Wednesday, May 12, 2004  



During a sermon delivered during Mass in the Crypt of the House of Commons in London on Wednesday 12 May, Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, told MP's that the church and politics were "autonomous", but co-operation "served the common good" and called on politicians to attend to the "concerns of society".  

Among others, the Cardinal listed concerns about international terrorism and what he described as "the defence of life itself" - in a reference to the plight of the unborn, Cardinal O'Brien said;  

"I lament deeply our present culture and laws which show so little respect for the child in the womb and allow for the experimentation upon and destruction of human embryos “ life at its earliest and most defenceless."  

Quoting the words of Pope John Paul II, the Cardinal asked legislators to "campaign in support of life explaining that the Catholic Church in Scotland would celebrate a "Day For Life" on 31 May 2004.  

Cardinal O'Brien visited Westminster as the guest of Alistair Darling MP, Secretary of State for Scotland. He will attend Prime Minister's question time after which he will be the Secretary of State's guest for lunch at Dover House, his visit ends with a meeting with the Right Hon Michael Martin MP Speaker of the House of Commons.  


Peter Kearney  
Catholic Media Office  
5 St. Vincent Place  
G1 2DH  
0141 221 1168  


1. The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's homily follows below  
2. Photographs of the Cardinal and Secretary of State will be available from Scotland Office Press Officer, Michael Duncan (0207 270 6875)  
3. Following the Westminster visit, Cardinal O'Brien will stay with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor before departing for Rome on 13 May, where he will take possession of his titular church (Ss Joachim and Anne) on 14 May.  



It is indeed a privilege being here celebrating this Mass in the Crypt of the House of Commons. Initially I thank the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Right Honourable Alastair Darling MP for this opportunity; as also his Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O Connor and Bishop George Stack for the arrangements which they have made; and those responsible for the care of this hallowed place.  

At Mass today, let us thank God for our time together. May our praise of God inspire us to consider the wonder of our vocation; the wonder of our service of God and of one another.  

Our vocation “ service:  

Our common vocation is indeed that of service. We have all been ˜called to serve .  

I myself can think back to my first experiences of this call to serve when about eleven years of age “ with my awareness of that call growing over the years.  

Your own call to serve has come at different times and in different circumstances “ but I am sure there has always been that desire to be of use to others, to serve the common good.  

During this Eastertide I ask you to think of the ˜dignity of service . We have been reminded at this time of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples when he used very simple words: I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you . Jesus is really speaking of the dignity of service.  

And in thinking of dignity I always remember those words of Pope St Leo the Great speaking of the dignity of each and every Christian when he wrote: Christian, be aware of your dignity; it is God s own nature that you share; do not then, by an ignoble life, fall back into your former baseness .  

In our service, while being aware of our own dignity we must be aware of the dignity of each and every individual who we are called upon to serve. We are responsible for each and everyone of them to God before a responsibility to any earthly power.  

Here in the crypt of the House of Commons I am sure the memory of St Thomas More is frequently before you “ named Patron Saint of Politicians by Pope John Paul 11. Through the sacrifice of his life he indicated his priority which should be our priority “ to serve God and to serve God first. He is someone whom the present Pope described as: A source of inspiration for a political system which has as its goal the service of the human person . And he added: His life teaches us that Government is above all an exercise of virtue .  

Our vocation “ to serve together:  

In considering our own vocations of service I think it is ever more important to remember that our service must be in union with one another.  

From the teaching of the Second Vatican Council we are taught that: The Church and the political establishment are separate . The Church in the compendium of her teaching entitled: ˜The Catechism of the Catholic Church proposes: ˜Principles for Reflection; Criteria for Judgment; and Guidelines for Action . As Archbishop Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Cardiff recently stated: Our task as bishops is to state very clearly the teaching of the Catholic Church, but it would be very wrong to dictate to a Catholic politician how to vote ¦ We do not believe that it is our task to tell MPs how to vote, although we hope and expect that they will bring their faith to bear on the political decisions they are asked to make .  

The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet the Church clearly teaches that both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same people. The more that both foster sound cooperation between themselves with due consideration for the circumstances of time and place, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all.  

