BY ANABEL INGE
CARDINAL CORMAC MurphyO'Connor and the Archbishop of Cardiff have rallied to the defence of Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien after he provoked a tide of criticism for comparing Scotland's abortion rate to "two Dunblane massacres a day".
In the most vehement attack on abortion for years, Cardinal O'Brien told a congregation on the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act that Catholic politicians should question whether they could receive Communion if they cooperated in this "unspeakable crime".
After Mass at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, the leader of Scotland's 750,000 Catholics said it was time for a change in abortion law.
"We are killing — in our country — the equivalent of a classroom of kids every single day. Can you imagine that? Two Dunblane massacres a day going on and on. And when's it going to stop?"
The cardinal's reference to the murder of 16 school chit dren 11 years ago angered many commentators, but this week both Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Archbishop Peter Smith backed the Scottish primate's attack.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "The Catholic Church believes that every life has been created by God in his own image and likeness. This means that all life is sacred, with value and meaning at every stage and in every condition, from the moment of conception."
Archbishop Smith said that Cardinal O'Brien's remarks expressed "the general teaching of the Church" and warned Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion that putting themselves forward for Communion would "be a cause of great scandal".
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme the archbishop said: —The Church's law is quite clear: a priest or bishop is not permitted to refuse Communion unless it is quite clear that the person has been excommunicated or there is a very public rejection of Church teaching." Nonetheless, he continued. "the pastoral reality is, as the Pope has said recently in Mexico, that if a Catholic politician manifestly, clearly goes against the Church's teaching, then they ought to remove themselves from receiving Communion, because it would be a cause of great scandal".
He added that, "at the end of the day, this is a question of a fundamental human right to life— which we all have and on which all other rights are based-.
Among those who criticised the cardinal's homily was Jeremy Purvis MSP, the Liberal Democrat who co-drafted the original abortion legislation 40 years ago. "The cardinal's tone is both inflammatory and extreme," he said. "It's very unfortunate he has chosen to use a hectoring and bullying tone against MSPs and MPs."
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, argued that abortion is "essential in safeguarding women's reproductive health. Women should be able to make their own choices."
But the 17,000-strong LifeLeague praised Cardinal O'Brien for "both his words and bravery" and urged every Scottish Church leader, Protestant and Roman Catholic, to issue a similar rallying call.
"Christians and churches have been silent on this issue for far too long — the long night of sleep is over, a new line has been drawn in the sand," said a spokesman. The previous day, James Dowson, the national co-ordinator, made clear the organisation's intention to "our MN with a pro-abortion voting record — "including those who have abstained" — who are spotted receiving Communion.
Cardinal O'Brien said he would not advocate an outright ban on Communion for Catholic politicians who support abortion. "They must consider their own consciences and whether or not they can approach the altar to receive Holy Communion,' he said. "It's not up to me to judge them. l leave that to God:" Cardinal O'Brien delivered his homily two days after the release of official figures that showed that the number of abortions has continued to rise in Scotland. Last year, 13,081 abortions were performed north of the bonder — an increase of 478 on the previous year.
On Tuesday MPs voted against Tory backbencher Ann Winterton's Bill that proposed compulsory counselling and a week-long "cooling-off" period for women seeking abortions. Backers of the Bill hoped it would help to educate these women on the mental and physical health risks of having an abortion.