Relevant to the coming election
Catholic Church election advice seen as endorsement for Tories
The Roman Catholic Church will this week present the Conservatives with an election boost by urging voters to consider the issues of marriage and the family when deciding which party to support.
In a controversial intervention in the political arena, bishops will publish a report warning that Britain has suffered from "increased family breakdown" in recent years, and that the cost to society has been "tragic". While the Church's 10-page document, offering advice to the country's four million Catholics, is not explicitly partisan, it will be seen as critical of Labour and as supportive of the Tories who have put marriage at the centre of their campaigning.
In the report, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, the bishops argue for a "revitalising of politics", warn that religion should not be "reduced to devotional acts" and stress the need to protect the freedom to express belief. It follows a series of high-profile clashes between Catholic leaders and the Government over the promotion of laws which critics say have threatened religious liberty in Britain.
The paper's emphasis on marriage will echo David Cameron's expressed support for married couples and is in contrast to Labour's claims that parents need not be wed to create happy families. A church source said last night: "The document is very much in line with Tory policy and it will be open to that interpretation, although it is not intended to be explicitly political in either direction."
The advice could influence the outcome of the election in key marginal seats, particularly in north-west England where the Catholic Church is particularly strong. The paper, which will be published on Wednesday for circulation to every diocese in England and Wales, is called Choosing the Common Good. The title is a nod to a similarly controversial 1996 document, titled simply Common Good, that was viewed as backing Labour ahead of the following year's election which swept Tony Blair to power.
The Church has refrained from stepping into election campaigns since then, but there has been growing disquiet at its highest levels over the direction the country has taken under Gordon Brown. Since he succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister, Catholics have clashed with the Government over a number of proposals that have been seen to restrict religious freedom.