Nuncio: Pope backs Nichols on welfare cuts and assisted dying

09 May 2014 | by James Macintyre

The Apostolic Nuncio to Britain has said that Pope Francis personally supports Cardinal Vincent Nichols over his criticism earlier this year of the Government’s welfare reforms.

Addressing the plenary meeting of bishops in Leeds this week, Archbishop Antonio Mennini said that he and Pope Francis agreed with Cardinal Nichols’ criticism in February, when he said the impact of welfare cuts on the country’s poorest was “a disgrace”.

Archbishop Mennini, who is the Pope’s ambassador to Britain, praised “the remarks … of Cardinal Nichols, in defence of those excluded in our rich societies, mainly the poor and immigrants that have suffered from cuts in social benefits who therefore feel themselves excluded from social welfare”.

The archbishop added: “Please be assured of our support, as well as that of the Holy Father, regarding this important issue.”

Read more: Pope condemns 'assisted dying' in address to UN leaders

The comments came in an address largely devoted to urging the English and Welsh bishops to step up opposition to the Assisted Dying Bill drawn up by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, which is due to be debated in the House of Lords in the coming weeks.

The private members bill brought forward by Lord Falconer, the Labour peer and former Lord Chancellor, would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives if two doctors confirm they are unlikely to live more than six months.

Linking the issue with welfare and other controversial areas, Archbishop Mennini said: “We, as the Catholic Church, have to make our voice heard in this regard as you have already done successfully in other fields.”

The archbishop warned that public opinion could easily be “manipulated” with compassionate and emotional arguments, with the bill potentially leading to unintended consequences such as euthanasia for children.

“This is a very sensitive issue, which required a serious commitment from us to protect and defend human life as a gift from God,” the archbishop said. “May I encourage … each one of you to announce the Gospel of Life among our people, as well as in society in general, presenting the reality which hides behind the ‘nice’, ‘politically correct’ and ‘compassionate’ expression ‘assisted dying’.

“Unfortunately we know from experience how easily public opinion can be manipulated, especially using ‘emotional’ arguments that try to move compassionate sentiments. But once we open this ‘Pandora’s box’ we know as well the horrible consequences that follow … elsewhere, in other European countries, which recently have made change in their laws, moving from a limited concept of ‘euthanasia’ to a wider spectre, also including children, as in Belgium.”

Archbishop Mennini has spoken out before against the proposed bill, which is the third attempt to legalise assisted dying since 2006. In 2012 he stressed “the rights and dignity of every person … until the moment of natural death”.

The Government will allow a free vote on the issue, although in March David Cameron expressed his opposition to the bill, arguing that terminally ill patients could come under pressure to end their lives.

Archbishop Mennini also referred briefly to the recent debate sparked by Mr Cameron on whether Britain is a “Christian country”, saying that it is “profoundly formed by Christian values”.

Above: Archbishop Mennini and Cardinal Nichols. Photo: CBCEW

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