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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 December 2006, 11:10 GMT
Catholic viewpoint
On Sunday 03 December, Andrew Marr interviewed Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Head of the Roman Catholic Church in England

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Head of the Roman Catholic Church in England

ANDREW MARR: Now then, today is Advent Sunday, and in three weeks' time there'll be Christmas services the length and breadth of Britain.

But it's not all peace and harmony between church and state.

There have been rows over faith schools, new laws enshrining the rights of homosexuals have caused outrage amongst some Christians.

And on Friday the Prime Minister said it's time for the Catholic church to get real over condoms. Now the leader of Britain's Roman Catholics is here. Good morning to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: Very nice to have you here, Cardinal.

CARDINAL CORMAC: I'm glad to be here.

ANDREW MARR: Thank you. Let me ask first if I may, about your colleague, the Bishop of Birmingham, who delivered quite a strong philippic against the government, it seemed to me, saying that there was an aggressive attempt to reshape morality being driven by ministers, and I think he was talking particularly about the new laws on gay rights and so on, and that it really wasn't the job of government to try and shape our morality. Do you share his view?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I share his view, especially to the extent that it seems to me that it's not really government, to put it very simply, what is legal is not always moral. And the moral shape of a country is shaped by its people, by its leaders, but also by its religious leaders, and by the ethos. And in this country, where this is still in many ways a Christian country, that's our heritage.

And therefore I think that that should be adhered to, and that should be reflected, and that sometimes the laws that are passed don't always reflect that, and therefore to say that, it wasn't exactly a philippic but it was saying that we've got to beware that laws don't actually militate against that heritage, that Christian heritage, and that moral framework within which this country works.

ANDREW MARR: And do you see your church coming into conflict with the government over the running of schools and shelters and so on, where it comes to particularly the new law on homosexual equality?

CARDINAL CORMAC: Yes, I think we do. I think that not only with regard to schools but also, for instance, with regard to adoption services. The laws that are being passed would actually limit the religious freedom of a particular religious denomination, in this case the Catholic Church. And not only the Catholic Church, but other Christians as well.

So, I do think there are certain conflicts here and if people say well the church should keep out of politics, there are certain aspects of politics the church just has to be in, whether it's the rights of the individual, whether it's concerning the family, that's absolutely crucial, where there are other elements of our national life with which I believe the church and Christians, and indeed other denominations as well, have a vital part to play.

ANDREW MARR: You've used the word "Christophobic" about our culture. What do you mean by that?

CARDINAL CORMAC: When I said that what I meant was that I think there is a group of people in this country who for their own - and I don't mean just in England actually, or in Britain, I think also in Europe - who are saying really we want to privatise totally religion.

That we want to put Christianity and what it means on the periphery of society. Let it be something which is purely in the personal realm. Now I think that that is wrong, you cannot divorce religion and life. And I think that what all of us, certainly we who are Christian leaders, are saying, is that public space for debate, has got to be, we've got to have a place in it.

ANDREW MARR: So why do you think this has happened, because after all the Prime Minister is a devout Christian, quite close to your church some people say. The Cabinet is full of churchgoers, so why should it be the case that the Catholic Church is, as it were, squaring up like that, that's putting it perhaps too strongly. But, rolling up its sleeves in regard to this government?

CARDINAL CORMAC: Well I think that it's not only the Catholic Church, very interesting just two weeks ago all the Church of England Bishops and ourselves, the Catholic Bishops, we met together. And together we said that public space needs to be, yes by all sorts of opinions. But we need to be there too.

And I think we all have a feeling that, as I was saying, it's not just the government, it's also, I mean I say so, people in the media are saying we don't really want this.

ANDREW MARR: OK. Let me turn to what the Prime Minister said, on the subject of condoms. Because World Aids Day coming up and the United Nations have produced some pretty horrific figures about the number of people infected with HIV. Is there any chance that the Catholic Church is going to move its teaching a little bit, at least to the use of condoms inside marriage where, for instance, one of the partners is already HIV positive?

CARDINAL CORMAC: Before I answer that question can I say this, that over a quarter, worldwide, but especially in Africa, over a quarter of healthcare particularly for Aids victims, is given by the Catholic Church and its agencies.

Now that's very important. And let me also say that the way to combat Aids is primarily, as everybody should know, you know, behavioural change, monogamous partnerships between a man and a woman. And...

ANDREW MARR: But out there in the real world as you very well know, that's not how many people behave and condoms do stop people getting Aids.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Well I'll say two things. The Pope has had a vast report on the particular case that you mention within a very restrictive area of marriage. But I have to say, the pouring the Prime Minister has said, you know, in the...

ANDREW MARR: ...face up to reality.

CARDINAL CORMAC: ...he's also saying I've got to give more and more aid including more condoms into Africa. You know, I think what I'd like to say to the Prime Minister, it'd be much better if we used that money to provide more anti-retroviral drugs, medicines, for the millions of children and women who are affected. Now ..

ANDREW MARR: Where are you going to use your money?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I mean I speak to bishops in Africa and they told me, they told me that their dioceses are flooded with condoms and they said, and I asked them, well has it affected, said well, sad to say it's meant more promiscuity, and more Aids.

So I think you've got to look at this I think within the whole context of the African culture.

ANDREW MARR: Any rethinking though going on inside the church on this?

CARDINAL CORMAC: Well, as I've said, in a particular restrictive case, I think Pope Benedict asked for a report. But in general I think that the church stands by what it says.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about one other area, which is, there have been a large people who've come out of the Anglican communion into your church, partly because they're worried about women priests.

And many of those people who have become Roman Catholic priests are already married. And they're allowed to be married because they've come in that way and yet your own priests are not allowed to be married, and a lot of people say well actually there's an unfairness and an injustice there.

CARDINAL CORMAC: I think that the law of celibacy in the, for the Western church is a good law and if you were to say to me, wouldn't it be much easier if more priests were allowed to be married, I don't agree. You see, the crisis today, it's not a crisis of celibacy it's a crisis of faith. And when you get a deeper faith and a stronger faith then you will get priests coming forward. And also undertaking, yes it's demanding but free acceptance of celibacy.

ANDREW MARR: All right. One final quick question. You're off to the Holy Land?


ANDREW MARR: With the Archbishop of Canterbury, to show support for Christians quite often embattled in that part of the world.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Well, yes, I'm going with the Archbishop of Canterbury and two other Church leaders, from the Baptist and the Orthodox Church. And we're going to be there not on a political mission, on a pastoral visit, to encourage the minority Christian community, Jerusalem and especially in Bethlehem.

And I think it's a very important visit really because it should be clear to everyone that in the Holy Land there are not only Muslims and Jews, there are also Christians. And it would be very sad if Christians were, as it were, being forced to leave because of the political situation there.

ANDREW MARR: And some are.

CARDINAL CORMAC: And some are. And I think that's very sad because the Holy Land is our land too, where there is the birthplace and life of Christ.

ANDREW MARR: Cardinal thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Not at all, it's nice to be with you.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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