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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 October 2005, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Synod in Rome
On Sunday 09 October 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

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

ANDREW MARR: Six months ago the Catholic church went through the upheaval of the death of Pope John Paul and the election of his successor, Benedict XVI.

The new Pope has so far kept a lower profile than his predecessor, but now Catholic Bishops from around the world have an opportunity to assess their new leader at a three-week-long Synod in Rome.

This is also an opportunity for them to discuss the Catholic liturgy and teaching of issues such as divorce and contraception, on all of which Pope Benedict takes a conservative line.

Well, the head of the Roman Catholic church in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor has been at that meeting in the Vatican and he is with me now. Cardinal welcome.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR: Can you just explain to us, those of us who are not familiar with the Synod, what it's actually like. Is it a sort of House of Commons of Cardinals and Bishops from around the world?

CARDINAL CORMAC: Well, it's about 250-300 Bishops elected from different Bishop conferences all over the world, that meet together to discuss a particular project and meet with the Pope.

So there we are, all of us, sitting there day after day together with Pope Benedict, talking away and listening to each other about - we were talking liturgy and worship - but it's always interesting with a new Pope, perhaps a slightly different, different style.

ANDREW MARR: You were said to be, you were reported to be, possibly wrongly I don't know, uncomfortable with Pope Benedict as the choice at the time, a little bit too conservative for the British Catholic tradition perhaps, a little wary about that. Now that you've sat opposite him or alongside him and listened to him in this Synod, what's your take?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I've always had a great admiration for Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was. So when he was Peter, when he was elected, I wasn't unhappy at all because I know who of his intelligence.

ANDREW MARR: But he was very much on, is very much on the conservative wing of most of the arguments in the Catholic church.

CARDINAL CORMAC: He was on an intelligent wing, his job was to look after as it were, a strict doctrine and now he is Peter for the whole church. And I think we're finding that here is a reflective spiritual intelligent man listening to us, and we're, I suppose, it's going to be very interesting what happens.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's look at a few of the, sort of as you were non-liturgical arguments if I like, which can people can perhaps understand more clearly. Condoms and Aids being a terribly difficult issue. A lot of people have died in Africa because of non-use of condoms. And yet the Catholic Church is still against that.

CARDINAL CORMAC: There's a lot of people have died also with the use of condoms. The fact of the matter is, speak to Bishops in Africa and you'll find that flooding Africa with condoms is not the answer. The answer to Aids is better health care, better education, better from the point of view, one man one woman living as infidelity.

This is the way to [speaking over each other]. Well, what Bishops say to me is, one Bishop said my diocese is flooded with condoms and what you have is more promiscuity, more Aids and a less stable society. So I think just to say condoms is the answer, or even the main answer, I don't think is true.

ANDREW MARR: But if it was part of the answer the Catholic Church would still be against it. Can I ask about another issue which is absolutely relevant because it's coming up in the House of Lords tomorrow, which is the Assisted Dying Bill, the Joffe Bill, euthanasia.

Now the Catholic Church, indeed like the Anglican Church, is strongly hostile to this Bill. It might seem a strange word to use, is it not in the end actually impertinent for a church, Catholic or otherwise, to say to individuals who may have different faiths or no faiths, that you may or may not do this or that, at the matter of your own death. Is that not an intensely personal thing which should be left to the individual and not to churches?

CARDINAL CORMAC: It is not only a personal thing, it's a communal thing and I think the churches have a right to say what they deeply believe regarding the sanctity of life, and also regarding the consequences of particular actions. And with regard to assisted dying and this Bill of Lord Joffe. First of all I'd say that with the growth of hospices which care for the dying. And I've been to many.

There's no doubt that there are now ways of palliative care which we didn't have before. And therefore that great moment or moments or time of going to the next life or going, of dying. It's a very important moment and time in a person's life. I also....

ANDREW MARR: Can I just stop you there for a second - it is an important moment. But I know people who would very much want the right to decide in dignity how and when they went.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Mmm.

ANDREW MARR: Is it really right for any outside body including the Church to tell them they can't?

CARDINAL CORMAC: Well I think that the church in fact should help the law on this one. If this law is passed it seems to me that the duty of the law to act on behalf of the people would be broken because the law's there to protect life.

And you know, a right to die can become a duty to die. Here we have in Holland numbers of people who feel, who are now put to death, and babies...

ANDREW MARR: Because they're under pressure from families....

CARDINAL CORMAC: And also babies who are born who are disabled, I am told, are also being killed.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Any liberty can be abused. Every liberty including the, you know, right to free speech, can be abused. Is this not still a choice and a liberty individuals should be allowed to exercise?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I don't think so.

ANDREW MARR: I mean we live so much longer these days and death can be so much more difficult as a result.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Yes, I can understand that. I understand very sad cases, but hard cases don't make good laws. And I think that the whole trust between a doctor and his or her patient is at stake here. My father was a doctor, my brother's a doctor.

I think this is hugely important and therefore I would be totally against this law. Not because I have not sympathy for... but I also have sympathy for the law which protects life and if that goes I think a moral Rubicon will be passed in this country which we would live to regret.

ANDREW MARR: There is quite a big alliance against this Bill, as well as in favour of it. Gut instinct - is this going to be defeated in the House of Lords?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I think it will be defeated in the House of Lords. I sincerely hope so.

ANDREW MARR: Right. One other issue comes up again and again, there's an extraordinary survey saying that about half priests were gay at the moment.

There is new quite tough ruling about that. Are you not in danger as a church of cutting away some of the people who have been supporting the church through some tough times when it comes to getting enough priests?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I think that the church has respect for people who are homosexual. And I think that a person isn't, as it were, shouldn't be focused upon his or her sexuality.

And therefore I think what the church will be saying, or advising, Bishops, to be prudent in its choice of men for the priesthood and therefore their sexuality and how they, as it were, handled their sexuality in a mature way, particularly for celibate priests, is something that's very important. Whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.

ANDREW MARR: Does that mean that anyone who has a gay background over the last few years can't become a priest? Or is it only about activity, if you like, rather than orientation?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I think the main thing is about, would be if someone who has a homosexual lifestyle, has had a homosexual lifestyle, I'm sure Bishops would be advised to say be very very careful about choosing such a man. And ...

ANDREW MARR: But it would be possible if they were a remarkably eloquent holy man in other ways?

CARDINAL CORMAC: I think that a homosexual lifestyle would be for me certainly a deterrent to a choice of that man for priesthood.

ANDREW MARR: Cardinal, thank you very much indeed.

CARDINAL CORMAC: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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