- 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 Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has told Catholic parliamentarians that they will not be refused communion if they voted in favour of same-sex marriage.
This move follows comments last month by the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, who said that these politicians should be denied the Eucharist. He argued that instead of being a punitive measure it was “an act of mercy” that could bring individuals “back into communion with the Church.”
But an email from the bishops’ conference sent last month to parliamentarians and seen by The Tablet, said: “There are no plans by any Bishops in England and Wales to deny communion to Catholic MPs or peers who voted in favour of same-sex marriage legislation last year.”
The email was authorised by the bishops’ conference, whose president is the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.
When he made the remarks about refusing politicians communion, Bishop Egan said he would need to act with his fellow bishops and he called on his confreres to debate the issue. But a spokesman for the bishops’ conference said at the time there were “no plans” to discuss the matter at their next bi-annual meeting due to take place soon after Easter.
The email, written by Greg Pope, the Head of Parliamentary Relations for the bishops’ conference and a former Labour MP, added: “I can see that there is potential for distress to be caused within the Catholic community at Westminster over this.”
Catholic MPs across the political spectrum have reacted with anger to Bishop Egan’s call. These include Conor Burns, a Conservative MP who voted for same-sex marriage and whose Bournemouth West seat lies in the bishop’s Portsmouth diocese. Mr Burns, who is co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, says he now feels unable to receive communion in his local parish. It is understood that he has written to Cardinal Nichols requesting a meeting to discuss the matter.
Forty-seven out of at least 82 Catholic MPs voted for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill when it was passed in the House of Commons last year.