Last Thursday in the Chamber I had the opportunity to question the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, on the subject of the Equality Bill. I asked her that since the Government are not now overturning their defeats on the amendments to the Bill, could we take it that the Government now accepted the principle that the Churches must be allowed to regulate their own clergy according to their own conscience?
This suggestion that the Government were running up the white flag on the issue did not go down too well with Miss Harman. She replied that they had “never sought to, or indeed even unintentionally, propose non-discrimination laws covering bishops, rabbis, archbishops or priests” and accused me of trying to spread a misapprehension.
This is all very well if it had been the case, but the fact that the Pope, who of course picks his words carefully, felt it necessary to make an unprecedented intervention on the matter demonstrates that this clearly wasn’t the case.
His intervention was in relation to the amendment that would end the right to freedom for churches to discipline clergy who act outside of church ethos. Of course, the Pope’s interest lies in the welfare of his clergy who should be allowed to run their own lives and space in the way they want and he is not trying to impose his ideal on anyone else.
So despite the fact that the government have been unable to accept defeat in this matter it is encouraging that their amendments have not been passed, not least for the Archbishop of York, who, had they gone through, would have been deemed not to have the freedom to carry out his own work according to his own ethos.