In his document on ˜Care for the Social Order Pope John Paul 11 states: For the Church does not propose economic and political systems or programmes, nor does she show preference for one or the other, provided that human dignity is properly respected and promoted, and provided she herself is allowed the room she needs to exercise her ministry in the world .  

Basically what I am saying is that in our service of our people we must have a respect for one another while being loyal to our own principles.  

Those we are called upon to serve:  

I have mentioned dignity. When thinking of those who we are called upon to serve that very beautiful document from the Second Vatican Council ˜Gaudium et Spes sums up I think admirably our call to particular service. That document states:  

The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts ¦ ¦ ¦that is why Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history .  

I believe that those words form a good basis for the vocation of service of us all “ we are to be concerned with all people especially the poor or afflicted in any way.  

I share with you particular ways in which I think our concerns for all people must be shown at this present time:  

1. World Peace and International Terrorism:  

Most peoples of goodwill are concerned at this present time about the fragile nature of peace in our world at this present time and of dangers coming from international terrorism.  

In his message for the World Day of Peace at the beginning of this year, Pope John Paul II  

highlighted in a very particular way the importance of international co-operation stating that it provides a system for regulating disputes between nations and also provides the basic framework of human and civil rights and duties of all citizens of the world .  

Calling on his own experience the Pope states: I feel it necessary to repeat that, for the establishment of true peace in the world, justice must find its fulfilment in  

charity ¦ ¦ Justice and love sometime appear to be opposing forces. In fact they are but two faces of a single reality, two dimensions of human life needing to be mutually integrated .  

2. Standards with regard to Marriage and Family Life:  
Obviously, of immediate concern is the defence of life itself. No list of concerns for our people and society would be complete without a plea on behalf of those unable to protect or defend themselves: the unborn. I lament deeply our present culture and laws which show so little respect for the child in the womb and allow for the experimentation upon and destruction of human embryos “ life at its earliest and most defenceless. As the Catholic Church in Scotland prepares to celebrate a Day for Life on 31 May, I ask you in the words of Pope John Paul II to consider: A general mobilisation of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life .  

I think of tremendous concern to all peoples of goodwill at this present time are the diminishing standards with regard to marriage and family life, the basic building blocks of our society. Rather than mourning the present situation and making divorces evermore easy “ to be effective we must rather plunge resources into adequate programmes of preparation for marriage with true explanations of what marriage really is and give support to families with their children, particularly in the earlier years of marriage. That same support and help must be given to agencies working with people who are experiencing stress in their marriages, helping them come to terms with their difficulties, hopefully assisting in the resolution of these difficulties for the sake of the couple themselves and their children, and continuing to be available in the years which lie ahead.  

3. Response to refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers:  

I am sure we are all fully aware of the falling birth-rate at this present time. We are told that we will soon see Scotland s population fall back to levels last seen in 1915 with the working age population supporting one of the highest proportion of pensioners in Western Europe. Scotland s population is expected to plunge to 4.5 million “ a level not seen since the 19th century and Scotland s fertility ratio is again shown to be the lowest in the United Kingdom. In our countries we do not seem to be ˜family conscious / child conscious and we must work to reverse this trend.  

We must also welcome and respect those coming to our shores “ the refugees and asylum seekers “ as we work to increase our population. Obviously proper investigation of those coming into our country must take place. We cannot just have a completely ˜open door policy. A recent study by ˜The Scotsman showed that 635,000 migrant workers are needed over the next 20 years in Scotland if the age balance of the population is to be preserved at current levels. Our care of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers must be of the best. Exploitation of any sort must be completely abhorred.  

4. Financial outreach to those in need:  

We are indeed aware of our obligations to others throughout the world, particularly to those in developing nations. It is necessary that we fulfil our own obligations to them and those undertaken in our name by our government. Various goals have been set over the next few years particularly the millennium goals for the year 2015. We must be assiduous in observing these targets so that others will see that we are serious in the commitments which we have undertaken and be evermore ready to fulfil their own goals.  


Obviously I respect the seriousness with which you all approach your vocation as I know that you understand my own seriousness and my vocation as a Bishop and now as a Cardinal. As we continue in our various apostolates let us become more and more aware of our responsibilities. Heavy burdens are on your shoulders as on mine. Hopefully it is together that we will work for the good of the whole community, the whole community in our country, benefiting eventually the whole community of the peoples of the world.  

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