QIGNATURES are now pouring in for the Abortion petition and it is intended to present it to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street in midMay. The response has been encouraging but not really good enough, as although we have 300,000 signatures we are still a long way from our target of 1,000,000.
I appeal to all those engaged in the task of collecting signatures to redouble their efforts and let me or Mrs. Knight have the completed petitions as soon as possible. The petition may well be the most effective weapon we have against the Bill.
The sponsors of the Bill have allowed only one day for the report and third reading and it is unlikely that both these phases can be disposed of on one day. The Government and Mr. Wilson in particular will then be under pressure to give Government time for the Bill: a petition signed by a million people would be a very effective counterweight.
MEANWHILE, having escaped from the Abortion committee with relief after three months' hard labour 1 now find myself drafted on to another private member's committee: this time on Mr. Leo Ahse's Bill putting into effect the Wolfenden committee's recommendations that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults should no longet be subject to criminal sanctions.
support this Rill wholeheartedly and now find myself in the curious position of servifig on a committee where some of my bitterest opponents over abortion have been magically transformed into supporters.
believe that the case for homosexual law reform is overwhelming. The present law is capricious in its incidence, inequitable in its effect, and is a fruitful source of blackmail. In any
case it is to me utterly distasteful to persecute people for the consequences of a condition for which they are in no way responsible.
Indeed. even from the moral point of view I doubt whether a great deal of homosexual conduct is sinfully attributable to the individual since he is acting from compulsions and is far from being a free agent.
A special committee appointed by the late Cardinal Griffin to advise the Wolfenden committee on the whole issue recommended some years ago that the criminal sanctions where consenting adults are concerned should be removed and this remains the only official statement on the subject from an English Catholic source.
The great advantage of changing the law would be that it would enable the whole issue to be dealt with as the spiritual and psychological problem which it is. The law is an ass and nowhere more than in this field. It would also be to return to an old tradition.
Before the Reformation homosexual offences were dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts as part of their spiritual jurisdiction: it was our late sovereign Henry VIII, of far from pious memory, who changed this situation by statute and transferred jurisdiction to the criminat courts. Catholics then have no reason for supporting the present position on historical or moral grounds.
The present Bill is far from perfect and I have
tabled a number of amendments. The principal of these is to make all prosecutions for homosexual offences subject to the consent of the Director of the Public Prosecutions. The reason for this is to give as much flexibility as possible to the operation of the law.
Conduct between men under 21 of a homosexual character remains criminal under the Bill, but it would clearly be highly undesirable in most cases to bring criminal proceedings. It would be monstrous, for example, to saddle two boys who were going through a temporary homosexual phase, with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
The Bill recognises this by providing that no proceedings may be brought against those under 21 without the consent of the D.P.P. There are, however, a whole range of borderline age cases where a prosecution would be undesirable and the purpose of any amendment is to allow the D.P.P.'s discretion to cover these as well.
I would also like to see a provision that when an offender under 21 was convicted a psychiatric report on his condition would be obligatory before the passing of sentence.
Mr. Abse's Bill would bring the law of England into conformity with that of the vast majority of countries on the Continent; it is based on a sound distinction between the spheres of crime and sin, and 1 hope that after the years of debate we have had it will be speedily passed into law.
IWAS ironically amused % by all the fuss about the revelation of the contents of the reports of the Papal birth control commission in the national press. Readers of this column will recall that some weeks ago I discreetly hinted that the contents of the report were similar to those now blazonedabout by the National Catholic Reporter and other papers. As so often the CATHOLIC HERALD is first with the news.