‘MY MOTHER IS THE SAINT OF EVERYDAY LIFE’ THE SON OF ST GIANNA BERETTA MOLLA SPEAKS TO EDWARD PENTIN PAGE 7
www.catholicherald.co.uk December 11 2009 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)
Equality Bill threatens integrity of the priesthood, bishops tell Harman
BY SIMON CALDWELL
EQUALITY MINISTER Harriet Harman will ban the Catholic Church in Britain from insisting that priests remain celibate single men, the bishops have said.
Church leaders will be powerless to stop ordained priests from marrying women or entering into same-sex civil partnerships under the terms of Miss Harman’s Equality Bill.
Bishops would be unable to stop their priests from having sex change operations, living openly promiscuous lifestyles or engaging in any other activities seen as a legitimate form of sexual expression.
Richard Kornicki, a former senior Home Office civil servant who serves as parliamentary coordinator for the bishops, said the Church could also be open to prosecution for sex discrimination if it turned away women or sexually active gay men who presented themselves as candidates for the priesthood. “The Government is saying that the Church cannot maintain its own beliefs in respect of its own priests,” he said.
But if the Bill became law and the bishops defied the Government and stepped in to discipline errant clergy they could not only be sued for sexual discrimination but, in the worst-case scenario, they could also face imprisonment, unlimited fines and have Church assets sequestrated.
Miss Harman’s proposals will inevitably put the Catholic Church on a collision course with the state – particularly in the form of the powerful Equality and Human Rights Commission – over the issue of religious freedom if they become law.
The latest warning of the threat posed by the Bill was sounded in a briefing prepared this week by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for Catholic peers ahead of the Second Reading of the Equality Bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday.
The bishops explained that the Bill drastically reduces the ability of the Church to insist on the kind of lifestyles its employees lead.
The Bill says that only those
Equality Minister Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill could ban the Church from insisting on celibacy for priests, according to the bishops
PA Photos people who lead worship or teach doctrine can be expected to lead lives consistent with the moral teachings of the Christian faith.
But a senior QC has informed the bishops that even the wording of this clause makes it “unlawful to require a Catholic priest to be male, unmarried or not in a civil partnership etc, since no priest would be able to demonstrate that their time was wholly or mainly spent either leading liturgy or promoting and explaining doctrine... the Bill fails to reflect the time priests spend in pastoral work, private prayer and study, administration, building maintenance, and so on”.
The briefing says: “This contentious definition was drafted without consultation and has been maintained by the Government despite the concerns of the bishops’ conference and representations made by most religious bodies in the UK.”
Mr Kornicki said the Church had been protesting to the Government about the Bill for two years but Ministers had refused to budge. “If they stopped to talk to people who actually do the job they might have got the drafting of the Bill right in the first place,” he said.
The bishops are urging peers to fight to amend the clause to protect both the nature of the priesthood and the credibility of employees who would be “fatally compromised if their personal lives were openly at variance with the Church’s teaching”.
Neil Addison, the director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, which was set up to defend religious liberty against the excesses of the authorities, said the Bill was lethally flawed because it treated religious ministers as employees rather than office holders.
A barrister and expert on religious discrimination law, he said he doubted if the Government would be able to compel the Catholic Church to ordain women but said it would certainly not be able to order any priest how to behave once they were consecrated.
It means that Catholic priests would be able to live any lifestyle they chose as long as it was acceptable to the state.
Mr Addison said the Government was deliberately seeking a clash with the Church and was falsely claiming that European directive required British law to be changed. “The supporters of this Bill don’t understand why the churches don’t have women priests and gay clergy and they want them to have them,” he said.
“The supporters of this Bill are very ideological. They want transsexuals to sue to remain priests; they would love that situation.”
He added: “The exemptions for religion in existing discrimination law have all been tested by the courts and are all compliant with European law.
“The Government is saying we have to change some of these things to comply with European law but that is simply not true. It is simply a lie. This is the Government and particularly Harriet Harman putting their own ideology on top of European requirements.”
