Friday, February 02, 2007

Scottish Bishops on SORs 'thought crime'

Background briefing: the Scottish bishops' spokesman in an outspoken attack on SORs, and the implications for other areas of life, and other faiths.

From CFNews: The Catholic Church in Scotland has furiously accused ministers of creating a 'thought crime' after Tony Blair refused to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from gay equality laws. In a significant escalation of the war of words between Church and state, the Catholic hierarchy said the government's decision to force faith-based agencies to consider same-sex couples as prospective adoptive parents would have a knock-on effect on religious people in other professions. The Prime Minister this week confirmed the government would not allow discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation from any organisation, particularly one in receipt of public funds. However, faith-based agencies have been given an 'adjustment' period of 20 months as the laws will not come in until the end of 2008. Until then, they must refer same-sex couples to another adoption agency.

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Media Office insisted this would affect more than just the two Catholic adoption agencies in Scotland. 'This is UK-wide regulation that will impact on anyone who provides goods and services, from the priest who refuses to hire the parish hall to a same-sex couple, to the editor of a Catholic newspaper who refuses to carry a Gay Pride advert, or a printer who refuses to print those adverts - they will all be criminalised by this Draconian measure. This is as close as you can get to a thought crime,' he said, in a reference to the George Orwell novel 1984.

'It isn't just Catholics - anyone whose faith means they do not believe there is a moral equivalence between single-sex couples and heterosexual couples will find themselves affected. There are also large numbers of people of no faith at all who happen to believe that there is no such moral equivalence who stand to be criminalised because of that belief.' The decision threatened to undermine Labour's bid to woo the Catholic vote ahead of the May election in Scotland. The Prime Minister himself gave credence to the sensitivity of the issue when he directly referred to Jack McConnell, the First Minister, who had been 'making sure the Scottish perspective' was heard. One Catholic source predicted that Balir's decision could cost Labour votes at the May election. Two fringe Christian parties are standing at the Holyrood elections, with particular focus on Glasgow. 'You could well see significant numbers of people tactically switching to reflect Christian views,' said the source. The source also warned that the Scottish National Party can expect no credit for its recent attempts to woo Catholics: 'All the main parties are broadly in the same position on this, so a lot of people will find that their opinions are not reflected by any of those parties.' But the First Minister said his priority all the way through had been to ensure children's lives could be improved.

'For me, adoption is all about improving the lives of children. My priority is to find a way that will allow faith-based adoption agencies in Scotland to continue finding new parents for some of our most vulnerable children,' Mr McConnell said. 'These are the points I made to the Prime Minister over the weekend. This is undoubtedly a difficult issue, but I think the Prime Minister's announcement is a step forward. Above all, I hope it enables faith-based agencies to continue the valuable work they do. We will keep in close contact with Scottish adoption agencies as these regulations are introduced.'

A source close to the First Minister played down the impact Westminster's decision would make on Labour in Scotland. However, Stephen Pound, a Catholic Labour back-bencher who holds a London seat, said the adoption row had become a 'massive issue' in the Scottish election. But Mr Blair said he believed ministers had found a 'way through' that prevented discrimination and protected children's interests, which all 'reasonable people' would be able to accept. 'There is no place in our society for discrimination. That's why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt, like any other couple. And that way there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public-funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination.'

Ruth Kelly, the Catholic Cabinet minister who most strongly argued for an exemption from the equality regulations, appears to have put her career before her faith by welcoming the Prime Minister's decision. Kelly, a supernumerary member of Opus Dei, had made her strong objections public, leading even sympathetic MPs to wonder if she would be forced to leave the government if her view did not prevail. Tony Blair initially sympathised with Ms Kelly, but angry reactions from ministers led by Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, forced him to overrule her. Ms Kelly has now made clear she would accept the Prime Minister's ruling and keep her job as Communities Secretary. 'We have had the debate and heard a range of views - many of them expressed with passion and conviction. As a result we now have a workable solution,' Ms Kelly said. 'Good government is about robust debate and finding solutions that meet our principles in a practical way. This is the right way forward. Today's announcement is a breakthrough that should be welcomed by everyone.' But the Catholic hierarchy's fury at the decision is likely to prove a strain for Ms Kelly. Despite her decision, her long-term political future is far from assured. Her Bolton constituency has been redrawn, making it far from safe for Labour at the next general election. [The Scotsman]

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen