Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Cardinal warns against debt blame

Cormac Murphy O'Connor
The cardinal said he was not happy about a 'blame game'

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor has distanced himself from an attack by Anglican bishops on the government.

On Sunday five bishops questioned the morality of policies and whether people should be urged to spend more. One said Labour was "beguiled by money".

But the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales disagreed and said he was unhappy with the "blame game".

He told the BBC when accusing anyone of immorality the blame should be spread much further than just the government.

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

'Root of all evil'

The Bishop of Hulme, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, accused the government of not telling people in debt to stop overextending themselves but instead urging them to spend more, which he said was "morally suspect" and "irresponsible".

In a separate interview, Bishop of Manchester the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch said he believed the government had "encouraged greed and a love of money that the Bible says is the root of all evil".

But asked about the comments Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, who is guest editing BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said: "If we are going to accuse people of immorality it is much further than the government, it is the whole country."

It is quite an important point that successful economies and societies are built on recognising that there are strong values that are absolutely crucial to their success
Gordon Brown

He said he was "not too happy with the blame game" adding: "Obviously, governments have a particular responsibility but so have the people, so have the cities, so have the communities, I always think that a change of heart begins locally.

"You can't bring it about just by government."

The government has been criticised by various church leaders over its plans to deal with the recession - which include a 2.5% temporary VAT cut aimed at boosting spending and requiring an additional 20bn on top of already high levels of borrowing.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said spending more to tackle the recession was "like an addict returning to the drug".

But Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, who has clashed with the government in the past over plans to make Catholic adoption agencies subject to gay rights laws, distanced himself from some of the criticism.

Asked about the claim the government had been "beguiled by money", he added: "I do not think that is the whole truth at all."

Earlier in an interview with Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the Today programme, he asked about the need for a moral ethic to underpin capitalism.

Mr Brown replied: "It is quite an important point that successful economies and societies are built on recognising that there are strong values that are absolutely crucial to their success - the value of hard work, taking responsibility, being enterprising but not taking irresponsible risks at the expense of other people."

In separate interviews, the five bishops attacked various aspects of Labour's economic and social policy - including the widening gap between the wealthiest and poorest in society.

But Cabinet Office Minister Liam Byrne said Labour had fought hard to narrow the gap between rich and poor.



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