BY PIERS MC.GRANDLE CARDINAL HUME HELD out an olive branch this week to anti-abortion groups which expressed outrage over a passage in the pre-election discussion document The Common Good.
Pro-lifers are incensed at a suggestion that, in certain circumstances, Catholics may vote for a pro-abortion politician.
In a conciliatory letter addressed to the leaders of
the two main pro-life groups SPUC and LIFE the Cardinal wrote that he "wanted to make it absolutely clear what our position is. We (the Bishops), have, as you know, condemned abortion again and again in both the things we have written and said".
His letter came after prolifers claimed that they were "grievously disappointed" at what they perceived to be the equivocal tone adopted by the bishops in the document towards pro-life issues.
Professor Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of LIFE, said: "The Bishops should have insisted that the pro-life cause is not just one among many, but it is the supreme and most urgent one of our time, tran
scending questions about trade union rights, the minimum wage, the environment, even the challenge of poverty.
"This document has an old-fashioned ring to it. Much of it is concerned with yesterday's issues. Above all, its authors have not really learnt what it is to be prolife.
'We expect little from other Christian leaders. We expect a lot from Catholic Bishops. We have been let down."
Echoing this call, pro-life group SPUC director John Smeaton told the Herald that "Catholics should read papal teaching which persistently makes it clear that the issues of abortion and euthanasia are fundamental concerns which cannot be ignored or downplayed".
And Dr Peggy Norris, chairman of anti-euthanasia body Alert, told the Herald that she was "unhappy at the Bishops' enthusiasm for the European Union. There is a real danger that we will be subjected to different, proeuthanasia laws which we will have no control over. There could be all sorts of bioethocs laws being brought in".
The controversial passage in The Common Good a 35page exposition of Catholic Social Teaching published on Monday claimed that "a general election must never be confused with a singleissue referendum".
The document added: "It is legitimate for an individual elector to say to a candidate: '1 disagree with you totally on this one issue, but I may vote for you, and in return I shall want to come and talk to you further about the issue over which we disagree'. It is most unlikely a candidate would decline a voter's offer of support on that basis".
However, most Catholic bodies welcomes the document, which touches on subjects as diverse as the environment, mass media and trade unions.
"We welcome the stand on global issues. The whole thrust of the Bishops' statement is that in a broken and divided world, we constitute one single human family in which no one is excluded", said Cafod director Julian Filochowski.
The Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) were equally welcoming to the report.
Spokesman Ian Linden described the report as a "wonderful step forward for the Church in this country. I am delighted that the bishops have overcome their fear of being misunderstood and rejected, and are able to apply the Catholic faith in this country.
"The document very carefully pronounces what the faith means to people in this country.
"In the past, Catholic Social Teaching has been a best-kept secret not any longer."