"Churches and politicians must work together" claims Cardinal O'Brien in  
homily to City of Edinburgh Council.  

Speaking at the "Kirking of the Council" at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh  
today (Sunday 9 May), Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien called on Churches and  
politicians to work together to alleviate the City's problems. At the same  
time he called on civic leaders to recognise the City's "longstanding  
Christian identity" pointing out that although falling church attendance  
posed challenges for Church leaders - even greater falls in election turnout  
posed huge challenges for politicians. Cardinal O'Brien noted;  

"Between 1998 and 2002 church attendance in the City of Edinburgh fell by  
10%. Meanwhile, between 1999 and 2003, turnout at local government  
elections in the City of Edinburgh fell by over 20%, more than double the  
fall in church attendance!"  

He added that while local elections attracted around 179,000 electors every  
four years, the City's Christian churches attracted 40,000 worshippers every  
week. Consequently he said, the City's Christian identity was "central to  
the life of our city and one which should be respected and reflected in  
civic life"  

Concluding, the Cardinal asked civic leaders to consider among other  
priorities; the plight of the homeless in a city with soaring house prices  
and strategies for dealing with teenage pregnancies where, he asked  
councillors to accept, "the reality that our present value-free approaches  
are not working and consider a return to lessons concerning abstinence and  


Notes to editors:  

1.Cardinal O'Brien is Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and President  
of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland  

2. The full text of the Cardinal's homily is shown below  

SUNDAY 9 MAY 2004  


We celebrate the Kirking of the Council this year as always during the  
season of Eastertide. Very beautiful readings have been presented for us but  
I simply remind you of one read in our churches shortly before Easter  
concerning the events on the night before Good Friday. We are simply told by  
St John in his Gospel:  

Jesus ¦ ¦got up from the table, removed his outer garment and, taking a  
towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and  
began to wash the Disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel he was  
wearing ¦ ¦.. If I, the Master and Lord, have washed your feet, you should  
wash each others feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what  
I have done to you .  

I think it is with our thoughts looking back to that episode in the Gospels  
that churchmen, as also those called to serve in the City Council of the  
City of Edinburgh, should be here today.  

Role of Church in politics:  

Perhaps I should begin these words by indicating that my own Church and I am  
sure every other Church supports the work of politicians. We are frequently  
in great admiration of the tremendous volume of work undertaken by those in  
political service “ often at great cost to themselves, their own private  
lives, and the lives of their families.  

While recognising the great apostolate of those in political service,  
however, we must recognise that, as the Bishops stated at the Second  
Vatican Council: The Church and the political establishment are separate .  
A division of Church and State when properly understood is indeed necessary.  

It is part of the role of the Church to propose principles for reflection;  
criteria for judgment; and guidelines for action “ but it does not propose  
˜Church solutions for Society at large. There is indeed a legitimate  
freedom in temporal affairs which the Church encourages. People of goodwill  
can disagree on particular policies and approaches in facing the challenges  
of society. But the Church asks that they always be in conformity with the  
moral law. Christians in particular need to apply their faith with integrity  
to their daily life and evangelise society from within.  

It is very important, especially where a pluralistic society prevails, that  
there be a correct notion of the relationship between the political  
community and the Church, and a clear distinction between the tasks which  
Christians undertake, individually or as a group, on their own  
responsibility as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience,  
and the activities which, in union with their pastors, they carry out in the  
name of the Church. The Church, by reason of her own role and competence, is  
not identified in many ways with the political community nor bound to any  
political system. One might say that the Church is at once a sign and a  
safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.  

I think it is necessary that if the Church and the political establishment,  
though separate, are to work together each must understand the other and  
exactly where and what they are at this present time.  

Where are the Churches now?  

I think the Churches must be brutally honest with themselves as to just  
where they are at the present time. At a recent sermon in St Columba s by  
the Castle in late March marking the 5th anniversary of the Scottish  
Churches Parliamentary Office I spoke of the previous role of the Church of  
Scotland particularly the General Assembly. As we know in previous centuries  
the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was the nearest thing there  
was in Scotland to a Scottish Parliament. It was at the General Assembly  
that the most important issues of the time were discussed “ and not only  
discussed but the proceedings of the General Assemblies over the years were  
avidly studied by those who took part in them as well as by politicians and  
people alike. As a young man in Scotland I remember following the debates  
on ˜Bishops in the Kirk , issues which interested so many young people like  
nuclear deterrents, and then of course the role of women in the Church and  
in Scotland itself. One might say that over those years the Church of  
Scotland had indeed a very powerful voice. I know that at this present time  
the Church of Scotland does ask itself whether or not that same voice is  
being heard at this present time “ or perhaps even more fundamentally is the  
voice strong enough to be heard at all.  

