BY ED WEST
A NEWSLETTER sent to parishes around the country has caused anger by suggesting that Catholics should not campaign against abortion and that the killing of the unborn was no more a legal matter than adultery.
The "Our Faith on Sunday" newsletter distributed to churches last Sunday suggested that Catholics were wrong to criticise former Prime Minister Tony Blair's conversion in December over his Government's record.
"In contrast to the bright, smiling meetings in the Vatican we were assailed by rather begrudging comments from another convert to Catholicism, Ann Widdecombe MP," the newsletter said.
"The burden of her reservation about Tony Blair was that he had not strictly followed the Catholic line on a variety of moral issues in his voting record as Prime Minister, most notably on abortion, and should have been made to abjure his past errors as a condition of reception."
The newsletter is printed by The Catholic Printing Company of Farnworth, Greater Manchester, which has also printed newsletters for the dioceses of Shrewsbury and Liverpool. It went on to question the legitimacy of Catholics campaigning against abortion.
"Now, whether or not her assertion was true. the point is an interesting one. affecting as it does the whole political arena as it is lived by Catholic Christians," it said. "The question is this: is a Catholic politician bound to vote as illegal everything of which the Catholic Church disapproves? And a supplementary question follows: would that make Catholics unelectable as MPs and the third question then must be: if the answer to question two is 'yes', would that absence be desirable? Let me put two further questions.
"Given that, as a Catholic, I profoundly disapprove of adultery, should I start a campaign to make adultery a criminal offence in law? Should everything the Church believes immoral be made illegal? The general tenor of The Common Good, published by the English Catholic bishops before the 1997 election, would suggest that such a stance could be counter-productive."
Many priests and parishioners were upset by the article. Fr Tim Fmigan of Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen, Kent, said: "I would like to emphasise the damage that this kind of article does to the faith of ordinary people. By speaking about 'not strictly following the Catholic line' and using the apparently clever but wholly misleading example of making adultery illegal, the article undermines ordinary people's trust in the Church's absolute commitment to the sanctity of human life from conception by implying that it is a kind of party line and that a celebrity convert might legitimately choose to ignore it."
The Catholic Printing Company refused to name the author of the piece. However Nigel Reeves, the company's managing director, said: "Quite a few of our customers have commented on the article and the company is dealing privately with any correspondence on this matter.
"While remaining faithful to it, neither of the two original pieces on Our Faith On Sunday are meant to be authoritative statements of the Church's Magisterium. Both articles on each week's issue are intended as thoughtful pieces inviting reflection and perhaps discussion. This particular article seems to have fulfilled this purpose more than some."
John Smeaton of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said that the statement was theologically incorrect, pointing out that Pope John Paul II said that it was never right to support unjust laws law permitting abortion or euthanasia, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".
Mr Smeaton said: "Laws which legitimise the killings of human beings are in complete violation of the rights of the individual. All laws can be described as just if they derive from natural law. Abortion or euthanasia are clearly not such laws. That is the teaching of the Church. As far as the Church is concerned, the right to life is a matter of justice, and every person has that right.
"A lot of Catholics would be upset by this, but it also spreads confusion. They're downgrading the gravity of killing an unborn child and putting it on a lower level."