First Academy event considers 'Broken Britain'

Four expert Catholics made up a panel at the first CV Academy Event last Thursday to consider how the Church can help to mend 'broken Britain'.

The term was coined by the Government to describe the UK's social and moral malaise, and the debate triggered by scandals in public life and the August riots.

Professor Philip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs joined Fr Timothy Gardner OP of the Catholic Education Service, Cathy Corcoran OBE, head of the Cardinal Hume Centre, and Mgr John Armitage, vicar-general of Brentwood diocese and chair of trustees of Anchor House, to consider concrete ways in which the Church can challenge existing orthodoxies and offer a new vision.

The event, chaired by Dr Austen Ivereigh, was attended by more than 45 people.

Professor Booth, editor of a book on Catholic social teaching and the market economy, argued for what he calls the "welfare society" to replace the "welfare state", and said Catholics should move from seeing welfare as something primarily offered by the state to being the responsibility of civil society. He called for more Catholic social action, based on the reciprocity and "associativeness" of Caritas in veritate, to replace the bureaucracy of the welfare state.

Fr Gardner, who is active in London Citizens, said schools needed to be at the forefront of promoting a vision of the person made for the community. The Catholic vision, he said, was "ineluctably political", concerned with forming the values and virtues of public engagement.

Cathy Corcoran, a trustee of the Caritas-Social Action Network (C-SAN) rejected the idea of Britain as 'broken', and said such talk did not square with the reality. But scandalous inequality and the devastating impact of cuts required the Church to come alongside the poor, and speak out for them, she said. C-SAN last week backed a Lords amendment tabled by Baroness Hollins seeking to maintain existing protections for benefit claimants against administrative errors.

Mgr Armitage, one of the pioneers of London Citizens, said the breakdown of cohesion and trust and the fragmentation of civil society demanded a morality explicitly centred on right and wrong. He cited the 100 days of peace initiative, in which 500 Catholic schools are reviving the ancient idea of an Olympic truce during the forthcoming Games, as an example of the Church helping to mend a broken society.

The 100 Days of Peace is based on the Sacred Truce of the ancient Greek Olympics, which enabled competitors to reach Olympia without being attacked as they passed through warring city states. It will run from Friday 8 June 2012 (50 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games) to Sunday 28 October 2012 (50 days after the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games). Some 200,000 children attending Catholic schools in London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent are being encouraged to prepare for the 100 Days in the same way that athletes will prepare for the games -- by training in the classical virtue of prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice. 

The discussion which followed highlighted the need for Catholics to develop a common language and coherent narrative -- a 'Catholic humanism' -- which will point to the value of what is not considered of value. It was also argued that the Church needs to learn better to tells the story of the huge impact the Church makes on society, in order to reject the secularist frame that faith is merely an individual matter of belief.



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