Is Vincent Nichols actually George Clooney in disguise?


Vincent_NicholsIt must be contagious. First George enlarged on the advisability of returning the Elgin marbles to Greece, a subject with which he’s manifestly and self-admittedly unfamiliar.

Then Britain’s Catholic leader Archbishop Nichols accused the government of causing mass starvation by introducing some very marginal delays in processing welfare applications. In doing so he made some thunderous statements revealing that his ignorance of economics is similar to George’s of art history.

But this isn’t about knowledge or lack thereof. In both instances the speakers were driven not by reason but by a bien pensant, touchy-feely ideology with a strong red tint.

To see this in a Hollywood actor is predictable and inconsequential. To see this in a Christian prelate is devastating and damaging.

His Grace really ought to stick to his day job and concentrate on pastoral care based on the Gospels, rather than fashionable economic theories that have produced disaster everywhere they’ve been tried in earnest.

Specifically he should remind himself of Christ’s words “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18: 36) and “For ye have the poor with you always” (Mark 14: 7). Really, Your Grace, St Mark is a better guide to life than St Marx.

The first statement doesn’t mean that men of God shouldn’t busy themselves with life in this world. They should – but within their own remit.

In this instance they’d do well to keep in mind Christ’s second statement and accept that it’s not their business to offer economic solutions to material poverty. Their job is to offer Christian solutions to spiritual poverty – not to exacerbate it, as His Grace has done.

A priest should remind welfare recipients that expressing individual responsibility through work is at the heart of Judaeo-Christian morality, which is specifically reflected in God’s command “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3: 19).

St Paul went even further: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith” (1 Timothy 5: 8). And also, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3: 10).

It’s hard to detect in such injunctions a moral justification for the fundamentally atheist state increasing its own power by creating an army of spongers likely to vote for whomever offers bigger handouts.

Speaking to the poor, a Christian prelate should refrain from deepening the abyss of corruption into which they were pushed by the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent welfare state. He’d do better reminding them of the great Judaeo-Christian virtue of humility and submission to God’s will. If he could quote from the Book of Job, so much the better.

Speaking of the poor, he ought to remind the better-off that some people are poor through no fault of their own, and even those who have only themselves to blame can’t be denied shelter and food. He should then call for an act of individual charity, the giving of alms, in such a way that “thy left hand [not] know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6: 3).

Obviously, in common with the pimpled drug-addled youths of the ‘60s, my erstwhile co-author (His Grace and I both contributed to a collection of essays a few years ago) equates the welfare state with Christian charity.

Quod licet bovi,” Your Grace, “no licet iovi”, as we would have put it in the pre-Vatican II days. This slight paraphrase means that a would-be cardinal ought to be more rigorous in his thinking than unwashed chaps sporting the likeness of Che Guevara on their T-shirts.

State-run welfare isn’t the same as Christian charity. It’s more nearly its direct opposite.

For the purpose of Christian charity isn’t purely material, but also moral. It’s supposed to elevate both the generous giver and the humble recipient, thereby contributing to their salvation in the kingdom that’s not of this world.

The welfare state, by contrast, corrupts both the giver and the recipient by replacing individual charity with state largesse. Government officials steadily increase the size of the dependent underclass by debauching their economies for the sake of their own power.

Those millions who sponge off the state (and few of them are truly incapable of providing for themselves) are corrupted into a life of sloth, typically adorned with booze, drugs and promiscuous going forth and multiplying.

The economic consequences of this arrangement are there for all to see: rather than producing tax revenue, more and more people end up receiving it. This leads to huge holes appearing in public finances, and these are invariably papered over by extortionist taxation, profligate borrowing and heavy-handed printing of money.

Hence the economic disaster caused by exactly the same philosophy and practices the Archbishop finds so consonant with his religion. And hence also the government’s timid attempts – not to roll back the welfare state, God forbid – but merely to slow down a little bit its ruinous growth.

Grave as the economic consequences are (and will be), the moral damage is much worse. And here we enter the realm where the Archbishop could really offer solace and treatment. Instead he chose to emulate George Clooney.

This at a time when the Anglican church has cast adrift orthodox Anglo-Catholic Christians within its ranks. Pope Benedict’s generous offer of the Ordinariate and the general logic of Western Christianity point them in the direction of Roman Catholicism.

This creates an historic opportunity for the British Catholic Church to regain its ancient status as the main home for orthodox British Christians. And this is exactly the opportunity that His Grace is in danger of blowing, especially since most conservative Christians tend to be conservative in other ways as well.

One is beginning to see why Benedict XVI denied Vincent Nichols a cardinal’s hat – and why Benedict’s successor Pope Francis is about to award it. The words ‘birds’ and ‘feather’ spring to mind.

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