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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Church and State

The Archbishop of Cardiff has joined with the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland to try and break down the longstanding separation of Church and State. In an apparent attempt to intimidate catholic politicians into voting for the Vatican's position on abortion, these clerics are now suggesting that those who do not do so should absent themselves from communion:

Archbishop Smith rejected arguments that MPs had to represent a larger constituency, including people whose views on abortion were at odds with the Catholic Church.

"A politician in these circumstances has a real difficulty, which I can appreciate," he said.

"But I would say that, because at the end of the day this is a question of a fundamental human right to life - which we all have and on which all other rights are based - if a politician said 'I must go along with the majority view of my constituents' then he ought to consider his position both as a Catholic and a politician."

There are many practising catholics who do not support the church's position on abortion. Whether they continue to attend mass and take communion is of course a matter for them. However, it is not for the church to try to influence the way that elected officials vote on complex matters of public policy. The next thing they will be suggesting that catholic MPs should vote to ban contraception (another catholic position).

Politicians have a responsibility to all their constituents and to the general public good. They cannot allow any church or religion to interfere with that duty. That is why the church was separated from the state in the first place. Senior churchmen should not seek to subvert the democratic process by undermining that constitutional settlement.
I'll repeat most of what I put on Ruth Gledhill's blog in response to the Scottish cardinal's pronouncement:

Nobody is forced to be a Catholic. If they cannot in good conscience stick to the rules they have set for membership, why should they expect special treatment?

That said, that's the hard core line. I'm catholic, a one-time minor politician and pro-choice. And I would be appalled if the cardinal judged me the way he appears to want to judge pro-choice politicians. I very much regret the loss of life involved with abortion. I would do anything to help people be able to make another choice, both during pregnancy and in terms of bringing up a child afterwards.

But I also believe, in the civil sphere, in pluralism. It would not be my position to force someone to do something (or in this case not to) because of a religious belief that they themselves may not hold. There are differences of opinion on abortion, and it is not the state's place to take the side of one minority faith position. In that way, I am pro-choice, in the legal sense.

If one were evangelically pro-choice as if it were a matter in which the church's teachings made no difference to one's opinion, then I don't see how one could expect to be "in full communion", as the cardinal suggests.

There is a huge conscientious difference between being "pro-choice" and encouraging abortion on the one hand, and against using the civil laws to enforce particular religious rules while personally working to persuade others against abortion and any catholic politician who takes the former stance should not consider themselves in full communion.

But the catholic church also demands that politicians ensure freedom of religious expression. Of course it's usually intended as a one-way street - that for example Muslim countries should recognise and tolerate Christianity, but they can't have it one way - if religious pluralism is okay for Iran or China then it must be okay for the UK.
"There is no pope." (Gertrude Stein)
The most objectionable part of O'Brien's remarks was his general condemnation of supporters, RC or not, of the UK's abortion legislation as mass-murderers and afflicted by blood-lust.

- Frank Little
I think the bottom line on this issue is that of conscience and the free exercise thereof. The Roman Church is not threatening excommunication as such (shows a problem when folk don't understand church jargon) its suggesting that Catholic politicians should not receive communion. In other words leaving it up to them.

The question I would like to ask. Is do Catholic politicians have the same right in the Liberal Democratic Party to oppose this? My understanding is that abortion in the UK has always been left to the individual's conscience, and not a party line (which I think is right). The Catholic Church believes that abortion (also now war and capital punishment) are moral evils in our society. The Church has every right to express a opinion on that which concerns them and their members.

As a seasoned observer of the “abortion wars” in the US, I can honestly say that many “pro choice” catholic politicians receive communion every Sunday (and sometimes everyday) and leave it to their conscience . I still remember though the shoddy treatment that great liberal Democrat governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey got at the 1992 Democratic convention. when they would not allow him to speak. Because he was pro-life.
I am a Catholic myself Mike, though I no longer practise precisely because of differences with the church on issues such as this and also theological matters such as transubstantiation and the infallibility of the Pope. I accept that excommunication is not being threatened but there is a clear attempt by these clerics to interfere in the workings of the state and to put pressure on catholic politicians to vote a particular way. I believe that is unacceptable. The Church has a right to express an opinion but they do not have a right in my view to try and assume the role of the state in such matters.

On your second question abortion is one of those matters that haa always been left up to the conscience of the individual. No party line is imposed on elected politicians in this matter, nor would somebody be prevented from putting their viewpoint if they were 'pro-life'. Although Republicans like to portray Democrats as Liberals, they do not always act like they are.
That’s why church and state should be kept apart.
It’s like trying to juggle with jelly otherwise.
Religious or spiritual beliefs are in quite a different box to politics
I thought history had sorted this. I agree Peter abortion is best left to personal conscience and each case also has its own circumstances, its not a matter for generalisation
Peter. There is a choice for Catholic politicians (I mean those who practice, as opposed to those who have left the Church like yourself)without the fear of excommunication. They can exercise their own free will in good conscience on such issues as abortion, or contraception. However the RC church does have the right to point out to their members what the consequences of their actions are in light of the teachings of their sect. This is not the same as Church interfering in the State as such. I agree that the Archbishop of Wales has the right to criticise the present GoW act, but others will condemn him (and have) for taking a political stand.

It certainly has precedence. Bishop Ambrose of Milan excommunicated Emperor Theodosius for the massacre at Thessaloniki. Pope Pius Xll condemned the Nazis in 1939. Would that be interference in the state?

No as much as I disagree with Archbishop of Cardiff views (which I suspect may be politically motivated, because he is regarded as a possible successor to Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor) He has the right to say it.
On this subject Roger Everest wrote a letter to the Echo last night.

Unfortunately it repeated the same mistake concerning "excommunication" and a misquote from St Irenaeus of Lyon about freewill. When I have time I will blog on this subject myself.
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