Top Scottish Catholic quits Amnesty over abortion

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The Independent Online

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland yesterday announced he was resigning from human rights group Amnesty International after the organisation changed its stance on abortion.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien said he was withdrawing his membership because Amnesty's new position on abortion contravened the "basic right to human life".

His decision follows the recent move by Amnesty to back abortion in certain circumstances.

The policy change has already led to calls from senior members of the Catholic Church in Britain and the Vatican for a withdrawal of support from the organisation.

In a letter to John Watson, the director of Amnesty International in Scotland, Cardinal O'Brien writes: "The recent decision by the International Council of Amnesty International to support the decriminalisation of abortion and to defend women's access to abortion has forced me to reconsider my membership of this noble organisation.

"As a matter of conscience and with great sadness I have decided to resign from Amnesty International having first joined as a student and supported it over many decades.

"Throughout my priestly ministry and more recently as Archbishop and Cardinal I have shown my desire along with my Church to defend life in all its aspects."

Amnesty International reversed its long-time neutral stance on abortion in April. It has adopted a policy urging governments to ensure access to abortion services for women in the case of rape, sexual assault, incest or when pregnancy represents a risk to the mother's life or a grave risk to her health.

In his letter, the Cardinal writes that Amnesty's change led to him examining his own conscience. He added that in recent weeks he had listened to the teachings of his own Church, including the criticism of Amnesty from Cardinal Renato Martin, head of the Vatican's peace and justice department.

Cardinal Martin said Amnesty had betrayed its mission by abandoning its neutral policy.

Another critic was Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia, who resigned his 31-year Amnesty membership last week.

"I hope I act in a manner which is pro-life following what I believe is the teaching of Jesus Christ and the teaching of my Church," writes Cardinal O'Brien. "That basic and most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life, is recognised by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document upon which Amnesty International was founded.

"Sadly now Amnesty International seems to be placing itself at the forefront of a campaign for a universal right to abortion in contravention to that basic right to human life."

Earlier this year Cardinal O'Brien was criticised after comparing abortion to the equivalent of "two Dunblane massacres a day".