Bishop of Ely is criticised for being among 37 faith leaders urging voters to stay in Europe

Rt Rev Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely

Rt Rev Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely - Credit: Archant

The Bishop of Ely has entered the debate on the EU referendum by joining up with 36 other faith leaders to urge people to ‘vote stay’ on June 23.

The Rt Rev Stephen Conway added his name to a letter sent to The Observer claiming our membership of the EU is vital to preserving peace, fighting poverty and tackling the crisis over migration.

“Faith is about building bridges, not about isolation and erecting barriers,” says the letter that has also been signed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The letter has been criticised by a columnist for a Catholic newspaper who says a bishops’ conference earlier this year encouraged leaders to take a neutral stance on the issue.

In the Observer, Bishop Conway and other say: “As leaders and senior figures of faith communities, we urge our co-religionists and others to think about the implications of a Leave vote for the things about which we are most passionate.

“The past 70 years have been the longest period of peace in Europe’s history.

“Institutions that enable us to work together and understand both our differences and what we share in common contribute to our increased security and sense of collective endeavour.

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“So many of the challenges we face today can only be addressed in a European, and indeed a global, context - combating poverty in the developing world, confronting climate change and providing the stability that is essential to tackling the migration crisis.

“We hope that when voting on June 23, people will reflect on whether undermining the international institutions charged with delivering these goals could conceivably contribute to a fairer, cleaner and safer world.

But Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, columnist and preacher at St Hugh’s Catholic Church in Woking, wrote in the Catholic Herald that: “while the list of 37 names is interesting, far more interesting is the list of people who must have been invited to sign but declined to do so.”

Among the Anglicans there were few eye catching names, he said, and given that the letter must have been circulated to all groups this “represents a rather poor showing.”

“In the Catholic field it is even more dramatic. Two Catholics have signed,” he said.

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales produced a neutral statement advising faith leaders to think deeply, pray and vote accordingly without telling others how to vote, he said.