What a difference a year makes. It was just last September that Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain and sounded the alarm about a culture that was losing its Christian foundation. In an interview before the papal visit, a Vatican adviser also described Britain as a “secular pluralistic country” that had “fallen prey to a new aggressive atheism.”
It’s no surprise that these comments were not well-received, especially by the European press. But what happened in Great Britain recently made me wonder if somebody wasn’t listening after all.
That somebody might have been British Prime Minister David Cameron. He had only been in office a few months at the time of the pope’s visit, but his recent comments after the London riots reflect many of the points Pope Benedict has made, not only in London, but since the beginning of his pontificate: Living without a moral compass or focus — as in God — just doesn’t work and can lead to tragedy and a complete breakdown in society.
Cameron was speaking in Oxfordshire on Aug. 15. His address followed widespread rioting in London and other English cities that left five people dead and resulted in the arrest of more than 2,700 people. The rioting began after north London police shot and killed a 29-year-old man.
Cameron said the riots that raged for several days in early August were “about an indifference to right and wrong, a complete absence of self restraint and a twisted moral code.” And he challenged fellow politicians and leaders in Great Britain and elsewhere to have the guts to finally stop tiptoeing around the ugly truth.
“Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment,” he said. “Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged — sometimes even incentivized — by a state and its agencies that in parts have become totally de-moralized.”
In the articles I read about Cameron’s address, I didn’t see any mention of God, but he did mention words such as family, duty, decency and self-control.
“People showing indifference to right and wrong. People with a twisted moral code. People with a complete absence of self-restraint.”
Some might think this isn’t so surprising coming from a politician who describes himself politically as a “mainstream conservative.” But Cameron can hardly be compared with a Rick Santorum or a Rick Perry — two American politicians very open about their Christian beliefs. Cameron describes himself as a “questioning Christian.” Maybe now the “questioning” is serving him quite well, as his words in the Oxfordshire address seem to indicate some deeper thoughts about a moral — maybe even a more Godly — focus for his nation.
The timing is also interesting. Cameron’s speech was given the day before World Youth Day opened in Madrid. Perhaps Cameron was bolstered by the profound statements of the many Catholic bishops, and the pontiff himself, who called for young people to get back to basics and “away from a relativistic culture which wishes neither to seek or hold on to the truth.”
Sometimes tragedy can open our eyes and our ears to drastic issues that need to be addressed and changes that need to be made.
The Church is always speaking to us in good times and bad times. Maybe more people, and even some in higher places of influence, are listening after all.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.