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Volume 2, Number 47              January 5 - 11, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Bishops defy Blair with tough anti-war message

By Sophie Goodchild 
Home Affairs Correspondent

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Leading bishops are to preach this Christmas against a war with Iraq in messages that openly defy Tony Blair and his government.

The sermons and Christmas messages will be seen as the church giving a prominent voice to widespread concerns about the seemingly inevitable push towards war.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Reverend Peter Price, will tell worshippers on Christmas Eve: "The sanctity of life precludes all war and violence. We must be guided by a vision of the world in
which nations stop seeking to resolve their problems through violence."

And in his Christmas message, the Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Right Reverend Richard Lewis, will warn against the desire for revenge in the wake of 11 September. "The question for all of us is whether we give in to that knee-jerk need for revenge and respond in that sort of way, or whether we address the essential questions of justice and peace that underlie that need. We must not let a desire for revenge affect our relations."

These tough lines emerged from a survey carried out by The Independent on Sunday of all 44 senior bishops in the Church of England. Of the 34 who responded, seven said they were unconditionally opposed to war. These include the acting Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverent Stephen Lowe, and the Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich, who sits in the Lords.

A further 25 were against war unless military action was sanctioned by the United Nations and even then only as a last resort.

In taking this line, they are following the lead of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Last week, Dr Williams used his Richard Dimbleby lecture on BBC1 to urge the church to take a stand on moral issues.

Outright opposition to the war goes further than the statement made by the House of Bishops in October. This questioned the morality and legality of war against Iraq and stated that force must be considered only as a last resort. This declaration was signed by all 44 diocesan bishops.

The survey also found there was not a single bishop that dissented from this line. In October, the Bishop of Rochester was the only senior member of the Church of England who said that the Government was justified in taking a militarily tougher stand on Iraq. However, his office declined to renew this statement when he was contacted by this paper last week.

The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, said that war should be a last resort and that he was still signed up to the October agreement. "The criteria for the definition of last resort are of great concern to him," a spokesman said. "We have to be absolutely sure of any facts and not propaganda."

Several bishops will also use their Christmas sermons to warn that hostility against Iraq will fuel racial tensions in multicultural communities. "To attack Iraq lowers the threshold of what constitutes a legitimate war totally unjustifiably," said the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Colin Bennetts. "Here in Coventry we have very close ties with Iraq. The people of Iraq have been severely disadvantaged and so to have an all-out war is not a position that we have any sympathy with whatsoever."

2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

22 December 2002


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