British Cardinal Clarifies Points on Upcoming Elections

Not Endorsing Conservative Party as Such, He Says

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LONDON, MARCH 15, 2005 ( News reports that the cardinal of Westminster is endorsing the Conservative Party in the upcoming elections are greatly exaggerated, his press office says.

The reports arose in the wake of Monday’s publication of a pre-election document of the bishops of England and Wales, which criticized the Labor Party’s stance on abortion.

The Times newspaper, for instance, wrote: «The Roman Catholic Church made a dramatic entry into the election campaign yesterday by backing Michael Howard’s stance on abortion and withdrawing its traditional support» for Labor.

Today, the Public Affairs Office of the archbishop, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, issued a summary of the points the prelate has been making, adapted here:

Q: Are you endorsing the Conservative Party?

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor: Absolutely not. The bishops and I are not endorsing any of the parties. We have issued a document in advance of the parties’ manifestoes which makes clear what the Catholic Church believes are important issues. We believe these issues should weigh in the consciences of Catholics, and of all voters, when they come to vote.

The issues are varied. We believe that life issues — abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research — are vital. But a better deal for the world’s poor, and respecting the rights and dignity of migrants, are also life issues — they all touch on the dignity of the human person. We believe that the treatment of migrants, and the conditions of the world’s poor, are also vital issues, as is care for the environment and the conditions of our overcrowded prisons.

The bishops always tell Catholic voters before an election: Think about all these issues. Elections should seldom, if ever, be single-issue referendums.

Q: But are you intervening in politics?

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor: Certainly, because there is a point at which religion and politics touch. There are moral issues which affect the good of society as a whole about which I, as a religious leader, cannot stay silent, because the Gospel is not silent on them.

Q: By welcoming [Tory leader] Michael Howard’s call for a reduction in the time limit on abortion, are you not sending a covert message to Catholics to vote Conservative?

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor: When I commended Mr. Howard’s call, I also commended the government on its initiatives to tackle debt and poverty. In neither case was I sending a covert message. My message to the political parties is an open one: Please take these issues seriously when you draw up your manifestoes.

Q: But are you at least saying that the Conservatives reflect the Church’s position on abortion?

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor: I have welcomed Mr. Howard’s call for a reduction in the time limit on abortions as a step in the right direction; just as I have welcomed every such call from any politician, whatever their party.

This is not a party-political issue: The question of abortion is usually left to a free vote in the Commons. Many MPs from the Labor and Liberal Democrat parties would agree with Mr. Howard’s recent remarks, just as many MPs from all parties welcomed the prime minister’s call last year for the abortion law to be reviewed.

None of our parties has a position on abortion which is adequate.

I am glad, however, that the issue is now in the public arena. There is a shift in public mood over abortion, which the political parties have begun to detect. People believe there are simply too many abortions, that they are too easily available, and that they occur far too late. I hope this issue can now begin to be addressed by our political leaders.

But I also hope that migrants and refugees do not become political footballs. I hope we can transform our jails into genuine places of redemption. I hope that care for our earth and its future will be high on the parties’ manifestoes.

I would like this election to be about the big moral issues facing this country, as well as about the smaller issues which affect people’s daily lives. I am not telling people to vote for this or that party. I am asking the parties to listen to the voice of the Church when they come to draw up their manifestoes. And I am asking voters to weigh these issues carefully in their consciences, because these are matters which deeply affect who we are as a society and what we exist for. I hope everyone will listen carefully.

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The bishops’ letter can be viewed at

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