Speaking of my own Church I would say that there is indeed a certain reality  
about just where the Roman Catholic Church is in our community at this  
present time. Statistically we know that Scotland s Catholic population has  
dropped below one million to nearer three quarters of a million; Mass  
attendance is greatly reduced; and in common with other Churches there is a  
manpower crisis in the priesthood. But as with the Church of Scotland the  
Roman Catholic Church tries to be more fully aware of the reality of the  
present situation. I spoke about this in my own Cathedral prior to Easter  
when I said we must realise that we are now living in a ˜real Church rather  
than a ˜virtual Church, the Church in which we might like to be living at  
this present time. I stressed that there is no point in harking back to days  
of yore when there were a great number of priests, when priests had a  
considerable amount of time to spend on visitation of their parishioners in  
their own homes, and so much was done for the lay faithful by priests rather  
than by people themselves. Reality is what must strike us at this present  
time “ for many decades the Church has been teaching that all are important  
in the Church and that each person clerical or lay has a wonderful  
apostolate to build up the Church and our communities in our country. Pope  
John Paul II speaking to the laity wrote: You have a wonderful vocation and  
there are many and varied forms of mission open to you!  

I think that the same reality is striking the members of each and every  
other Church whether the Episcopal Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church  
or other different groups “ reality is part of our way of life!  

Where is politics now?  

Having spoken about the Church I would also ask politicians to have that  
same reality about politics “ whether at international or national level or  
indeed here at local level within the City of Edinburgh. While our Churches  
may face many challenges, so too do you as elected representatives. Between  
1998 and 2002 church attendance in the City of Edinburgh fell by 10%.  
Meanwhile, between 1999 and 2003, turnout at local government elections in  
the City of Edinburgh fell by over 20%, more than double the fall in church  
attendance! At last year s local government elections, 179,000 electors in  
Edinburgh turned out to vote, representing 51.8% of the electorate. On an  
average Sunday in our city over 40,000 Christians attend a church service “  
a fall on previous figures, but still a very substantial number week by  

I am sure that questions are being asked about just who our politicians  
represent. How many of our people will bother about voting in a Referendum  
of the European Union whenever it does take place. How many do vote in  
elections at this present time “ at European level at national level or at  
local level here in the City of Edinburgh. We are aware that our elected  
representatives only represent a very small proportion of our constituents.  
I would say it is incumbent upon politicians to ask themselves why is this  
taking place “ just as church members must ask why the small proportion of  
Christians giving support to the Churches into which they were baptized and  
of which they are members.  

I am sure many will question and are continuing to question the cost of our  
politicians. Just a few days ago the cost of the Scottish Parliament was  
being quoted as being one of the highest in the world. We are told that a  
major international study stated that the Scottish Parliament s 460 staff  
represents the highest number per head of population and per elected members  
of the Parliaments surveyed across the western world; and the size of the  
Scottish Parliament has also grown dramatically since the first plans were  
drawn up in 1998. I am sure many people must ask the same of the costs of  
our local and city councils and those at other levels of organisation in our  

People at this present time are indeed looking for value for money “ and  
they have a right to expect it! Perhaps as there is a need of ˜reality  
churches there is also a need for ˜reality politics ! Our politicians must  
show that they really do care for their people; that they have been called  
upon to serve not simply to rule from on high. They must show that decisions  
are not made in the backrooms of meetings of political groupings “ but  
rather that decisions are open and transparent and come with the backing of  
the peoples who have elected the various representatives.  

A reality must be brought home to our people that their vote does matter;  
that they can and do have an influence; that they matter to politicians just  
as politicians say they matter to them and not just immediately prior to  

Ongoing work together:  

I did say that members of the Church and politicians must indeed work  
together and I re-emphasise that at this present time.  

In the reality politics which I am encouraging we must surely be aware of  
the following:  

· Despite the soaring prices of houses in Edinburgh and people  
apparently flocking to buy them, we must be aware of the reality that there  
are still many ˜homeless people and the Churches are often asked to help in  
every way possible;  

· Despite the fact that we are told that our standard of living is  
better than ever before, is the reality not the case that there are more  
women and men lying around our streets begging for money from ourselves and  
from visitors to our City than took place in previous generations;  

· We must acknowledge that despite the fact that various projects have  
been attempted to reduce teenage pregnancies here in our own city, there is  
a tremendous number of pregnant teenagers and increasing numbers asking for  
abortions; perhaps we need to face the reality that our present value-free  
approaches are not working and consider a return to lessons concerning  
abstinence and fidelity, which we were taught in our own youth and should  
surely be repeated today;  

· Despite the love and care lavished upon our parents and grandparents,  
is there still that same love and care being lavished upon our elderly at  
this present time “ or is the reality that many are suffering and being  
abused for no real cause;  

· The figure I quoted earlier of over 40,000 Edinburgh residents  
attending Christian churches every week, represents only part of the 75% of  
our population, who describe themselves as Christians. Our longstanding  
Christian identity represented in this great place of worship, where we  
gather today, is not only part of the landscape of our cities, but for most  
of us part of the landscape of our hearts and souls too. It is an identity  
central to the life of our city and one which should be respected and  
reflected in civic life.  


We must face the reality of our situation at this present time. As  
politicians and as church people facing that reality, we must try to improve  
society, we must try to help our people have better lives in whatever ways  
we possibly can.  

To serve is a noble vocation! To serve in politics and to serve in the  
Church “ these are both noble vocations of service.  

May God inspire us at this time of prayer and worship together and help us  
all to fulfil our roles ever more effectively, not only for our own good,  
but for the common good of the peoples of Scotland and throughout the  

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