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THE CATHOLIC HERALD MARCH 16 2012

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Petition surges ahead after bishops’ letter is read out

BY ED WEST

SOME 50,000 people signed a petition opposing same-sex marriage over the weekend after the bishops’ letter on the topic was read out at Masses across England and Wales.

Over 180,000 people have now signed the petition organised by Coalition for Marriage (C4M), which was established last month to oppose the Government’s plans to introduce same-sex marriage.

The campaign is also backed by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, as well as a number of senior

Anglicans, Catholics and various other religious leaders, as well as 12 MPs.

Meanwhile a poll commissioned by Catholic Voices has found that seven out of 10 British people oppose the Government’s plan to redefine marriage, and more than eight out 10 think that children have the best chance in life when raised by their biological parents.

The ComRes online survey of more than 2,000 people also found that most people think the state should promote marriage and that most people support the idea of civil partnerships. The poll was published last week alongside a Catholic Voices briefing paper setting out the secular case against same-sex marriage. Called “In defence of conjugality: the commongood case against same-sex marriage”, it gave the arguments about the meaning of marriage, the reasons that it is promoted by the state, and the impact of changing that ideal.

Two polls conducted over the weekend showed that 78 per cent of people do not think the Government should prioritise re-defining marriage

Activist stops priest from reading letter on marriage before the next election, and that only 35 per cent of Conservative voters supported it. Another poll, for YouGov, found that 63 per cent of people believed that David Cameron was backing plans “for political reasons”, rather than out of conviction.

Mr Cameron has personally endorsed gay marriage, which is believed to be part of his drive to “detoxify” the party’s image. He has previously apologised for Section 28, an amendment of the Local Government Act 1988 that forbade local authorities from promoting homosexuality.Francis Maude, the modernising Cabinet Office minister, said in a speech last week that the party would lose the next election if it did not change its “backwardslooking attitudes”.

Ministers are expected to lay out plans for same-sex marriage in a consultation paper later this month. Although Mr Cameron will face a considerable rebellion of 100 Tory backbenchers, any measure is certain to pass with the official support of both the Liberal Democrats and Labour. The scheme is expected to propose civil gay marriage, with churches left out. But lawyers for the Church of England suggest that churches may well be forced into conducting samesex marriages, despite assurances from David Cameron and his ministers.

Lawyers working at the Church of England’s Church House headquarters have conducted an analysis of equality laws and concluded that it will mean churches have to treat gay couples asking for a wedding in the same way they treat heterosexuals. The fear that churches would be affected by discrimination laws in the same way as Catholic adoption agencies, which were forced to sever their links with the churches or stop placing children with adoptive parents.

Currently churches do not need to offer civil partnership ceremonies to gay couples because they are legally distinct from marriage.

A paper for the General Synod said: “If Parliament were in due course to legislate for same-sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister, we would of course be in new territory.”

BY ED WEST

THERE were minor disturbances last weekend when priests up and down England and Wales read the pastoral letter by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark urging Catholics to oppose same-sex marriage.

Priests across the country also encouraged Catholics to join the online “Coalition for Marriage” petition opposing Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for gay marriage.

Some priests did not read the address nor ask people to sign the petition. Blogger Fr Ray Blake said: “I have had a few emails from people who say their priests refused to read it or make it available, one where the priest read it and then said he entirely disagreed with it! I think those are likely to be exceptions.”

Protests were largely muted. Only two people turned up outside Westminster Cathedral, which has often attracted protesters in the past, holding a placard to protest against the message. They were described by a worshipper as being “civil and polite”.

At All Saints Church in Teignmouth, Devon, one gay activist disrupted Mass and filmed himself doing it, placing the clip on the videosharing website YouTube.

The man interrupted the priest as he was about to read the address, saying: “I just wanted to see if anyone felt as uncomfortable as I do on this. I feel very uncomfortable about you making judgments about my lifestyle.

“Examine your conscience and feel how you feel about it. And if you feel as uncomfortable as me maybe you’d like to join me in walking out of church.”

No one followed him out. In their pastoral letter, Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Smith said that changing the legal definition of marriage in Britain would “be a profoundly radical step”.

The priest was interrupted by a protester as he was about to read the letter to Mass-goers

They said: “Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved.” The two Church leaders said that there would be “no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children”. Editorial Comment: Page 13

Equality Minister Lynne Featherstone says that strong language opposing same-sex marriage ‘belongs in the Dark Ages’ PA photo

Minister attacks ‘Dark Age’ critics BY ED WEST

THE GOVERNMENT’S Equality Minister has suggested that Christian leaders who oppose same-sex marriages vigorously belong in the “Dark Ages”.

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, told the Sunday Times: “This is about love and commitment and things that are good for society and families, it is a matter of celebrating love and commitment. I have heard homophobic language used in connection with this very loving and progressive step.” She said such language “belongs in the Dark Ages”.

“This is a live-and-let-live policy,” Mrs Featherstone said. “We have no wish to cross over into territory that is not ours, no desire to stop those who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“They [the opponents] do not have to agree with this. But we will have to agree to disagree because for those who want to express their love in a civil marriage, then I think the state is here to facilitate that and to encourage it and rejoice in it.”

Mrs Featherstone criticised comments by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who described samesex marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”.

“I totally respect religious views but I think that sort of intemperate language has been misjudged,” she said.

“I think most people, gay or straight, would find the cardinal’s comments offensive.”

