Cardinal 'bullying' over abortion

THE leader of Scotland's Catholics was accused of "hectoring" and "bullying" tactics yesterday after he questioned whether Catholic politicians who supported abortion should receive Holy Communion.

In a strongly worded attack, Cardinal Keith O'Brien said the equivalent of two Dunblane massacres a day were being carried out thanks to Britain's abortion laws.

And he questioned whether Catholic politicians who support such a practice should receive Holy Communion - a key part of practising the faith.

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Quoting Saint Paul, he said those who take Communion without a clear conscience are "sinning against the Lord".

Jim Devine, the MP for Livingston and a Catholic, said it was "unacceptable" for the church to try to influence politicians on any issue through making threats over their religious observances.

And Jeremy Purvis, a Liberal Democrat MSP, said Cardinal O'Brien was "hectoring and bullying" politicians on a very sensitive issue.

Following a renewed drive by the Vatican to influence politicians on ethical issues, Cardinal O'Brien used a sermon at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh to attack the abortion laws in Britain.

Speaking on the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, he said the practice is now being used as "an alternative form of birth control".

The latest figures show there were 13,081 abortions performed in Scotland last year, compared with 12,603 the previous year.

Cardinal O'Brien cited Madeleine McCann, the missing toddler in Portugal, to emphasise how precious human life is. He added: "We are killing - in our country - the equivalent of a classroom of kids every day. Can you imagine that? Two Dunblane massacres a day in our country. And when's it going to stop?"

"I ask them [Catholic politicians] to examine their consciences and discern if they are playing any part in sustaining this social evil. I remind them to avoid co-operating in the unspeakable crime of abortion and the barrier such co-operation erects to receiving Holy Communion."

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Failing to take part in the ceremony does not stop a person being a member of the church, but it is an important part of practising the faith.

Cardinal O'Brien said priests should not refuse Holy Communion in the cases of politicians who back abortion, but should discuss their decision with them.

Abortion is a reserved issue, but Cardinal O'Brien said the Executive could try to have the laws changed.

Teresa Smith, leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, welcomed the involvement of the church.

But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "There is an implied call to Catholic politicians and health workers to place Catholic doctrine above the wishes of the electorate. This is undemocratic and unacceptable."

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said women should have the choice.


"I have no difficulty with the Catholic Church expressing a view. What I do have a difficulty with is saying if you do not support those views there is a penalty: in this case questioning the right of a politician and practising Catholic to attend Communion - that is taking us into unchartered territory. Abortion is just a side issue in the debate the cardinal has initiated. What is next? Trident? The Iraq war?"

- Jim Devine, MP for Livingston, is Catholic but supports women's right to choose

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"As a very, very minimum, Catholic politicians should not be voting for laws that liberalise abortion.

My consistent experience ... has been that there are quite a number of Catholic MPs that have voted against the pro-life line."

Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP, is against abortion

"It is not right that we would be seen to be put under pressure, or indeed some members threatened, by a religious leader on what is a very sensitive issue. I think it's very unfortunate he has chosen to provocative language and a bullying tone against MSPs and MPs who every day balance their own consciences against what they think are the best interests of their constituents."

Jeremy Purvis, a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament

"We are all in the same position. The Church has its teachings and we are all asked to be guided by that. But make our own decisions in terms of our own consciences. The Catholic Church doesn't bend or sway to meet the position of individual politicians, doctors, or anyone, when it comes to life issues. Why would anyone consider it unusual for the Catholic Church to reiterate its 2,000-year-old position?"

Michael McMahon, a Labour MSP who is against abortion