Smashing up homes, cars and shops and attacking police were a way of providing “release” and “escape” for troubled young people, according to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Price.
He told the Church’s General Synod that the events of last August, which claimed five lives and devastated communities, were “evil”.
But he added that it was hardly surprising that young people had turned to mass criminality in England’s major cities because they had been “condemned” to lives with no hope in run-down areas.
He also suggested that consumerist capitalism should also share blame for the actions of those who stole trainers and other designer goods.
He was speaking as he presented an official Church response paper to the riots, which argues that those who took part should not necessarily be blamed for the actions and that we are all responsible.
The report, titled “Testing the Bridges”, urges people not to “confuse” crime and sin.
It argues that the riots should be understood through the idea of “structural sin”—the theory that wider society should share responsibility for the actions of individuals.
The report also repeatedly attempts to blame the media for what happened and suggests that police were heavy handed.
It goes on: “We saw how some clergy and others were working with the concept of structural sin which recognises how people on all sides of conflicts can face moral choices that are not between what is clearly right and clearly wrong but which are necessitated by circumstances in response to situations where much has gone wrong already.
“Christian beliefs about sin prevent them from stereotyping others and from dividing the world between good and evil in ways which ignore the complexity of moral contexts.”
Bishop Price told the Synod: “I have no intention of being sentimental about the people, mainly young people, who took to the streets last August and destroyed property, ruined other people’s lives and walked off with looted trophies.”
“Riots embody appalling evil and criminality and those who get drawn in often display great wickedness.
“But as the Passionist priest, the late Fr Austin Smith, said after the Toxteth riot in the 1980s, rioting can be, literally an ecstatic spiritual experience.
“Something is released in the participants which takes them out of themselves as a kind of spiritual escape.
“The tragedy of our times is that once again we have a large population of young people who are desperate to escape from the constrained lives to which they seem to be condemned.
“Where hope has been killed off and with no prospect of escape, is it surprising that their energies erupt in antisocial and violent actions?
“In a consumer society is it surprising that lusting after high-status goods is seen as a way to find meaning.”