The intervention of Cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nichols in the "welfare" debate was indeed embarrassing for the government. As far as the Daily Mail was concerned it demanded a response. So they have today published a lengthy piece by Dominic Lawson headlined: "A Lefty Archbishop who's generous with YOUR money - but not his flock's".
To call this article grubby is an understatement. Lawson is the son of Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has recently reinvented himself as the spokesman of climate change deniers. Dominic starts his piece with a slur, to direct his readers' attention away from the issue and towards the Catholic church's meanness when it comes to money. That paves the way for a kind of character assassination. Nichols, he says, "is entitled to his opinion" but clearly doesn't understand the issues - which concern "breaking the cycle of dependency", of course - and he doesn't understand how popular this is with his parishioners. But "Nichols's anathema owes more to political prejudice than to religious doctrine" because the Archbishop is "tribally Labour". Why is Nichols wrong? Here, Lawson fails, as Tories always do, to address the specific points. To say that the government has torn up the safety net is wrong because it is spending £94bn a year on working age benefits. That is a non sequitur. The safety net was a minimum income level designed to ensure that no one was completely without money, and that, as we know, has gone. Delays in paying benefits, as cited by the Archbishop? Well, they have actually gone down a bit since 2009/10. Food banks? Here it gets very dirty indeed. "Many users may be relying on it because they have spent too much of their welfare payments on less essential items, such as the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, which now litter every high street in the nation's less affluent boroughs." There is then one of those Tory untruths about Labour banning Jobcentres from pointing people towards food banks, and the Church of England's supposed support of this, and he ends by returning to his wife's little anecdote and using a cute biblical phrase about "motes and beams".
This is not journalism, of course; it's pure propaganda. Perhaps the Archbishop will be heartened by the fact that the government felt it necessary to respond through its mouthpiece, the Mail. And he will surely reflect that, according to the portrayal in the Christian gospels, Jesus was a Lefty.