19 March 2019, The Tablet

Catholic MP urges Pope to take 'urgent' action to reform Church

Sir Edward is active in the House of Commons and on Twitter in the present Brexit debates

Catholic MP urges Pope to take 'urgent' action to reform Church

Sir Edward Leigh speaking in the House of Commons during the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (file pic 2017)
PA/PA Archive/PA Images

A senior Catholic MP has written to Pope Francis warning him that the Church is facing its worst crisis since the Reformation.

Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, calls on the Pope to take "urgent and strong action" to renew the Catholic Church, arguing that even among the faithful, "there is widespread disillusion". 

Reiterating the comment by the Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge that the Church's credibility is "shot to pieces", Sir Edward says the policy must be one of zero tolerance: "Half measures will not do. Only root and branch reform will cut out this cancer." Priests proven to have abused children must be stripped of the priesthood, he says, not just moved around, or covered up.

In his handwritten letter across nine sides of House of Commons headed notepaper, he says there is a loss of confidence in the ability of bishops to deal with the abuse crisis, and priests accused of abuse should be dealt with by independent, lay-led professional tribunals.

He makes the case for more married priests, and for the admission to communion of "good people who are married and divorced". Such people should not be denied the consolation of the sacrament, Sir Edward says. 

"My belief is that communion should be given to all regardless of their marital status, their sexuality or how they express it," he says. Anyone who comes forward "with humble belief" should be given communion. 

Sir Edward, who is active in the House of Commons and on Twitter in the present Brexit debates, and last week voted against a second referendum and any extension of Article 50, tells Pope Francis he is a loyal son of the Church, married for 34 years with six children and who attends Mass every day if he can. He has served as national president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain and as chairman of the Parliamentary All Party Vatican group.

"I am deeply sympathetic to the Church, its teachings and mission," he says. And while he says he is writing in a personal capacity, he suspects many will share his views.

He writes to Pope Francis: "I urge you to take urgent and strong action to renew the Church, which I believe is facing one of its worst crises since the sixteenth century."

On the question of the priesthood, he says it should be more representative of wider society.

In addition, he continues, "it seems strange that in this country, former Anglican priests who are married, are allowed to act as Roman Catholic priests, but not others." 

Urging Pope Francis on with a reform agenda, Sir Edward suggests he ask every parish priest and parish what they want. "I suspect that we would be amazed at the desire for change and the joy of being asked."




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