Archbishop Nichols has got it right about the Big Society

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster (Mazur/

About a month ago, I wrote a blog with the following headline and subheading: “Our bishops supported Labour for so long that no one will listen if they criticise the Tories: In fact, from a Catholic point of view, the coalition is doing rather well”. Now, after three months of this government’s ministrations, Archbishop Nichols has given a Sunday Telegraph interview saying more or less the same thing about the government (though not, of course, about the bishops).
But before looking a little more closely at his views on what is already rather crassly being called “the Cleggeron”, I must interject a brief comment on something else he said: it was a criticism of the Vatican for not being more deferential to the media over clerical sex abuse: “The Holy See can do a lot better”, he declared,  “in its understanding of how the media perceives things and how important those perceptions are.”  The fact is that what we need to be saying to the media is that they HAVE JUST GOT IT WRONG (possibly willfully).

For the evidence is now piling up (largely unreported) that the Catholic Church is not only NOT a paedophile organisation, but that it is no more paedophile than  society as a whole, and possibly even considerably less so: according to evidence collated by Dr Thomas Plante of Stanford University for instance,  children who have anything to do with priests are between 1.6 and 4 times LESS likely to be abused by them than by other males in the general population, teachers and so on. THAT’S what the archbishop should have told the Telegraph (does he even know it?), and what we all need urgently to get into our heads (I shall return to this subject in more detail next week).

But to return to the archbishop’s views on Mr Cameron. We heard again about his nearly falling off his chair at the Prime Minister’s pledge to work for “the common good” (he thinks Mr Cameron got this from the Catholic bishops’ pre-election document Choosing the Common Good). He is, he says, “encouraged at the echoes of Catholic teaching emerging in the language of the new Coalition Government”.

I’m sure he’s right about that, though I doubt if the then leader of the opposition actually read the bishop’s document himself; after all, he didn’t need to: this kind of thing was part of his thinking long before the document appeared. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t come under Catholic influence: but I think the specific Catholic influence is much more likely to have been Iain Duncan Smith and his Centre for Social Justice, who when the Centre was set up five years ago called for a “blend of social justice and the common good” (lots about both in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) and called on governments to “reject the imposed-from-above, politician-controlled models of welfare” insisting that “Hope will flourish if government changes course and invests in self-helping… communities”. Anyway, fingers crossed. The archbishop is surely right to respond positively to Cameron’s Big Society: let’s hope it all goes somewhere.