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Warsi's resignation over Gaza war leaves Catholic Church 'exposed'

07 August 2014 | by Ruth Gledhill

The Church has expressed its regret at the resignation of Baroness Warsi as Minister for Faith and Communities. Baroness (Sayeeda) Warsi stood down on Wednesday, saying that she could no longer support what she called the Government's "morally indefensible" approach to the conflict. MPs and commentators have expressed fears that her departure will put further strain on relations between the Church and the Government.

The faith brief has now passed to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whose failure to attend the consistory where Archbishop Vincent Nichols became a cardinal was described by The Tablet as a new low in Tory-Catholic relations.

Days earlier, Cardinal Vincent Nichols gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph, in which he was strongly critical of the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms.

Baroness Warsi is a good friend of the cardinal and is regarded as a strong advocate of the Catholic Church and wider faith communities in the United Kingdom. Her speech at the Vatican two years ago, when she criticised “intolerant secularism” and called for faith to have “a seat at the table”, was particularly warmly received.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales regretted her departure, saying: “We are saddened to hear the news that Baroness Warsi has resigned from her role as Minister for Faith and Communities, and commend her tireless dedication and commitment to the advancement of international religious freedom, promoting the place of faith in the public square and highlighting the plight of persecuted Christians.”

But Francis Davis, a fellow of ResPublica, which specialises in public policy and faith, said he feared the Church was now in an “exposed position” because it had been too reliant on her support and now needed more political allies in powerful positions. This was amplified by Conservative MP Mark Hoban, a Catholic, who said: “The Church and its agencies need to build contacts with a wide range of Ministers and Conservative politicians and not rely on relationships with a few people.”

Baroness Warsi’s work was praised by Francis Campbell, former Ambassador to the Holy See, and now Vice Chancellor of St Mary’s University, Twickenham, who said: “I felt she brought a unique and rich perspective to British foreign policy in interfaith relations that will be greatly missed.”

The first Muslim to serve in a British Cabinet and the first female Muslim Minister, Baroness Warsi said in her letter of resignation that the Government’s approach [to the conflict in Gaza] was inconsistent with British values and the country’s commitment to international justice, and would become a basis for radicalisation.



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