Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Durham damns Blair as 'deeply unwise'

Durham damns Blair as 'deeply unwise'
The Prime Minister has announced that there will be no exemption for Catholic adoption agencies under the new Sexual Orientation Regulations. Instead, there will be a delay until the end of next year before they come into force, and during that time, Catholic agencies will have to refer gay couples to other agencies. The full statement, made in the Lobby this afternoon, Monday, is reproduced below, along with Ruth Kelly's response. Significantly, LibDem MP Dr Evan Harris welcomed it as the "first time" the Government has "stood up" to the religious lobby on a matter of public policy. His full statement is below as well. But the strongest statement came from Bishop Tom Wright of Durham. I was talking to him this afternoon on something else, to be blogged separately soon, and took the chance to ask him what he thought. He did not mince his words, and launched into an excoriating attack on almost every aspect of the present "Labour" Government. In fact, he was so angry he almost forgot to mention Iraq, throwing it in for good measure only at the last minute. The full quotes are below, but first, I was much moved this week to read my former colleague Andrew Pierce's testimony of his life as an adopted, gay Catholic. He actually supports the Church's stance - he was one of those who, without Catholic agencies, might have had a lifetime in care. There are lots of links to many interesting articles as usual at Thinking Anglicans and Anglican Mainstream. (Photo Gill Allen of The Times)
Dr Wright, in his car on his way to address a conference at Swanwick, was furious with the Government. "There is no way that the Catholic Church is going to change its mind on this one given 18 months or so." he said. "This completely fails to take into account the views and beliefs of all those involved. The idea that New Labour - which has got every second thing wrong and is backtracking on extended drinking hours, is in a mess over this cash-for-peerages business, cannot keep all its prisons under control - the idea that New Labour can come up with a new morality which it forces on the Catholic Church after 2,000 years - I am sorry - this is amazing arrogance on the part of the Government.
"Legislation for a nouveau morality is deeply unwise. That is not how morality works. At a time when the Government is foundering with so many of its policies - and I haven't even mentioned Iraq - the thought that this Government has the moral credibility to be able tell the Roman Catholic Church how to order one area of its episcopal teaching is frankly laughable. When you think about it like that, it is quite extraordinary. I suppose the hope is that in 18 months time there will be a different Prime Minister who might take a different view, and this will kick it into the long grass until then."
I am not sure there's much hope of Gordon Brown backing down on this one without alienating large parts of the party, but on the other hand, the prospect of losing thousands of badly-needed votes in Scotland might temper his opinion a little.
The Roman Catholic response from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was initially predictably muted. His critics will say that the Cardinal, having come out fighting a few days ago, has bottled it. (I wonder what the reaction will be in Rome? Will the Pope accept his resignation this summer, clearing the way for AB Nichols, who won the battle on education?)
But on the Today programme Tuesday morning, the Cardinal was in fighting spirit again. Asked about the Bishop of Durham's comments on this blog, the Cardinal responded: "There is legislation and legislation. Some legislation however well-intended does created a new kind of morality, a new kind of norm, as this does. The legislation about the adoption by homosexual people of children... it seems to me we are having a new norm of what marriage is. I think normally children should be brought up by a father and a mother. We hold that as extremely important. Clearly the Government has a right to legislate. Homosexual couples clearly are able to adopt in other agencies. But we want to hold on to that principle."
He also made the point that the Catholic Church does not intend to close agencies, but that they will lose local authority funding if they do not comply with the law.
By coincidence, the Catholic bishops' standing committee was meeting when the PM's statement appeared, so they had an opportunity to discuss it together. The Cardinal is clearly going to aim for some kind of deal, to avoid the Church having to close the agencies down. I understand the bishops were given some more detailed notes from Downing Street, outlining how this might be achieved, and the Cardinal's statement reflects that. Privately, some of the Catholic bishops are furious. One insider said: "Twenty-one months! It could have been 21 years. If something is morally wrong, what's the difference?" We can expect a more detailed response from the Catholics soon. Meanwhile, the Cardinal said: "It is clear from the Prime Minister’s statement that he has listened to some of the concerns of the Catholic Church in regard to its adoption agencies. We are, of course, deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience. We look to the forthcoming Parliamentary debate to address some of the fundamental issues centred on the well-being of the child, whose needs must always be put first. We note and welcome, however, the Government’s expressed desire that the experience and excellent work of our agencies is not lost, especially for the benefit of needy children. We appreciate the two year period that will be established for independent assessment. We note that one of its purposes will be to 'ensure the valuable expertise of faith-based adoption agencies in successfully placing the most vulnerable children, including the full range of post-adoption services, is retained and developed' (Terms of Reference). We understand that Local Authorities will continue to work with and fund our Catholic agencies in their vital and sensitive work during this period. This debate has raised crucial issues for the common good of our society. We believe there is an urgent task to reach a new consensus on how best the public role of religious organisations can be safeguarded and their rights upheld. An important part of our Catholic tradition is to work constructively with the Government in mutually respectful cooperation, in which we can act with confidence and integrity in the service of the common good."

Continues at http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2007/01/sors_sorted_sor.html

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The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...