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Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Catholic in Politics: Lord Chris Patten on the Relation between Church and State

From an interview with Lord Chris Patten, who is overseeing the Pope's visit to Great Britain in September:

Interviewer: How can we define the relation between Church and State in your country?

Lord Chris Patten: It's important to recognize that they're separate. I've been in politics - I am no longer - but I've been a Catholic in politics. I've always voted my conscience, and that has sometimes meant that I've voted against governments, or opposed what governments are doing, both of the left and the right. I think it's very important when there are issues of morality arising about which the Church feels strongly for the Church to make its views very strongly, and it's perfectly reasonable for governments to engage in a debate about them - we don't want and we don't live in a theocracy. So there's an important if sometimes tense and stretched relationship between Church and State. I think that it's part of our liberal tradition that that should be so.

Let me give you an example of that, which doesn't directly relate to the Catholic Church. There's just been a discussion in France about the wearing of the burka, trying to ban it. Most of us in Britain, when we consider this question, think that's an intolerable infringement by the state of people's religious views. Similarly, if an Islamicized country, if people were trying to do the reverse, we'd feel very strongly about it. Now, it does sometimes produce arguments, but I think those are the sort of arguments that you are accustomed to in a free society.

I don't think that the British government and the Catholic Church see eye to eye on everything. I don't see eye to eye on everything with the British government. But I hope that it's possible for us to focus on the biggest issues where we see eye to eye: global equity, education, sustainable environmental issues, sensible disarmament, the role of faith groups like the Catholic Church in promoting social solidarity and a stronger sense of community - those are the big issues on which we see eye to eye; and occasional disagreements about this or that aspect of legislation, I'm sure, not in my view be dominating the agenda. So I don't think - I have to repeat myself - that everything the Church and a conservative government - a conservative liberal government - in Britain do will be on all fours, but by and large I think we're both trying to shape the world in a more civilized way.


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