Labour’s anti-Catholic attitudes
Mary Honeyball sounds like a character straight out of the pages of Roald Dahl, and she also looks like one. In reality she is a Labour politician who finds herself at the centre of a storm for daring to question the right of Roman Catholic cabinet members to ‘undermine’ the authority of the Prime Minister.
In her article for The Guardian - Cardinals' sins – she observes that ‘politics and piety are becoming increasingly entangled’ and posits that ‘democracy and religion do not mix’.
Cranmer has rarely come across such ignorant drivel from a politician, but one must remember that Miss Honeyball is an MEP.
She accuses the Prime Minister of ‘kowtowing’ to ‘three Catholic government ministers - Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy – and this has ‘undermined his strength’.
Well, after the result in Henley, it would appear that the world and his dog have more strength than Gordon Brown at the moment, so it is convenient that Miss Honeyball can blame the Catholics. The wonder is she has not blamed Margaret Thatcher.
She refers to the ‘vice-like grip of Catholicism’ across parts of the Continent, and singles out the ‘meddling cardinals’ of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland for particular reproach. She is particularly disapproving of anti-abortion campaigns which have ‘been led from the pulpit’.
One wonders what Miss Honeyball thinks the pulpit is for.
She then pours her invective upon the Roman Catholic faith:
Catholicism has never taken a back seat; it has always actively interfered in democratic politics. In 2006 Pope Benedict castigated Catholic politicians in Canada for voting for gay rights and Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's Catholics, is alleged to have compared same-sex relationships to paedophilia. The same Cardinal O'Brien is now accusing the human fertilisation and embryology bill of challenging "standards by which we have lived throughout our lives and by which Christians have lived for the past 2,000 years".
And she lauds the enlightenment of her European masters for confronting these medieval attitudes head-on:
The European parliament has, fortunately, made a stand against some of this Christian fundamentalism. In a dramatic exercise of power in 2004, MEPs opposed the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione, nominated as a European commissioner by Silvio Berlusconi. Set to take up the justice, freedom and security portfolio, Buttiglione enraged the European parliament justice committee with his views on the role of women and his belief that homosexuality is a sin put forward during his confirmation hearings. The Italian government eventually withdrew his nomination as commissioner, due in large part to pressure from MEPs.
And this is the reasoning behind Miss Honeyball’s suggestion that Roman Catholics ought to be excluded from elected office. She asks: ‘Should devout Catholics such as Kelly, Browne and Murphy be allowed on the government front bench in the light of their predilection to favour the Pope's word above the government's?’
And she concludes:
Politicians are voted in to represent their electorates. People who vote for me and my colleagues expect us to further the interests of the public at large, not those of any particular religion, church, mosque, synagogue, temple or indeed any other interest group. We go against the democratic foundations of our country at our peril.
Cranmer is aghast at the level of naïveté and ignorance which Mary Honeyball manifests. He shall not waste the time of his readers and communicants with the historic role of the Protestant Christian faith in the development of democracy. And neither does he have any problem with raising the issue of ‘Parliament or Pope?’, since there are democratic concerns raised by the question of allegiance. But it beggars belief that an MEP has not considered that, in an age of non-discrimination and equality, her reasoning would exclude politicians of every and any faith from holding public office. And then she will be left to justify why only atheist secularists are fit to hold office, and what this would mean for the democratic majority who choose to adhere to a faith.
It might further be observed that if she were to replace ‘Catholic’ with ‘Muslim’ (against which religio-political construct every word of her reasoning could be equally applied), all hell would break loose, possibly with one or two bombs.
If there is to be no place for Catholics in non-religious political parties, it will lead to the formation of an exclusively Catholic party (probably called, in line with the continental tradition, the ‘Christian Democratic Party’). It is not without reason that many Roman Catholics endorsed The Christian Party candidate in the recent Mayoral elections in London. But as sure as night follows day, there will arise a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Jedi Knight party.
There will be no Anglican party, for the vast majority of Anglicans shall feel very much at home in any of the above.
What Miss Honeyball’s comments establish is that British Catholics should have no affinity with the Labour Party. It has turned away from its working class roots and its concerns with social justice. New Labour has no time and makes no place for religious conscience. The ‘Catholic vote’ has been loyal to Labour since its foundation, and this loyalty has been tested to breaking point. One can only pray that traditional Labour-supporting RCs will have the good sense henceforth not to vote Labour. Their allegiance has been taken for granted for too long, and they will find a warm welcome in the broad church of Conservatism.