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THE TABLET THE I NTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY

Founded in 1840

SHIFTING CENTRE GROUND

Ed Miliband and Mitt Romney could have a mutually sympathetic conversation about the difficulties of political opposition. Labour’s leader is coming under attack from his left – mainly leaders of the large publicsector trade union who accuse him of being too New Labour; the Republican front-runner’s main problems come from his right, who find him insufficiently illiberal.

The fact that he is also a Mormon is guaranteed to upset diehard Evangelicals. Both men, therefore, are faced with a form of political fundamentalism which demands undeviating adherence to traditional certainties. Both are trimming their sails to acknowledge the direction the wind is coming from, but not so much as to blow them off the course they have set.

They know that ideological rigidity does not go down well with the more pragmatic electoral middle. They also know that in British and American politics, the incumbent possesses the high ground. David Cameron has proved adept at stealing Mr Miliband’s clothes, not least by expressing disapproval of some of the excesses of free-market capitalism. The Prime Minister has largely succeeded in persuading the public that extravagant public spending by the previous Labour Government was responsible for running up a huge national deficit, which is the source, say the Tories, of most of the nation’s current troubles. Mr Miliband has yet to trump that with his counterargument that those troubles are being made much worse by public-spending cuts that are “too fast and too far”. The implicit assumption that some cuts are necessary, and furthermore will not be reversed if and when Labour returns to power, has offended Labour’s trade-union allies who are the source of 90 per cent of the party’s funding. This at least gives Mr Miliband the chance to sound brave and tough. But not being the creature of the unions is not enough of a narrative to explain why Labour should be running the country. Indeed, it is a truism that all mainstream British politics are variations on the theme of social democracy, and Mr Cameron may yet prove to be a better social democrat than MrMiliband. Certainly, he caved in quickly enough when public opinion – expressed mainly by Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords – refused to tolerate radical reform of the National Health Service.

All three major British political parties are thus well to the left of their American counterparts. The health-care reforms of President Barack Obama’s Democrat administration fell a long way short of offering an American equivalent of the NHS. Furthermore, many of his ideas were stolen from health-care reforms in Massachusetts, which were introduced under Mr Romney’s Republican governorship. Yet repeal of Mr Obama’s “socialised-medicine” project is high on the Republican list for the coming presidential campaign.

That will prove a telling debating point against Mr Romney. He, too, lacks a convincing narrative explaining why he should be in charge rather than the sitting President, or indeed rather than his two Catholic rivals for the nomination, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. The fact that all three stand united against abortion and gay marriage will attract moral hardliners just as much as it will repel America’s mildly liberal centre ground. But the real focus will lie elsewhere – as in Britain, on economic policy. That is something MrMiliband and Mr Romney really could talk about.

GAPS IN CHILD PROTECTION

The eight solicitors who wrote to The Times this week demanding a public inquiry into sexual abuse by members of the clergy may have weakened their case by overstating it. They say they have seen “clear evidence of cover-ups in some of our cases” involving the Catholic Church, which is undoubtedly – and scandalously – true. But they believe these are “the tip of the iceberg”, which is more contentious.

the solicitors also impugned, could reasonably ask why such an inquiry should be limited to religious institutions. Childprotection measures are just as necessary in secular institutions which deal with children. The head of the General Social Care Council was sacked two years ago after a report to Parliament found flaws in the investigation of abuse of children by social workers, with some 700 cases not properly dealt with.

The evidence for the existence of this iceberg turns on the alleged existence of secret archives in every diocese, in which are hidden, they maintain, details of many cases which have never been publicly disclosed. That is supposition, weakened by the fact that cases more than 10 years old are supposed to be weeded out from the archives every year, and they relate to trials under canon law by diocesan tribunals, which are rare.

These considerations do paradoxically strengthen the case for an inquiry. That would offer the Church a fair forum in which to demonstrate whether or not at least some of the allegations against it are exaggerated. More importantly, it would allow the full light of day to fall upon an area beset by both public misunderstanding and public unease.

The Church has put in place public-protection measures which ought to make any further cover-ups impossible. So why not let a public spotlight fall on those measures? Indeed, it is part of the Church’s standard answer to its critics that its processes are as good as any elsewhere in the world, or elsewhere in the whole field of child protection. Why not let that claim be tested?

The Catholic Church, along with the Church of England, which

Two wrongs do not make a right. However satisfactory the general level of child protection in the Catholic Church at present, there are still significant gaps which have come to light in schools run by religious orders, specifically the Benedictines and Rosminians. Assurances by the authorities notwithstanding, it took far too long for modern standards of child protection to catch up with institutions wrapped in their own complacent world. Much suffering resulted. Only now are the structural and administrative flaws in the Benedictine system being put right, so that schools are administered independently of the monasteries to which they are attached. Child-protection responsibilities have been passed from the orders to the dioceses, where they can be run with proper professional standards.

Finally, the resignation of Baroness (Patricia) Scotland as chairwoman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission because of commitments elsewhere suggests the need for a review of that post, allowing for a higher-profile leadership role, paid rather than voluntary, that could engage with the Church’s critics where necessary. The fact that these solicitors felt it necessary to write to The Times is evidence of the need for such a role.

2 | THE TABLET | 21 January 2012