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Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Pope's comments on equality legislation draw protests
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Pope Benedict's comments on equality legislation have attracted a storm of protest in the media over the past 24 hours.

In his address to the Bishop of England and Wales during their Ad Limina visit to Rome, (see: Pope Benedict said:

Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.

I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?

If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.

Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.

Gay campaigner Peter Tatchell said the Pope's comments were a "coded attack on the legal rights granted to women and gay people".

"His ill-informed claim that our equality laws undermine religious freedom suggests that he supports the right of churches to discriminate in accordance with their religious ethos," he said.

"He seems to be defending discrimination by religious institutions and demanding that they should be above the law."

The National Secular Society said it mounting a protest campaign made up of gay groups, victims of clerical abuse, feminists, family planning organisations and groups supporting abortion choice, among others.

Speaking on the Today programme,  Archbishop Vincent Nichols, said the Pope's words would resonate with many people who felt "uneasy" about the consequences of recent legislation.

He said religious belief and practice had been driven into "the sphere of the private only", and the Pope wanted to express the "unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities".

The Archbishop said: "He's not getting engaged in party politics... but he wants his reasoned voice - formed by the treasures of the Christian heritage which is deeply embedded in our culture - to be heard."

Catholic MP Ann Widdecombe said: "This isn't a debate about homosexuality, this is a debate about religious freedom."

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Tags: equality legislation, Pope

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