Ruth Kelly is out and so is Des Browne. There is a lot of speculation as to whether Ruth Kelly went because she really wanted to spend time with her family or because of her opposition to the Human Fertilisation and Embriology Bill, or simply that she found her Catholic Faith incompatable with her party's politics. One of the things that marks "New" Labour is its secularism, whilst Methodism and Catholic Social teaching formed "Old" Labour, especially in Scotland and the North. Why is Des Browne out? Why is Cruddas not in? Is it their Catholicism?
I had an email from Red Maria, who is profoundly pro-life, and very much old Labour, and a good Catholic expressing her concern about Mary Honeyball, see her website, who seems to exemplify today's anti-Catholicism.
You've blogged a number of times on the problem of anti-Catholicism in the Labour Party and growing threats to conscience rights. The Mary Honeyball affair exemplifies both these things. In May she wrote an eye-wateringly anti-Catholic peice for the Guardian in which she questioned whether Roman Catholics should be discriminated against in public life, which prompted the resignation of Conor McGinn as vice chair of Young Labour. She continued her campaign against Roman Catholics and added to it with a personal smear campaign against McGinn.
The good news is that she was roundly condemned by numerous Labour MPs including Jim Dobbin, Stephen Pound, Peter Kilfoyle, David Taylor and privately by David Milliband for her anti-Catholicism and by Jeremy Corbyn for her egregious attacks on Conor McGinn. Prominent Labour blogger Luke Akehurst recently criticised her http://lukeakehurst.blogspot.com/2008/09/ruth-kelly.html and a few months ago even an Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) blog did. The significance of this is that the AWL are the most headbangingly secularist of all the hard left groups but even one of them thought her sentiments bizarre.
The bad news is that Honeyball's views are not by any means unusual in the European Parliament and that as an MEP she holds rather more power than many people realise. One example suffices to make the point. Back in 2005 a budgetary amendment came before the European Parliament which would have blocked funding to any country or program involved in forced abortion or coercive sterilisation as part of a population control program. It only dealt with forced abortion and coercive sterilisation. In other words it was precisely the kind of amendment pro-choicers would have been able to sign up to. The Party of European Socialists (PES) which British Labour MEPs are a part of voted against the amendment en bloc and as a result it failed. It was indicated to me at the time by a PES press officer that Honeyball was instrumental in the PES's opposition to the amendment. She is the Labour Party's spokesperson on women's rights in the EU Parliament even though she plainly disregards the rights of millions of Chinese and Vietnamese women.
She is also a supporter of a notoriously anti-Catholic group called "Catholics" for Choice (CFC). A US-based group, funded by among others, the Playboy Foundation, it has hitherto attracted little attention in the British Catholic press. This is a big mistake because it is expanding its activities in the EU and now provides the secretariat for a group in the European Parliament, which Honeyball is a member of. CFC tells lies about Roman Catholic Church teaching - particularly on the sanctity of human life, spreading the false notion that the Church's opposition to abortion is of a recent vintage. It also conducts witchhunts against Roman Catholics in public life and campaigns for the erosion of conscience rights.
The Mary Honeyball affair has been covered quite extensively by The Universe - there's a news story about her on page 2 of this week's issue, by the Catholic Herald which first reported on McGinn's resignation and to a much lesser extent by The Tablet. However, so far, journalists haven't connected all the dots about her, the EU parliament, CFC and threats to conscience rights. The view is increasingly being put about that conscience rights are not fundamental democratic rights but special pleading by religious groups. In addition there seem to be moves to downgrade conscience rights if they conflict with other "rights". This received its most significant expression a few years ago when the EU parliament's legal committee blocked a concordat between Slovakia and The Vatican which would have protected the conscience rights of conscientious objectors to abortion. Similarly, Honeyball argues that Roman Catholics in the Labour government should resign and/or be discriminated against if they can't support the HFE Bill, blythly ignoring or wilfully ignorant of the long standing convention that matters concerning the beginning and end of human life are always subject to a free vote. More than that, she implies that Roman Catholics are a disloyal fifth column in the Labour Party and crazily, claims the Roman Catholic Church "has a grip on the media, parliament and public sphere".
Her mistake was to broadcast her views among a British audience. In Brussels, however, such sentiments are quite normal, with conferences being held discussing the supposedly baleful influence of the Church on public policy and how to counter it.
My own view is that Catholics should be more aware of this sort of thing. I've covered the Honeyball/McGinn affair a lot on my blog and am due to update it with more soon but finding the time is difficult. If you could bring some of this to the attention of your readers I would be grateful. If you are interested, I can provide you with chapter and verse.