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Cardinal interviewed on 'Live with Alistair Stewart' on ITN

posted on 13 December 2004
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor speaks on Posh and Becks 'Nativity' scene, whether Britain is still a Christian society, need for political leaders to speak out of moral conviction, state of family, gay marriage, war on terror, relations with Muslims, detentions without trial, euthanasia, stem-cell research, and the need for a bioethics committee.

Transcript follows.

(Alistair Stewart begins with news piece on withdrawal of Posh and Becks from 'Nativity' scene at Mme Tussaud's after they were vandalised).

AS: I mention all of that because the head of the RC Church in England and Wales said that the modern-day nativity as depicted was disrespectful. So, is Britain becoming a less Christian society as the deputy head of the Church of England [the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, on Frost programme on Sunday] has suggested? For the views of the RC Church I am delighted to be joined by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. We started off with Posh and Becks because, as I was explaining to you during the break, to make a broader and more general point. David Hope, the second-most senior Anglican, said at the weekend that it's increasingly difficult to describe Britain as being a Christian country. Do you think you knew what he meant, and do you agree with it?

+CMOC I think I know what he meant, and I agree with that. Everybody says that Britain today is a secular society, which in a sense tries - but not totally successfully - to put religion on the periphery of society. In other words, it's a private matter - don't let it interrupt our public life. I don't agree with that; I think people try to do that, but even though - and I accept this - Britain is a secular culture, I think religion, and in particular Christianity, not only has something to say to this country but also that people want to hear it.

AS: But do you also believe, if that is the case - others would argue it very differently - therefore that there is a logical extension to that, that leads to things like binge drinking, that leads to underage sex, that leads to the growth in teenage pregnancy and what have you, because people have lost their sheet anchor?

+CMOC: I think that's true. You see, the sheet anchor of any society is the family, is the local community, is the wider community, and respect for wider values. Once those things are under attack, and diminished in different ways as they are in our society, then you're going to get quite a large amount of society that will be not just restless but bereft. What are my values? Are they just what I think or is there a common set of values which I adhere to, or try to adhere to?

AS: Neil Kinnock famously, when he was leading the Labour Party, talked about the 'me-now' culture that he thought was fundamentally wrong. And that was very much in an economic context - he was comparing himself with what Margaret Thatcher was offering then. But Iain Duncan-Smith, who is on the programme later on this morning, has just produced this intriguing pamphlet, 'Britain's Conservative Majority', where he says to his own party, and more broadly, 'look what happened in America - the moral majority. Engaged by George W. Bush. Against the odds, George Bush re-elected. There is a political upside to that analysis which they don't seem to be getting.'

+CMOC: I think that's true. I would have said that there is what I would call an undercurrent in Britain today, that holds values which they are rather afraid, or find difficult, to articulate. Most people I meet do want stable family life, do want, not just the law to be kept, but for there to be respect for the individual and respect for human rights, and also values that are beyond the purely material. We live in a consumer society; if you live in that kind of society, people are valued not for what they are but what they own. That's very negative. Because the real values are not 'me, me, me'. The real values are, what about society? What can I give? What is my part in the community? Because without that, you become very selfish.

AS But you can contribute to that debate, as you are this morning, and people like David Hope can as he did at the weekend, and many other thoughtful church leaders. But ultimately it is our secular politicians who craft the law. It's Gordon Brown who says here's some extra money if your child happens to have been born out of wedlock; here's the tax regime that recognises increasingly people do not live in holy wedlock but have different ways of ordering their lives; here's an examination of the age of consent for gay sex, and here's legal recognition of gay marriage Do you believe that they are letting the collective down?

+CMOC: Two things. One is that pouring money into social problems is not the answer. Money has to be provided, but people say we want more money for this, we want more money for that. But you know, a lot of these things, it's not money, it's the will of people out there to live, it's by the attitudes and commitment of the people there. That's what has got to be looked at; then money. With regard to the other issues, regarding gay marriage as you mentioned - marriage is marriage. It is fundamental to any society. And marriage is the union of a man and a woman and, please God, with procreation of children. Now that is fundamental. You do not want to call anything else by the name of marriage. Other people have rights, of course they have, in law, and we should be committed to those, but let's not take away from the rock, the cement, of society, which is the family. And it's the family that, it seems to me, has been diminished in our society, partly because of the consumer culture in which we live, partly because of the difficulty of - it's a bad word, but I'll use it - 'stickability'. People think if I don't like this after a while, then I'll change. This also happens in the marital life. So I think a sense of commitment to vocation, and serious vocations - obviously marriage is the main one - is absolutely crucial to the health of our society.

AS: I'll stick my neck out here, but do you sense - I know you're not a political leader in that sense, but you are the leader of a very significant community within this country, and related to a very significant global community - would you like to see politicians, many of whom purport to be men and women of the Church, not least Tony Blair, our own prime minister, Gordon Brown, whose father was a church of Scotland minister, taking a clearer view on these moral issues, rather than tinkering with the economics and the social security system?

+CMOC: People say that religion and politics don't mix -

AS But they have done for 1500 years, then it all went horribly wrong!

+CMOC: And it would be a sad day if there wasn't an impact of religion on the political life of this country or any country. And therefore I think, while politicians are not there to be religious leaders they're there to be politicians. But they must be informed by values that are of a moral nature. In all social policies, for instance, they must ask, 'What is the impact on the family of this policy? Does it help family, solidarity, or doesn't it?' The view of the family is ultimately religious. So, do I want politicians to speak out more on religious matters? Not especially. Do I want them to speak out on matters that are moral, and on what they stand for? Why not? I think that people like our present political leaders - and I'm referring not just to the prime minister - that I've met, do seem to have religious values, and it wouldn't be a bad thing if they stood up for them in a different kind of way. That they speak out of their own convictions in this matter. They're not necessarily denominational - or even necessarily religious. Or they could be Muslims, for example. Or Jewish. But they could say, 'this is what I deeply belie
1. Muslim leaders - Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor met Sheikh Zaki Badawi and five senior British Muslims on 3 November at Archbishop's House for the first formal meeting of its kind since he became Archbishop of Westminster.

2 . Stem-cell research - the Cardinal is here referring to his desire for a statutory national bioethics committee of the sort that exists elsewhere in Europe, rather than the HFEA model, in which a small subcommittee of ethicists rule on individual cases without reference to a wider debate. Lord Winston and a leading IVF clinician, Mohammed Taranassi, have made similar calls in recent weeks.
Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 13 December 2004

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