- Conscience and the Commons
Following his election as Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron was grilled by the media about his beliefs as an evangelical Christian. Has the focus on faith, which began with Tony Blair, reached the point where it is harder than ever to hold religious beliefs and play an active role in political life?
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The Catholic MP Conor Burns says he feels unable to take Communion in his local church after his bishop said that politicians who voted for same-sex marriage, which is legal from tomorrow, should be denied the sacrament.
Conor Burns, who co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Britain’s relations with the Holy See, said the remarks by the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, whose diocese includes his Bournemouth West constituency, were a “tragedy”.
He told the Telegraph: “I have been a practising Catholic and communicant within the diocese of Portsmouth since I arrived at Southampton university in 1991 … If the arrival of this bishop means that I can no longer be a practising Catholic within the diocese, that is a tragedy.
“I feel a little less welcome in my home diocese than I did a couple of weeks ago.”
Mr Burns, who is expected to raise the issue with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said he had also received “hurtful” messages from other Catholics saying that in effect he had “excommunicated” himself by having voted for gay marriage.
Bishop Egan, in an interview with the pro-life website LifeSiteNews, said: “When people are not in communion with the Catholic Church … in terms of the teachings of the Church on marriage and family life – they are voting in favour of same-sex marriage – then they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion.”
Of politicians in his own diocese who backed same-sex marriage, he said: “I personally would be in favour of saying that somebody should not be receiving communion.”
Meanwhile Archbishop Justin Welby, told the Guardian the Church of England would no longer be opposing the legislation. "I think the Church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being." Gay Anglican clergy have been told they may not their marry same-sex partners but at least seven have vowed to do so.
Labour and Conservative MPs, some of whom opposed same-sex marriage, reacted angrily to Bishop Egan’s comments, telling The Tablet that ordinary Catholics would be “appalled”. No Catholic MP contacted by The Tablet backed the Bishop’s comments.
Forty-seven out of at least 82 Catholic MPs last year voted in favour of allowing same-sex marriage when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was passed in the House of Commons. The legislation was passed by 400 votes to 175.
Catholic supporters of same-sex marriage included Conservative Cabinet Ministers lain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary and Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary.
Mr Burns told The Tablet: “I think it is a great pity, indeed a tragedy, that this bishop appears not to have noticed that we have a new gentle shepherd preaching a Christ-like message of inclusivity, love tolerance and forgiveness. I look to the guidance of the Holy Father Pope Francis.”
Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh, who also voted for the legislation, said: “There are some old-fashioned diehards in the Church, just as there are in the wider community. But most Catholics I know would be horrified if anyone was barred from communion simply for voting to support other Catholics who are gay, or Catholic women who want the right to choose.”
Stephen Pound, a Labour MP who voted against same-sex marriage, said that that denying Communion to those who voted in favour of it “seems wholly disproportionate”.
He added: “As a Catholic who happens to be an MP I am constantly fighting against the accusations of a Vatican ‘whip’, and to impose the most terrifying of sanctions in this way guarantees that the unthinking misconceptions that some hold of the Church will be reinforced.”
Bill Cash, the Conservative backbencher who also opposed the legislation, said it was wrong to bar MPs from taking communion based on how they voted.
Above: Bishop Egan speaks to Life Site News Photo: Life Site News