Catholic bishop cuts Amnesty links

STEVE DOWNES East Anglia's top Roman Catholic has severed his links with Amnesty International in protest at its decision to support abortion rights for rape victims, it emerged last night.

STEVE DOWNES

East Anglia's top Roman Catholic has severed his links with Amnesty International in protest at its decision to support abortion rights for rape victims, it emerged last night.

The Bishop of East Anglia, the Rt Rev Michael Evans , said the move would “divide Amnesty's membership” and “deeply compromised” its long-term commitment to protect human life.

Other leading Catholics also rounded on the pressure group, accusing it of “betraying its mission” by ratifying the new policy at its International Council in Mexico last week.

The Vatican is accusing Amnesty of double standards, because it opposes the death penalty in all circumstances but, it argues, under some circumstances will now condone the killing of an unborn child.

But Amnesty hit back by saying it was committed to “upholding human rights, not specific theologies”.

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The row hinges on the council's decision to support the decriminalisation of abortion and to expand its definition of human rights to include access to abortion for rape victims and those whose health may be at risk from giving birth.

Bishop Michael, who took over as head of the East Anglian diocese in 2003, said: “The Roman Catholic Church has no desire for women who have been through the trauma of abortion to be punished; they need compassion and healing.

“Women who suffer complications after an abortion should obviously receive quality care. But our proper indignation regarding pervasive violence against women should not cloud our judgement about our duty to protect the most vulnerable and defenceless form of human life.”

He added that Amnesty's decision was at odds with the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1989 and stated that children needed “special safeguards and care” and “appropriate legal protection” before as well as after birth.

He said: “In time Amnesty may seek to develop this policy further, but even this current limited decision makes it very difficult for Catholics to remain members of Amnesty or to give it any financial support.

“Very regretfully, I will be ending my 31-year membership of Amnesty International, which included in the 1980s several years on the British section council and its religious bodies liaison panel.

“The Roman Catholic Church shares Amnesty's strong commitment to oppose violence against women (for example, rape, sexual assault and incest), but such appalling violence must not be answered by violence against the most vulnerable and defenceless form of human life in a woman's womb.”

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the pontifical council for justice and peace, has threatened that unless Amnesty's policy is reversed, the Vatican will call upon Catholics worldwide to boycott the organisation.

Amnesty's deputy general secretary, Kate Gilmore, denied the organisation had become “pro-abortion”.

“Amnesty International's position is not for abortion as a right but for women's human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations,” she said.

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