only from believers?” Catholic commentator and academic, Dr James Kelly, judges such advice to be sound but observes “that it does beg the question as to when we should engage … and also whether such an approach fulfils Rome’s expectation that Catholic institutions should be not just effective but also distinctive in their work”. This conundrum is present elsewhere. During the development of the English bishops’ work on “social responsibility”, Archbishop Peter Smith, chairman of the bishops’ conference department of Christian responsibility and citizenship, received expert advice that he should focus on three key pri- orities to enable groundwork to be undertaken across Whitehall. Smith’s team rejected even the principle of such a planned approach. They opted instead to hold a major conference on “social responsibility” in Westminster to engage decision-makers on a day when most MPs had already returned to their constituen- cies for the Easter recess. This timing provoked mirth on Conservative backbenches, with one minister suggesting to me that such seeming lack of awareness “might explain Archbishop Nichols’ low profile with the Government”.
he joke had a serious edge, linked as it was to knowledge that Catholic public affairs staff are comparatively inexperienced when benchmarked
against the profile and track records in public relations, diplomacy, politics and industrial mission of their Anglican equivalents. “The Catholic Church has to be careful,”
says a former senior civil servant who worked on the papal visit. While much Catholic com- ment on the Pope in Britain described Benedict’s presence as a triumph, “from many civil service perspectives”, he says “it revealed the absence of know-how on the part of Catholic groups”. The Church was “organisa- tionally out of its depth and our evaluations showed that local and national Government had to save two of the events that were the Church’s responsibility … After such embar- rassment, it would be extremely high risk for the same community to suddenly claim it has very significant contributions to make to addressing welfare needs.” Cautionary words, indeed, given that in the past week Archbishop Nichols has announced plans for a “Bishops’ Charter” to provide a framework to the launch of a domestically focused all-embracing Caritas agency. “It looks”, says former Conservative front-
bencher Paul Goodman, “as if there is no Catholic public affairs plan … or, if there is one, that significant parts of the leadership disagree with it.” Whatever the outcome, the contrasts
between the Catholic and Anglican encounter with society and policy seem set to provoke new demands, potential controversy and inter- esting times as the Coalition marches towards its second anniversary.
■Francis Davis is a fellow of the Young Foundation and the author of a major study that looks at the public affairs strategies of national Caritas agencies in 22 countries.
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