Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien Attacks Pro-Abortion Politicians
The leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics today stepped up his controversial attack on pro-choice politicians.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien said the increasing abortion rate in Scotland was equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”.
In a sermon this afternoon at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, he urged politicians at Westminster to change the current abortion legislation.
The Scottish parliament’s MSPs should also refuse to allow Scottish health services to participate in the “wanton killing of the innocent”, he said.
Before his sermon, there were reports that he would say pro-choice politicians should not expect to receive Holy Communion or remain full members of the church if they support existing abortion law.
However, after the sermon Cardinal O’Brien told reporters that he was not saying pro-choice politicians should be cast out from the church.
“They must consider their own consciences and whether or not they can approach the altar to receive Holy Communion. It’s not up to me to judge them. I’ll leave that to God to judge them,” he said.
He also called on universities and medical schools to teach that “all human life” deserves protection.
The cardinal’s comments sparked a barrage of criticism from politicians and pro-choice organisations.
One Liberal Democrat MSP, Jeremy Purvis, fiercely criticised the cardinal’s decision to use such “extreme and provocative language and a hectoring and bullying tone”.
Mr Purvis, the MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, said both MSPs and MPs had to daily “balance their own consciences against what they think are the best interests of their constituents”.
The cardinal’s call for Holyrood to “refuse to allow” the health service to participate in abortion would be rightly rejected, Mr Purvis said.
However, Labour MSP Michael McMahon defended the cardinal’s political intervention, saying the Pope had recently made similar statements and Cardinal O’Brien was simply reiterating the position of the church.
The charity BPAS (formerly the British Pregnancy Advisory Service), which carries out some 55,000 abortions every year, said abortion was a “safe, legal and medically legitimate procedure”.
Ann Furedi, the chief executive of BPAS, said: “We see many couples and women for contraception and abortion treatment who are active Catholics.
“It is quite clear that not everyone who shares the Catholic faith with the cardinal agrees with him on this issue.”
The charity Catholics For A Free Choice, based in Washington, criticised the cardinal for using the “sacraments as a political weapon”.
The pro-choice organisation’s Dublin-born spokesman Jon O’Brien said: “If people want to understand why Catholics often turn a deaf ear to the dictates from the leadership of the church, they need look no further than Cardinal O’Brien.
“It is clear to those of us who remain in the church that O’Brien has got it seriously wrong.”
The cardinal’s sermon, to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, comes just two days after figures showed that the number of abortions carried out in Scotland was increasing.
There were 13,081 abortions performed in 2006, compared with 12,603 the previous year, according to the Scottish health statistics.
The Scottish executive said it was making no comment on the cardinal’s remarks on abortion, as it was a matter reserved for Westminster.
The Scottish minister for public health, Shona Robison, said the executive was committed to improving Scotland’s sexual health and reducing the number of unintended pregnancies through Respect and Responsibility, the national sexual health strategy.
Cardinal O’Brien’s views have prompted controversy in the past. In 2004, he campaigned against the Scottish executive over sex education, accusing ministers of favouring programmes that are akin to “state-sponsored sexual abuse” of children.
This article was originally published to the Guardian Unlimited website on 31 May 2007.