The Catholic Church says most Britons want to help one another
British society suffers from a lack of trust and neighbourliness, the Roman Catholic Church has said.
Its comments come in a pre-general election report called Choosing The Common Good.
The report says good citizenship and genuine neighbourliness are being overlooked and that people are being "alienated by a selfish society".
It also criticises the behaviour of British MPs as well as those in financial institutions.
The Church says society will rediscover its ability to trust by practising virtue. It outlines the importance of marriage for couples, and says the country has had "an expansion of regulation".
religious affairs correspondent
The Church insists its report, although deliberately issued ahead of the general election, is not designed to tell people how to vote.
Inevitably the document's dire warnings about the breakdown of the family and the "deep and pervasive" loss of trust in institutions might be interpreted as critical of Labour as the party in power for the past 13 years.
The reference to "obstacles" being placed in the way of religions in the practice of their faith seems slightly pointed too, given the repeated protests from the Church against government legislation which bishops claim has marginalised the voice of religion in the public arena.
But despite my repeated questioning about the report's political motivation at a news conference, all the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, would concede is that this pre-election report presents a vision of a better society, and challenges the parties to live up to it.
It adds: "Local institutions expressing good citizenship and neighbourliness, which are not beholden to the government, form a vital part of civil society."
The report goes on to say that trust has been "severely eroded".
It added: "Few need reminding of how major institutions have failed to live up to their calling.
"Members of Parliament have been pilloried for their use of expenses and allowances. Bankers have earned astonishing bonuses and brought the world economy close to collapse. The Catholic Church in our countries, too, has had to learn in recent years some harsh lessons in safeguarding trust.
"We understand the damage inflicted when trust is betrayed. The challenge for society is to build up our structures and institutions so that they command the same respect and trust as the individuals who represent them best."
The Church suggests a new Parliament is "a good opportunity for a new beginning, in which trust between the public and politicians can begin to be restored.
"It can only be earned when the conduct of politicians and all others in public life is plainly motivated by a sense of service to others.
"The crisis in the financial sector was in essence a collapse of trust in economic institutions. The restoration of trust in institutions, whether in politics or in business, places a particular responsibility on those in leadership roles.
"They set the tone and help shape the culture of the institutions they lead
"In place of virtue we have seen an expansion of regulation. A society that is held together just by compliance with rules is inherently fragile, open to further abuses which will be met by a further expansion of regulation. This cannot be enough."
Church leaders say in the report that they believe "the vast majority of ordinary British people instinctively want... to belong to a world in which people care for one another".
It adds: "Our society will rediscover its capacity to trust by the recovery of the practice of virtue, and through an ethically founded reform of many of our social and economic institutions."
The Church also said that it was "essential to support marriage" which should be "at the heart of necessary policy initiatives to support the stability of couple relationships".