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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cardinal attacks 'aggressive' secularism gaining ground in UK

Esther Addley
The Guardian,
Wednesday April 2 2008

The leader of Britain's Catholics claimed yesterday that "Judaeo-Christian values" were the only thing binding British society together, on the eve of a lecture series on the place of faith in British public life.

Speaking to the Guardian, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor hit out at representatives of an "aggressive secularism" that he believes is gaining ground in the UK, defended the Catholic Church's combative intervention last week in the debate over "hybrid" embryos, and argued that Christian leaders should hold a privileged position over the representatives of other faiths when it came to their input into public policy.

The cardinal's comments are likely to bring him into conflict with his first speaker, Tony Blair, who is expected to use his lecture tomorrow to launch his inter-faith foundation. It will be the first public statement on faith by the former prime minister since he stepped down in July and converted to Catholicism.

The Catholic leader's arguments contrast with the statement in February by his Church of England counterpart, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, that the introduction of some aspect of sharia law in this country was "unavoidable". The cardinal has said promotion of multiculturalism has destroyed the unity that once held Britain together. Williams will also give one of the lectures.

"People are looking for a common good in this country. A very large number of people are saying, 'What is it that binds British people together?'" the cardinal said. "There is no other heritage than the Judaeo-Christian heritage in this country." To abandon this or to put in its place a "totally secular view of life" would lead the nation down "a very dangerous path".

Last week a number of scientists accused the Catholic church of "misrepresenting" or even "lying" over human-animal embryos for scientific research, after Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's Catholics, said the bill would allow "grotesque procedures" of "Frankenstein proportions". The intervention persuaded Gordon Brown to back down and allow MPs a free vote.

But Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor defended the church's right to speak out. "I'm not in favour of an intemperate battle but I understand there are very different views, and I think the Catholic church has a part to play with other Christians to make sure this debate is held in public, with respect and with great force."

There was a danger, he said, of all faith groups being considered together, "as if [there were one] faith lobby - faith people are in that lobby, and non-faith people in that lobby ... I think that's too simplistic."

Did he mean that Christian faith leaders should have a privileged position when it came to making interventions in public policy? "Yes. I don't see why not."

Other speakers in the series, Faith and Life in Britain, include William Hague MP and Rabbi Julia Neuberger.

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