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March 26, 2008



You're conflating 'conscience' with 'loyalty to one's church' (as is just about everyone else). With Catholic MPs (who seem to be the group Brown has in mind) what's at issue is precisely church doctrine, not the promptings of the individual conscience.

So it's all a lot simpler than you make out. Brown's principle is that MPs have a right to let their loyalty to church override their loyalty to party, as and when the party says so. What they don't have is the right to think for themselves.

Chris Clark

Religion is instrumental in Brown's decision, I agree. But surely what swayed him was not an overriding respect, on his part, for religion but a respect for the fact that he may face three cabinet resignations. If that is the case, then it is the three Catholic cabinet member's respect for their religion that is at issue - and they are surely at liberty to regulate to what extent they hold allegience to their Church and to liberty (not that there necessaryily should be a distinction there).


Phil's correct.

Wrestling with one's individual conscience - or with God as Cromwell preferred it - is very much a protestant thing. Catholics don't get to have an individual conscience on moral questions only the one supplied by the Church of Rome.

Chris Clark

Unity, your comments reveal a deep and seemingly willing ignorance.

John Meredith

S/he is being provocative but is, basically, right. The Roman Catholic church requires obedience to the rule of the church, and that is all, in order to achieve the goods it promises. It is quite explicit about this, quite often

Chris Clark

Yes quite fair comment. The Chrurch does often (though not always as Unity implies) require obedience - so does Gordon Brown when he issues a three-line whip. In this case three Catholic members of the cabinet were handed a straight choice of membership between the Labour cabinet and their Church. Gordon Brown did not give way to the Church in the end, he gave way to cabinet ministers who said that, given that choice, they'd choose the Church. Phil implies that these cabinet ministers did not make a moral choice but a slavish reaction - which is pig ignorant. Sorry to be blunt.

Chris Clark

Sorry, correction not "Phil" in the penultimate sentence - "Unity". Sorry Phil.

Tom Freeman

Party leaders are likeliest to grant free votes when they're under pressure to do so. Pressure is best exerted when done by an organised group with good media connections - as the Churches do. Hence the link between free votes and religious lobbying.

But there's also an element of institutionalisation in the way that people so readily link 'conscience' to 'religion' - in the same way that people aren't black or gay or deaf but 'members of the black/gay/deaf community'.

Individual identity and integrity get subsumed into membership of groups.

john b

"Phil implies that these cabinet ministers did not make a moral choice but a slavish reaction - which is pig ignorant"

They made a moral choice when they decided to be/remain Catholics. They made no moral choice whatsoever when they decided, as Catholics, to obey the authority of the Church.

Chris Clark

John B, you make an excellent point. Forgive me for introducing a nuance. By being part of the Catholic Church, one is part of the Catholic Church. It is not possible to seperate one's decision to be part of the Church and one's actions. Just as a Catholic cannot plead innocence of his/her actions because "they were only following orders", so one cannot claim that their decisions are not their own by using the same arguement.


Phil is right. Perhaps we should say that they are acting from their "convictions". Not least because headlines combining Labour and Convictions are devoutly to be wished.


What do you mean the 'secular moral philosophy' of MP's is not given the respect of a free vote? Of course they are, and on these very questions, because it is on these questions that the secular/religious divide hinges and both sides get to have a free shout.

What's sauce for the gander...........

Larry Teabag

There's a lot of confusion here, about a Catholic's freedom of conscience versus his obedience to the Church. This declaration from Vatican II makes clear how the two can be co-exist:

"In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church."

From Dignitatis Humanae:


I wouldn't normally pass up the chance to have a pop at the religious being granted special privileges but you and most of your commentators are wrong here. The issue is more straightforward than most of you are assuming. Certainly in this case, Brown is simply wanting to defuse a situation where three of his cabinet might resign for religious reasons but in general terms there's good reason why issues like this are conventionally left to a free vote and it's this: despite what my enemies, your friends, at LC would have us believe, issues like this, or like abortion, cannot be slotted into a left-right axis and certainly shouldn't be made partisan issues.

It doesn't matter, for example, whether one's objections to abortion are religious or secular - it is intolerable to make these issues fit partisan loyalty when there's no reason for them to do so. Look at the way the attempt to ignore this fact has disfigured American politics, for example.

Adherence to liberal principles are not like this - they *can* be placed on a left-right axis. The reason that Labour can whip a vote on extending detention for terrorist suspects is that they are not a liberal party. Therefore, anyone who wants to adhere to liberal principles should join a liberal party, rather than expecting an essentially authoritarian one to 'respect their consciences'.

Furthermore, while I have no regard for the Catholic church whatsoever, the notion that its members are incapable of moral choice but only slavish obedience is indeed, as Chris Clark points out, pig ignorant.


Ah yes, Larry, the Dignatis Humanae - as delightful a piece of Jesuit theological sophistry and doublethink as you're ever likely to encounter.


Ah, Shuggy, but suppose the Infallible One changed his mind? Would Ruth Kelly and co. still be making their fuss? If so, would they leave the Roman church? The bear shitteria is behind those trees.

Donald McConnell

There are secular reasons to vote against the Embryology bill. The ideas of Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Fish and Rawls come to mind. I myself would be opposed to it for many reasons even though I am not Roman Catholic.

But I think you have a point that conscience is not uniformly respected by political parties.

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