Church Pressure On Catholic MPs ‘Sinister’

The National Secular Society has condemned as ‘sinister’ the news that a group of Catholic Labour MPs are threatening to defy the Government whip on embryology legislation, following a meeting with Cardinal Murphy O’Connor.

Reports suggest that up to 40 backbenchers are preparing to defy party whips in parliamentary votes on issues such as creating human-animal hybrid embryos and downgrading the importance of a father in the life of a child born through IVF treatment.

Their unofficial leader, anti-abortion MP Jim Dobbin, plans to meet Chief Whip Geoff Hoon this week and the Prime Minister next month to inform them about concern among Labour MPs. The move comes days after about 30 Catholic MPs from all parties met with the Catholic Church's leader, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and agreed to work more closely with church leaders on political issues.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “We would find it sinister if these MPs were having their votes dictated by the Catholic Church rather than the people who elected them. This meeting with the Cardinal, followed swiftly by these threats to rebel, suggest that the Vatican’s agenda is now being inveigled into Parliament and into law-making. Yet the Vatican’s policies on so many issues are completely out of step with the opinions and desires of the British public.”

Mr Porteous Wood said: “Naturally MPs should not vote against their conscience but, at the same time, if they are being elected as Catholic MPs with a Catholic agenda they should ensure that the people who elected them were completely aware of that. To be elected on a Labour ticket and then to discard that commitment in favour of religious demands is dishonest.”

The NSS has protested frequently at the tactics of the Catholic Church in pressurising politicians with veiled threats. “It is anti-democratic and undesirable in an open society,” said Mr Porteous Wood. “Politicians in the US have been threatened publicly with the withdrawal of communion and even ex-communication unless they changed their stance on abortion to the Vatican hard line. We do not want to see control of democratically elected representatives being exercised by the church, rather than those who elected them.

The Pope has made it clear that he expects Catholics in public life to follow Vatican doctrine.

December 11 2007