Archbishop Nichols voices concern at Government position on key moral issues

 Archbishop Vincent Nichols used the occasion of the annual Easter Monday Men's Mass, at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham today, to draw attention, again, to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, shortly to be debated in Parliament. The Archbishop of Birmingham, was the principal celebrant and preacher at the Mass promoted by the Catholic Men's Society that has taken place each year since 1919. In his homily, Archbishop Nichols said: "You will have read about the provisions of this Bill to permit the creation of animal/human hybrids, to increase the use of human embryos in stem cell research, to remove the 'need for a father' from law and birth certificate. It may well also be used to change the laws on abortion. You will have heard of it in your parishes and, no doubt, asked to write to your MPs. Today I repeat that request." The Archbishop continued: "Beyond the details of the research which is to be permitted, there are a number of underlying trends, increasingly common in our public discourse, which characterise this Bill and debate about it. I want to draw attention to these as part of our witness today. "One is the selective use of evidence. We hear consistently the claims that the type of embryo experimentation being permitted by the Bill holds great promise for future cures of illness like cystic fibrosis and MS. The evidence for this is so far sparse. Very little progress has been made through embryonic stem cell research. In contrast, work with adult stem cells is showing far better results. All the published research points in this direction, even in the specific task of finding cures for cystic fibrosis. Yet we hear little about it. What is to be lost in facing these facts? They actually indicate the pathways of successful research to which there are no ethical objections. "Instead, we know that the best scientific research often contributes to that sense of wonder and awe at the complexity and beauty of the created world which is itself a signpost to belief in God. But our objections to the Bill are ethical. We are not trying to protect God, but ourselves and our society. Some of the things the Bill proposes are wrong and will do harm." Archbishop Nichols emphasised: "This Bill makes clear the ways in which scientists are researching into every aspect of human reproduction. It makes clear the ways in which the law of this land is now bearing down on the fundamental patterns of relationships within the family and society. It's as if, in the exploration of an old house, we have now, at long last, reached the basement which no-one has visited since the house was built. If, in that basement, we found a network of strong pillars and beams, we would be foolish indeed to start cutting through them without very careful thought and calculation of the consequences of doing so for the rest of the house. "But this is what might well be happening. This Bill permits the commercialisation of aspects of human birth: the donation its fundamental elements and the use of surrogates. Research is opening up for us the possibility of engineered human birth away from a natural mother. Because we can do these things, does it mean that we should? Are they really for our common good?" The Archbishop stressed: "The conception of a child can never simply be a question of the rights of adults. It is also and always a matter of the rights of that new life, that child. These rights, too, must be respected. The provisions in this Bill which permit, in certain circumstances, the need of a child for a father to be set aside neglect those rights. And the proposal that, with the full support of the law, reference to the child's biological father may be omitted from the record of birth is to burden a child with the weight of a lie from the first moments of life. That is a dereliction of our duty. Its repercussions will be felt in years to come. In these ways we weaken crucial pillars in the foundations of our common home." He added: "Let me take a different analogy. Only slowly, and with the help of science and technology, have we come to realise the damage we have done to our natural environment. We know now we must act to correct that damage. Yet we also live in a 'human environment', too, within a 'human ecology', made up of the structure of nature by which we are born and flourish, and consisting in the network of relationships of family and community. This Bill proposes a profound interference with some of these structures: a diminishment of the practical respect shown to human life in its beginnings, a restructuring of crucial patterns of parenting. Members of Parliament must think carefully about this Bill and pay attention to the instinctive recoil that many feel about some of its proposals. There is wisdom in this repugnance. We must make our own thoughts and conviction clear. "This is why the present position of the Labour Party not to permit a free vote on the key moral issues in this Bill is disturbing. To suggest that Labour MPs with conscientious objections may abstain would not be good enough. We must press and pray for the right of members of the Labour Party to vote according to their conscience on these fundamental moral issues. For them not to be able to do so would suggest that, within the Party of Government, there is no space for the views and the votes of those who have ethical objections, especially when founded in religious belief. Nor can this be isolated as a Catholic issue because the profound moral principles and convictions addressed in this Bill are of concern to people of many faiths and of none." Archbishop Vincent Nichols concluded his homily: "So today I ask you to act on these concerns. Now is the time to write to your MP and to join in public debate if you get the opportunity. In this way we follow in the footsteps of St Peter and of many who have gone before us, not least the great Bishop William Bernard Ullathorne OSB, the first Catholic Bishop of Birmingham (September 1850 until he resigned in February 1888) who did not hesitate to challenge the evils of his time, among them the evils of the penal colonies and the dangers of excessive drinking." "Faith is a practical project. We are the builders of our world. There is a task at hand and we can do no better than to build on Christ as our foundation. He, who alone has conquered death, is the one to be trusted. Let us renew our trust in Him and work in His name."

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