Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Sunday, 28 December 2008

Bishops attack 'immoral' Labour

The Right Revered Nigel McCulloch
The Bishop of Manchester accused Labour of being beguiled by money

Five Anglican bishops have attacked the government by calling into question the morality of its policies.

The bishops of Durham, Winchester, Hulme, Manchester and Carlisle told the Sunday Telegraph the UK was beset by family breakdown, debt and poverty.

Bishop of Manchester the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch said Labour was "beguiled by money" and "morally corrupt".

But Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell, who represents the Church in the Commons, said the comments were "nonsense".

'Inevitable come-uppance'

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Bishop of Durham the Rt Rev Tom Wright accused ministers of making promises that had later "vanished into thin air".

"We have not seen a raising of aspirations in the last 13 years, but instead there is a sense of hopelessness. While the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer," he said.

The government isn't telling people who are already deep in debt to stop overextending themselves
Rt Rev Stephen Lowe
Bishop of Hulme

In a separate interview with the paper, Bishop McCulloch echoed those criticisms, just days after he used his Christmas Day sermon to warn that society was facing an inevitable come-uppance for its "buy now, pay later" culture.

The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the Church's Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, said he feared Britain would simply return to a "financial system based on indebtedness" after the current crisis.

"The government isn't telling people who are already deep in debt to stop overextending themselves, but instead is urging us to spend more," he said.

"That is morally suspect and morally feeble. It is unfair and irresponsible of the government to put pressure on the public to spend in order to revive the economy."

Bishop Lowe, who is bishop of Hulme within the diocese of Manchester, later told the BBC he wanted to see an end to "the notion of greed, of getting something you want immediately using the credit card".

Meanwhile, the Bishops of Carlisle and Winchester claimed ministers had squandered their opportunity to transform society.

The Rt Rev Graham Dow, the Bishop of Carlisle, said: "I agree with the Conservatives that the breakdown of the family is a crucial element in the difficulties of our present society.

"The government hasn't given sufficient support to that because it is scared of losing votes."

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said while it was not the first time the Church and state have clashed in recent times, the bishops' language was "particularly robust".

Only last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury launched a public attack on the government.

Dr Rowan Williams said Gordon Brown's plans to spend more in order to tackle the recession were like an "addict returning to the drug", and suggested the economy had been going in the wrong direction for decades.

'Bishops' palaces'

We've all got to make ourselves more responsible
John McFall, Labour MP

Sir Stuart Bell MP, who is the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the Church's representative in the Commons branded the criticism as "nonsense".

He said: "Not only is the government seeking to help those on lower incomes, it is leading the fight in the Third World to relieve poverty - a task Gordon Brown pursued in all his years as chancellor and since as prime minister.

"It is also nothing short of nonsense to say that the government's policies are designed to win a future election. They are designed to assist all sections of the community through the difficulties that face them.

"Possibly the bishops would prefer the proposed policies of the Conservatives, to reduce taxes by reducing public expenditure - thus ensuring the closure of schools and hospitals and a reduction in services - in which case they would allow themselves the luxury of further criticism."

Sir Stuart added that it "ill-behoved" those who lived in "bishops' palaces" to condemn government policies aiming at alleviating poverty.

But Labour MP John McFall told the BBC he believed there was "a kernel of truth" in the bishops' remarks.

"It's important for people to look at this in a moral dimension - right and wrong - and to ensure that we bring back some of the responsibility that was evident many, many years ago when people had to save up for things," he said.

"We've all got to make ourselves more responsible and if that's what the bishops are pushing out, that message, then I'm on their side."

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