The Government has denied that the Bill would have such a damaging impact on the Church. “The definition of employment ‘for the purposes of organised religion’ in paragraph 2 (8) of Schedule 9 in the Equality Bill covers ministers of religion such as Catholic priests,” a spokesman said. “The Solicitor General [Vera Baird] explicitly clarified this during the Commons Public Bill Committee.”
In their correspondence with Church leaders civil servants have insisted that as long as all priests spent at least 51 per cent of their time leading worship and preaching the Gospel the Church would be protected from hostile legal actions.
But the bishops say the priestly ministry is so diverse – involving pastoral work, private prayer and study, administration and building maintenance, for instance – that it is impossible to guarantee that such a condition could be met. They also object to the Government effectively defining what priests must do.
The English bishops had earlier warned the Government that the Bill could effectively spell the end to public celebration of Christmas. They also said that Catholic schools and care homes could be forced to remove crucifixes and holy pictures from their walls in case they offend atheist cleaners.
An amendment to the Bill to protect the liberty of churches was voted down in the House of Commons last week. Tabled by Labour MP David Drew, it would have safeguarded the right of religious organisations to restrict their posts to people whose conduct is consistent with the Bible’s teachings. It was defeated by 314 to 170 votes.
Cardinal turns down offer of a peerage from Gordon Brown
BY ANNA ARCO
CARDINAL CORMAC MurphyO’Connor has turned down a seat in the House of Lords after consulting with the Holy See and his fellow bishops.
The Cardinal would have been the first Catholic bishop to sit alongside the bishops of the Church of England if he had accepted the Government’s offer of a peerage, but declined after talks with the Vatican. Gordon Brown has been eager to see other religious leaders sitting in the House of Lords and its members include the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks who received a peerage earlier this year.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, the Cardinal said: “I did consult widely with bishops, the Holy See and members of the House of Lords. Ultimately it was my decision to turn down the kind invitation of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.” While some bishops urged him to take the seat on the grounds that they believed it could gain the Catholic Church more prominence and power in the public sphere, others argued that such a decision would contravene canon law.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was asked to join the Congregation of Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples at the end of October. In the Congregation of Bishops, he will have the power to vote on candidates for sees around the world.
The Cardinal said: “Nearly seven months into my retirement and with two new busy posts in Rome, it would be very difficult to combine these two new roles with a seat in the House of Lords. In my retirement, I would hope to continue my service to the universal Church in the new responsibilities that I’ve been given.”
Editorial comment: Page 13
Pope to celebrate Midnight Mass early
Kenny Dalglish is Archbishop’s hero
BY ANNA ARCO
MIDNIGHT MASS at St Peter’s basilica will begin two hours early this year, prompting rumours about the Pope’s health.
Pope Benedict XVI will break from a tradition rigorously observed by his predecessor and will celebrate Midnight Mass at 10pm in St Peter’s instead of at midnight. The news, which was tucked away in the Vatican bulletin last week, sparked fears that the Pope, 82, was suffering from ill-health given that Pope John Paul II doggedly stuck to celebrating Mass at midnight even in his last years when he was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s and poor health.
But the Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi said: “There is no cause for alarm.”
According to Fr Lombardi, the Mass has been brought forward to “tire the Pope a bit less” so that the Holy Father can rest before delivering the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing on Christmas day.
BY ED WEST
ARCHBISHOP Vincent Nichols has revealed that former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is his sporting hero for the way he consoled victims of the club’s worst sporting disaster. Writing in Oremus, the Westminster Cathedral magazine, the Archbishop paid tribute to the Anfield player’s sense of duty towards the club’s fans.
“One player, in particular,
showed his true Anfield spirit during that time,” he said. “Kenny Dalglish...
spent endless hours in the months after Hillsborough talking with those caught up in the tragedy.
“For me he will always be one of Liverpool FC’s finest.”
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