The Bishop of Manchester said cuts will affect the most vulnerable in society
The Bishop of Manchester has urged the Government not to "cut compassion" from society amid wide-ranging public spending cuts.
The Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch said David Cameron's plans for a big society may be "a good idea" but must not be an excuse for ignoring the weak.
He also warned that the Church would not be silent on the issue.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said the Government was committed to minimising the impact of cuts on the worst off.
Speaking at a meeting of the Manchester Diocesan Synod, the bishop called for compassion to become a feature of political debate.
But in rolling out plans for a 'big society' to empower communities, he said the government had misused the word "fairness" in promoting its policies.
"Fair can be a weasel word," he warned.
"Political use of the word 'fairness' can encourage envy and, in its facile implication of the desirability of equal treatment, can make worse the lot of the already disadvantaged.
"The 'big society' may be a good idea, but it must not become a camouflage [for cuts] and nor must the churches, other faiths and voluntary societies - themselves hit by cuts - become a department of government."
Drawing from recent examples of cuts, including the proposed removal of bus fares for children attending faith schools, the bishop said it showed how compassion could make a difference.
"The truth is that compassion is not always fair," he said.
"It may mean paying the bus ride for a child to go to school.. and it must recognise that whilst, clearly, rigorous cuts must be made, those who are especially vulnerable merit exception."
In a statement, a Cabinet Office spokesman said that while cuts "had to be made" the government was "committed to minimising the impact on those who are worst off."
"The state simply cannot replace compassionate communities where people help each other. However, the state can support people who want to make a difference."
He added that the government wanted to give charities and voluntary groups financial independence from state hand-outs as well as cutting away the red tape.
"Even if cuts were not necessary we would support a big society and give the people who know how things can be done better the power they need to get on."
In an echo of the 1980s when church leaders clashed with the then Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the Bishop said it was the duty of the Church to speak out "to protect the vulnerable."
"The litmus test for a society or nation is how the weakest members are treated," he said.
"Our calling as a church, in the communities we serve and the nation to which we belong, is to make sure, by the appropriateness of our words and our actions, that compassion is not cut from our society.
"For without compassion this land will be a mean, selfish and impoverished place. May God save us from that."