Bishops launch transcontinental attacks over gay rights

Italy's bishops have sparked a storm by telling Catholic politicians that they have a moral duty to vote against any proposed legislation recognising unmarried and homosexual couples as Westinster Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor slams his government over new gay rights laws.

News.com.au reports that the long-awaited note, issued on Wednesday by the Italian Bishops Conference, was significant because it specifically targeted politicians as they consider a bill introduced to parliament by Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition that guarantees rights to unmarried couples in such areas as inheritance and health care.

Some opponents of the bill fear it is a "Trojan horse" to eventually allow gay marriage in Italy.

However, while not specifying any punishment by the Church, the Italian bishops say that Catholics cannot hide behind "the principle of pluralism" or compromise on what they called the ethical needs of society.

The bishops' note said Catholic politicians had "the moral duty to clearly and publicly voice their disagreement and vote against any proposed law that would recognise homosexual couples".

But Mr Prodi, a practising Catholic, has said the draft law should not be seen as a threat to the traditional family.

Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict also said the Church's opposition to gay marriage was "non-negotiable" and that Catholic politicians had a duty to oppose it.

While some Catholic and centrist politicians welcomed the directive as food for thought, other MPs and civil rights groups condemned it as outright interference.

Gay laws intolerant: Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor

Meanwhile, This is London reports that Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has accused the British Labour Government of "legislating for intolerance" in his most outspoken attack yet on the imposition of gay rights laws on church bodies.

The leader of England and Wales's four million Catholics also questioned "whether the threads holding together democracy have begun to unravel".

The lecture delivered in Westminster made him the first Catholic leader in nearly 180 years to place a question mark over the allegiance of his church to the British state.

He has already threatened to close nine Catholic adoption agencies if they are forced by the Sexual Orientation Regulations to place children with homosexual couples.

He declared: "For my own part, I have no difficulty in being a proud British Catholic citizen.

"But now it seems to me we are being asked to accept a different version of our democracy, one in which diversity and equality are held to be at odds with religion.

"We Catholics - and here I am sure I speak too for other Christians and all people of faith - do not demand special privileges, but we do demand our rights."

The Sexual Orientation Regulations come into force next month and are aimed at stopping businesses discriminating against gays, but Christian leaders say they will force those of faith to act against their conscience.

The Cardinal said he feared intolerance of Christianity "so when Christians stand by their beliefs, they are intolerant dogmatists. When they sin, they are hypocrites.

"When they take the side of the poor, they are soft-headed liberals. When they seek to defend the family, they are Rightwing reactionaries."

"What looks like liberality is in reality a radical exclusion of religion from the public sphere," he said.

Bishop's gay vote orders split MPs (News.com.au, 29/3/07)
Italy bishops spark political furore (Ninemsn, 29/3/07)
It's gay rights laws that are intolerant, says Cardinal (This is London, 29/3/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Romano Prodi (Wikipedia)
Roman Catholic diocese of Westminster
Catholic Church Italy

30 Mar 2007