop Nichols the Catholic Church has much to offer

Share
Related Topics

We are often told that Christianity is steadily losing its grip on our national life. But while that might be true for many denominations, the outlook for one - the Catholic Church - is actually rather bright.

There are now believed to be more regular Catholic churchgoers than Anglicans, their ranks swelled by immigration from Central Europe in recent years. Indeed, some estimates put Roman Catholicism on course to be the dominant religion in Britain for the first time since the Reformation. This is a church considering how to manage expansion, not decline.

And now, in Vincent Nichols, it has a leader who promises to project the church's grass roots strength more fully into public life. The outgoing Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was not a particularly effective leader of English and Welsh Catholics. For all his warmth, he was never able to fill the gap left in national life by the death of Cardinal Basil Hume.

But Archbishop Nichols promises to be much more dynamic. His effective political campaign in 2006 against Government plans to control the intake of Catholic faith schools, in which he marshalled the support of parents in marginal constituencies, is a taste of what is to come. This is one clerical voice the political establishment will not be able to ignore.

But how precisely will Archbishop Nichols choose to exert this influence? His speech today criticising proposals to allow the screening of adverts for abortion services on television indicates that he will be just as socially conservative as any of his predecessors on issues of embryonic stem cell research, homosexuality and female reproduction.

Such a focus would naturally depress liberals. As the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, argued this week, the concerns of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly on homosexuality, do not reflect the concerns of its followers.

It is hard to believe, for instance, that many Catholics felt the Easter sermon two years ago by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, calling Scotland's abortion rate the equivalent of "two Dunblane massacres a day" was the image of their faith they wanted projected to wider society. Yet it is worth noting that, his views on reproduction apart, Archbishop Nichols is socially progressive. He had a guiding hand in the production of Common Good in 1996, a manifesto from Catholic bishops repudiating the materialistic excesses of the Thatcher era.

And he has long argued that the Catholic Church cannot be concerned only with its own well-being. This is welcome because the Catholic Church has a great deal to offer wider society. Even liberal secularists must acknowledge the welcome the church has extended to immigrant groups and its consistent championing of anti-racism. The values of charity and compassion espoused by the church are also pertinent, especially in a time of recession. Many Catholic churches around the country have been used as unofficial job centres and social welfare offices in recent years. That is the sort of pastoral care many Britons are crying out for today.

As long as it projects a generous spirit, and does not light the fires of division, there is no reason why the Catholic Church of England and Wales should not continue to buck the trend of gradual Christian decline.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test