Has the Vatican defeated secularism in Britain – or is this just round one?

Editorial by Terry Sanderson

The champagne corks must be popping at the Vatican this week, as Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor reports to his boss, Joseph Ratzinger, that the campaign of bullying, hectoring and lies that he and his colleagues have waged over the last few weeks against the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill, has paid off.

Or has it? Maybe this is only round one of the longer game.

Although Gordon Brown has said that the Catholic rebels in his ranks can have a free vote on the three elements of the Bill over which they have most concern, they must still vote for the Bill in its entirety. It is almost certain that there is a majority in the Commons to pass this legislation, so unless the Catholics can, with the aid of more misleading propaganda, convince MPs to vote down the individual clauses, the Vatican’s victory will be Pyrrhic. The legislation will survive intact, and the people who have made most fuss about this will have to consider their positions.

This whole unedifying episode has shown the lengths to which the Catholic Church will go to get its own way. It has lied about the science involved, putting out scare stories about “Frankenstein monstrosities” knowing full well that most people don’t really understand what is involved. Ratzi’s foot soldiers in the Labour Party — especially the cabinet ministers Ruth (Opus Dei) Kelly, Des Browne and Paul (Papal Knight) Murphy — have virtually blackmailed Brown into a climbdown with their threats of resignations. They were backed up by a dozen other Catholic ministers, who recently attended a meeting with Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, to urge them into disobedience. Perhaps they should read the speech by John F. Kennedy, when he was campaigning for the American presidency and asked just how much his own Catholicism would influence his politics.

The “Catholic conscience” — which is increasingly reactionary and regressive — is suddenly able to dictate the direction of our ruling party. What about other peoples’ consciences? What about those of us who want embryology research to proceed, in the hope that one day it will lead to the alleviation of unimaginable suffering?

When the Bill comes back to the House of Commons we will have to see what the next tactic will be from the politicised pulpits of the Catholic Church. Will their success spur them on to new triumphs? Will it, indeed, be the Vatican that conquers secularism in British public life?
See also:
Unscrupulous liars in bishops’ robes by David Aaranovitch
Polly Toynbee: Why should MPs have a free vote on embryology bill?
Also see:
The Embryology Bill explained
How the church exploits secular uncertainty
Will the pope use his visit to America to interfere in the election there?
28 March 2008