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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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Pope Francis insisted yesterday that no one should be barred from the sacraments and to emphasise his point said humorously that even an extraterrestrial requesting baptism should be welcomed.
The Pope was delivering a homily on the initial resistance from St Peter and other disciples to baptising Gentiles, and in doing so fulsomely expounded on the offer of God’s grace to all.
"If tomorrow an expedition of Martians were to land, and some of them came to us, Martians right? Green with long noses and big ears, as children paint them. If one of these were to say: 'I want to be baptised’. What would happen?”
On the “internal crisis” that faced the early Church over the issue of whether Gentiles should be baptised, Pope Francis said that the dismay felt by the disciples at this new situation was understandable. St Peter, he went on, was enlightened when a vision showed him a fundamental truth: What has been purified by God cannot be called "profane" by anyone.
“When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say ‘no Lord, it isn't prudent’. Do we do this? Peter in this first diocese takes this decision: “Who am I to put obstacles in the way? This is a good point for bishops, priests and all Christians. Who are we to close doors?”
Some commentators have linked the Pope’s remarks with the two forthcoming synods when bishops will consider the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics and cohabiting couples should be admitted to the sacraments. Others have linked Francis’ comments to his insistence that the children of unmarried couples should be offered baptism.