BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE CATHOLIC bishop who composed the prayer for Amnesty International's latest recruitment drive has threatened to leave the organisation if it approves plans to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion around the
Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia has been an active member of the human rights group since 1976 when he joined at the invitation of a fellow priest.
He has been a member of the group's British Section Council, chairman of the British Section Religious Liaison Panel and has worked to affiliate local groups to justice and peace groups working out of Catholic parishes.
But Bishop Evans said he was "dismayed" when the British Section of the organisation this month voted in favour of making abortion central to its campaign for universal women's rights. He said he and other Catholics would feel "very reluctantly" obliged to withdraw their membership if the move was backed by the next International Council Meeting (ICM) of Amnesty International in 2007.
In a letter to Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, the bishop said that such a move would 'radically undermine in the eyes of many people, not only Roman Catholics, the perception of Amnesty as an organisation which protects 'the human' at every stage".
"Amnesty International has been given considerable support from the Roman Catholic Church, both here in the United Kingdom and by the Holy See in Rome," said Bishop Evans in the letter.
"You will find a significant number of Roman Catholics among Amnesty's members," he said. "Catholics will give full support to a campaign to stop violence against women but this cannot be at the expense of moving away from Amnesty's more fundamental campaign to 'Protect the Human'."
The bishop said he would continue to work to bring the "candle of justice to those in the darkness of oppression" but said he would not feel able to continue as a member of a body which excluded the unborn child from its protection. He reminded Ms Allen that he was the author of the prayer for the Protect the Human campaign which spoke of God leaving "the invisible fingerprints" of his touch on every human being.
Amnesty International was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a Catholic, to fight for the release of prisoners of conscience. Mr Benenson died in Oxford in February last year.
In July 2005 representatives from abortion providers Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation spoke at an Amnesty seminar on "sexual and reproductive rights" in London. Then earlier this month the British Section decided to abandon its neutral policy on abortion at its annual general meeting held at the University of Warwick.
Some two-thirds of the 800 delegates voted to adopt a resolution which read: 'The full realisation of human rights should be understood to mean that a woman's right to physical and mental integrity includes her right to terminate her pregnancy, subject to reasonable limitations and therefore abortion should be a legal, safe and accessible option for all women."
A spokesman for Amnesty International UK said that Ms Allen would be replying to the letter from Bishop Evans.
"Amnesty International is a democratic organisation that thrives on debate," he added. "Our internal discussions on sexual and reproductive issues reflect a wider, international debate. "While the resolution passed at the AGM sets out the current thinking of Amnesty International UK, it does not change policy for Amnesty International. All policy development is set at international level and involves Amnesty International sections around the world."
He said that there has been no .change to Amnesty International's policy on abortion and this would remain the case until either the International Executive Committee (IEC) or the 2007 ICM decided policy.
The ICM of 2005 authorised the [EC to decide policy on sexual and reproductive rights by the end of 2006, after receiving the results of consultations from each of its 72 sections, -Amnesty is pushing this through with the support of a minority of its members," said Michael Hill, an Amnesty member from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and a Catholic.