The question of same-sex weddings in church “would have to be addressed in the course of that new legislation”.

Last week on Question Time gay pop star Will Young said that vicars who describe gay marriage as “abhorrent” should be prosecuted for hate crimes. When a fellow guest warned that clergy could be “called into a police station” for sharing their beliefs on traditional marriage in strong terms,

Mr Young replied: “Yes, rightfully so.”

Tony Blair is criticised by Vatican official

BY ED WEST

ARCHBISHOP Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, has criticised Tony Blair’s decision to support same-sex marriage.

Last week the former prime minister, who introduced civil partnerships in 2005 and converted to Catholicism in December 2007 after leaving office, was reported to be in favour of Coalition plans to legalise same sex marriage. A friend told a Sunday newspaper that Blair “strongly supports the Prime Minister’s proposal”.

The archbishop said in response: “If the stories in the press about Blair’s thinking are true, I think he should examine his conscience carefully and realise that there is no coherence between the content of faith and the concrete action that must be taken by a politician.”

Under Mr Blair same-sex civil partnerships were introduced and the age of consent for gay people was reduced to 16, although he was never known to have supported gay marriage.

His entry into the Church provoked some criticism from prominent Catholics who felt that such a welcome was wrong for a leader with a consistently anti-life voting record, and who ignored Blessed John Paul II’s warnings not to invade Iraq.

At the weekend Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the spring Liberal Democrat conference that marriage was a fundamental right that extends to gay couples.

Man who wants to be killed wins right to hearing BY MADELEINE TEAHAN

A SEVERELY paralysed man who wants a doctor to end his life has won the right to a full hearing following a High Court judgment on Monday.

Tony Nicklinson has “locked-in syndrome” resulting from a stroke in 2005 and because he cannot carry out his own suicide he is requesting that a doctor be permitted to kill him.

In January the Ministry of Justice tried to halt legal action by Mr Nicklinson, arguing that the courts could not endorse euthanasia without Parliament’s approval.

At the preliminary hearing David Perry QC for the Ministry of Justice requested that legal action be terminated.

and religious significance and they are questions on which widely differing beliefs and views are held, often strongly.” He said that the issues he had to consider were whether Mr Nicklinson’s arguments had “any real prospect of success or whether there is some other compelling reason why these proceedings should be tried”.

James Bogle, a medical barrister, said: “While it is tragic that Mr Nicklinson found himself in so severely disabled a condition, it has to be remembered that there are now more people involved. Tony is asking the court to force nursing and medical staff to help bring about a death which is the very reverse of what the caring professions are for.

He said: “There are compelling reasons why the court should not intervene.” He explained that Mr Nicklinson was effectively requesting that “the court should positively authorise and permit as lawful the deliberate taking of life. That is not, and cannot be, the law of England and Wales unless Parliament were to say otherwise,” he said.

But a High Court ruling on Monday authorised Mr Nicklinson’s case to proceed, meaning that it will go to a full hearing where medical evidence can be heard.

Following his ruling, Mr Justice Charles said that the issues arising from Mr Nicklinson’s case “raise questions that have great social, ethical

“While suicide has been decriminalised, it is quite wrong to call it a right which the state is obliged to enforce. The state cannot, and should not, be forced to bring about the death of an innocent person. Moreover, a person in such a condition as this has difficulty communicating and that makes it all the more difficult to be sure what they really want. The proper way to assist people in this state is to care for them and to help them to come to terms with being heavily dependent.

“Once a patient gets the impression that caring and health care staff believe it is OK for them to have their life ended, they become easily distressed and uncomfortable.”

Bishops to fight Act of Settlement reform

BY STAFF REPORTER

ANGLICAN bishops are to oppose Coalition plans to reform the Act of Settlement and allow the monarch to marry a Catholic, it emerged this week.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, said that the reform would put the Church of England’s constitutional role in peril.

The bishop, convener of the Lords Spiritual, said that the legislative change could risk upsetting the British monarch’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

He said: “If the heir to the throne is brought up as a Catholic, and therefore, under the present disciplines of the Roman Catholic Church, is not able to be in communion with the Church of England, it effectively renders a Catholic heir incapable of being the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, so clearly that’s a more complicated issue than it appears at first sight.”

The bishop said that a change to the Act of Settlement with the potential to disestablish the Church of England would be something that bishops “would have to resist”.

Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic must promise to do what he or she can to ensure children are baptised and raised as Catholics.

Thousands pray for Pakistani martyr

BY ED WEST

THOUSANDS of people demonstrated in central London on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of Pakistan’s Catholic government minister Shahbaz Bhatti and to protest about the country’s treatment of minorities.

Religious and political leaders joined a vigil at the Pakistan embassy, followed by a protest at 10 Downing Street and a march along Whitehall to Trafalgar Square.

Outside the Pakistani embassy a 12-hour Christian prayer service was held.

During the service, a oneminute silence was held for Shahbaz Bhatti the Minister for Minorities who was murdered on March 2 2011. A Scottish bagpiper led a lament in honour.

Among the speakers were John Newton and John Pontifex from Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for persecuted Catholics, as well as various Christians, Muslims and Jews from the Middle East, South Asia and Britain, calling for a reform of the country’s blasphemy laws, among the strictest in the world.

A petition was submitted to the Pakistan embassy after a series of prayers.

Slogans were shouted at the embassy to encourage the petitioners who walked the short distance to deliver them to the embassy.

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