Cardinal puts “insidious pressure” on politicians to get his way

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has called together over 70 Catholic MPs to press them to vote against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

The legislation has triggered a storm of religious protest, because it will lift the ban on animal-human hybrids in order to research diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Motor Neurone. The Catholic Church has also condemned the removal of a doctor’s legal duty to consider “the need for a father” when deciding on suitability for fertility treatment.

The unprecedented Vatican lobbying campaign follows the Government's refusal to bow to Catholic requests to grant Labour MPs a free vote on the Bill. Both Conservative and Liberal Democrats will enjoy a free vote, but Labour MPs will be expected to vote through a key part of the government's programme.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, sent this letter to The Times (unpublished at the time of writing): “Although everyone in a democracy has a right to take part in the debate, to lobby and campaign about political decisions, there is something very distasteful and worrying about the Catholic Church’s tactics.

“In some instances – such as in the last US election – the Church threatened politicians with withdrawal of communion if they did not support the banning of abortion. This is a particularly insidious kind of pressure, and raises suspicions that some MPs are not voting in line with the wishes of their constituents, or even with their own conscience, but on the orders of the Vatican.

“There have been several recent surveys that showed the Catholic Church to be out of step with public opinion on issues of personal morality, such as abortion, contraception, adoption, euthanasia, homosexuality and stem cell research. There is nothing wrong with them being out of step, but there is everything wrong with applying a very powerful emotional thumbscrew to our elected representatives in order to get their way.

“The Cardinal should tread carefully with his style of his lobbying. It risks raising hostility against his Church from those who see his activities as less than democratic.”

30 November 2007