Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

MP attacks 'PC' Church leadership

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams (right)
The Church is too timid in its pronunciations, the MP said

A Conservative MP has launched a fierce attack on the Church of England, saying it lacks leadership and is "overcome with political correctness".

Henry Bellingham said too few Anglican bishops were prepared to "stand up for basic Christian beliefs" for fear of causing offence to minority religions.

He praised Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu as one of few senior clergymen willing to take a lead on key issues.

The Church of England queried the MP's remarks, saying it was in "good heart".

Mr Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, made the comments during a parliamentary debate on religion and the monarchy.

A private member's bill calling for the 300-year old Act of Settlement, which prohibits a Catholic from succeeding to the throne, was withdrawn after ministers failed to support it.

Ministers, however, have held a "dialogue" with Buckingham Palace about possible changes to the law, which also give male heirs precedence in the line of succession.

Opponents of reform say it may threaten the Crown's relationship with the Church of England, which the monarch officially heads.

'No fit state'

Mr Bellingham, the shadow justice minister, suggested the Church of England was in "no fit state" to engage in such an important debate because of its internal weaknesses.

Morale was low, church attendance was declining and many church buildings were falling into disrepair, he claimed.

Henry Bellingham
When it comes to standing up for basic Christian beliefs, all too often again, all we see is a deafening silence
Henry Bellingham

Mr Bellingham, a member of the Church of England, said self-confidence among senior Church figures was low and thinking in some areas was muddled.

"I think one of the reasons why Church morale is low is because of the way in which the leadership in my church is, at the moment, distinctly lacking," he said.

"I only wish that they would stand up more proudly and put a stronger case for Anglicanism."

He continued: "All too often they do take the easy way out.

"When it comes to standing up for basic Christian beliefs, all too often again, all we see is a deafening silence.

"It just seems to me that too many bishops are overcome with political correctness, they are riven by a feeling of guilty about speaking up for anything which might even cause remote offence to minority religions and they are obsessed with multiculturalism."

'Great men'

Senior clergyman should follow the lead of "great men" such as Dr Sentamu and the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, in speaking out about the central role Christianity must play in society.

"I just hope that other bishops will follow in their footsteps," Mr Bellingham added.

Bishops regularly champion the cases of individuals facing injustice
The Church of England

The Church of England said it did not recognise "the picture" the MP had painted.

"The Church of England is in good heart, with attendances broadly stable over the past five years," a spokesman said.

"We have two inspiring archbishops and they and other bishops regularly champion the cases of individuals facing injustice and also speak out on issues ranging from the economic crisis to family life."

Separately, ministers have been urged to rethink plans to sever official links with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) after one of its senior officials made remarks seen to be offensive.

Deputy secretary-general Dr Daud Abdullah faced calls to resign after it was alleged he signed a public declaration of support for Hamas which ministers said condoned violence against UK troops.

But a statement signed by Dr Abdullah and other senior MCB officials said the body did not "condone, encourage or support attacking British soldiers or warships in this country or anywhere in the world".

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