Church leaders get behind Labour

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The Independent Online
The Bishop of Edinburgh today applauds Karl Marx, endorses socialism and urges his flock to vote Labour in the general election.

The Most Reverend Richard Holloway, writing in the Church Times, in a move likely to engender fury in the Tory party, says New Labour offers a chance to transform the "unjust reality of life in Britain". He accuses the Conservatives of deceitful self-interest and lack of moral vision. He calls for Christians on the left to enlist in the cause, saying the "moral vision of socialism has always been higher than that of Conservatism, and it was Karl Marx who understood why".

His lengthy and controversial editorial adds to religious and political controversy today as a Free Church professor, Donald Macleod, accuses the head of Scotland's Catholics of blackmailing Labour leader Tony Blair.

In a stinging attack on Cardinal Thomas Winning, Professor Macleod described a recent threat to put up pro-life candidates against Labour hopefuls unless the party swung against abortion as "ecclesiastical tyranny". The outspoken Western Isles-born churchman and Labour Party supporter, has previously invoked the wrath of his own church for his closeness to Roman Catholics and acceptance of their views on certain matters.

But this week he devoted his column in the weekly West Highland Free Press to savaging the cardinal's stance on political moves in Scotland against pro-abortionists. "Cardinal Winning is threatening New Labour with blackmail," he wrote. "When a church with a million adherents makes such a threat, it has to be taken seriously." Calling on the Scottish electorate to reject such "ecclesiastical tyranny", Professor Macleod went on: "One spiritual power group may hold the nation to ransom over abortion; another on Sunday sports; yet another on Islamic schools.

"Scotland has to respond to all such cardinals, moderators and ayatollahs with outright, deliberate defiance."

He went on to criticise the timing of Cardinal Winning's remarks over possible pro-life candidates as being "insensitive" in view of the crisis with the Irish peace process.

It was inopportune, the professor said, when Ulster should be reassured they need have no fears of "a meddling priesthood".

Today, Professor Macleod, 56, stood by his article but refuted suggestions that he was being sectarian by his accusations of blackmail.

"I may be labelled sectarian and I may be accused of playing party politics but I have no power or influence. I have also attacked my own church when necessary," he said.

He maintained that Cardinal Winning, by putting forward his proposal, knew there was a risk of someone else creating a sectarian debate.

"We cannot ignore what he wants because it is high-risk policy for the churches to begin blackmailing political parties," said Professor Macleod.

The Catholic Church in Scotland, after studying his comments, decided against a similarly strong response. Fr Tom Connolly, their press secretary, said: "I know the professor well ... he will always have his say when he sees fit but neither the church nor the Cardinal have any comment to make on this article."