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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Christianity 'almost vanquished in UK'
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor leads 4.1 million Catholics
Christianity has been "all but eliminated" as a source of moral guidance in people's lives, according to the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor also lamented the fact people were "indifferent" to Christian values and the Church when he addressed the National Conference of Priests in Leeds.

"In our countries in Britain today, especially in England and Wales, that Christianity, as a sort of backdrop to people's lives and moral decisions - and to the government, the social life of the country - has now almost been vanquished," the Archbishop said.

He added that music, new age and occult practices seemed to be replacing Christ as something in which young people could trust.


Now we know much more and are prepared to learn, act and lead the way in making the Catholic Church the safest possible place for children

Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

Society had been demoralised, with people seeking transient happiness in alcohol, drugs and pornography, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor continued.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's comments echoed his own views.

He said there were many challenges facing the church but equally many opportunities too.

The remarks come against a background of a steady decline in attendance at mass and a worsening shortage of priests.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who is leader of 4.1 million Catholics in England and Wales, also warned against "apathy" and "negligence" in cases of child abuse.

"We must recognise the depth and the extent of the damage done to the Church and its mission in these cases," he said.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said priests, and especially bishops, had not been sufficiently aware of the "insidious" and "pathological" nature of child abuse or treated all allegations seriously enough.

But he added: "Now we know much more and are prepared to learn, act and lead the way in making the Catholic Church the safest possible place for children."

Paedophile priest

Between 1995 and 1999, 21 of the 5,600 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of offences against children.

In July, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor himself acknowledged he had made a mistake after it emerged that as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton he appointed a paedophile priest as chaplain to the Gatwick Airport chapel despite concerns about his behaviour.

Father Michael Hill, who was released from prison last autumn, served three and a half years of a five-year sentence imposed in 1997 for nine sex attacks.

They included one on a boy with learning difficulties who he had met at the chapel.

Dr David Voas, a demographer at the University of Sheffield, said the Church of England was losing about a million members every five years as people who were baptised died without being replaced.

He said: "Religion is being passed down like a recessive gene, it does not generally appear in the new generation unless the parents match.

"With this pattern of transmission, further erosion in church affiliation is almost inevitable."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The Church is talking but fewer of us are listening"
Father Mark Langham, Westminster Abbey
"The Church can be a bit abstract"
 VOTE RESULTS
Is Christianity still relevant in today's society?

Yes
 56.99% 

No
 43.01% 

4629 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

17 Aug 01 | Scotland
Schools 'fail' on religion
05 Apr 01 | Scotland
Parents in Catholic school fight
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