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Cardinal interviewed on BBC 'Today' programme

posted on 11 December 2004
Is Britain still a Christian country? Why is there disrespect for Christian symbols? Views on Rocco Buttiglione, right of self-defence, requiem Mass for Margaret Hassan.

Interviewed by Edward Stourton.. Full transcript follows.

(The interview was preceded by an interview with Rocco Buttiglione following a story about attempts in Italy to take 'Christ out of Christmas'.)

ES: Just going back to Tamsin Smith's little report about what was happening in Italy in terms of what many people see as an attempt to eradicate the Christian element in Christmas, do you see similar things happening here?

+CMOC: I do. Looking at the papers recently it seems incredible that Christianity is - patricularly Christmas - is displayed in a way that is so tasteless. Whether it's Posh and Becks in Mme Tussaud's, I thought was extremely tasteless; and then the 'Last Supper', advertising programmes - what is happening? Muslims and Jews like this - they know that religious symbols must be respected, and after all, Christianity in this country is part of the mosaic of religion in Britain. And to have Christianity and its most precious symbol - the coming of God into the world as Jesus Christ - depicted in this way seems to me not just disrespectful to Christians but also disrespectful to the heritage of Britain, and does damage to the culture of this country.

ES: You posed the question, 'what is happening?' - What do you think is happening?

+CMOC: I think somehow there's a lack of feeling amongst many people of what they're doing. I don't think necessarily that the people who are doing this are saying, 'we want to attack Christianity'. It's just a lack of sensitivity about their religion and what these symbols mean to them. What is needed is for Christians to come out and say, first of all, 'these symbols of ours are precious -you should not do this'. And second I think people need formation, instruction, on what religious symbols mean, not only for the religious people themselves but for the country and the values they cherish.

ES: You famously said a few years back [in 2001, just before the World Trade Centre attack], 'Christianity as a sort of backdrop to people's values and moral decisions - the government and the social life of the country - has now almost been vanquished.' I take it that from what you've just said that you still feel this to be the case.

+CMOC: That's precisely the sense in which I meant it. Of course I don't mean that Christianity or the Christian faith is vanquished - far from it. It's just finding, as it were, a new form of approach in the new kind of secular culture in which we live. I mean that 50 or 100 years ago some of the symbols of Christianity - and Christmas as the most important of these - would have been recognised by the vast majority of people in this country. I also think that somehow even though we have to say yes, this is a secular culture, a very large majority of people in this country would also regret - even though they not be practising Christians - would regret this kind of denigration of Christian symbols.

ES: Would you go as far as we have just heard Rocco Buttiglione say in terms of talking about persecution of Christians in the European Union?

+CMOC: It would be hard to say that here in Britain - I won't talk about other European countries - that there has been a persecution of Christians, I don't think that's true. I think more and more Christians in this country are swimming against the stream - what Rocco Buttiglione said about values was extremely important: the values of Christianity are a very important part of the heritage of Europe and if you have not got those values, then what values have you got? And I think that therefore many of those values are being lost, and that's very sad but Christians live in this kind of environment, they do swim against the stream, and maybe that's not entirely unhealthy.

ES: What do you do though when two sets of values come up against each other? Because that's what happened in his case. He said homosexuality was a sin, and this was orthodox Catholic teaching, and it was regarded as deeply offensive by the members of the European parliament, and they felt it disqualified him from office.

+CMOC: Yes I found that extraordinary. And I felt it was indicative of a new kind of antagonism, some people would call it an aggressive secularism in Europe today - something which I think we haven't experienced before and something we must be aware of. Now, other people would say aggressive secularism is something Christians will have to put up with, or live with, in our society today …

ES: Probably reflects the views of most people, doesn't it?

+CMOC: I don't think so.Most people in Britain have not just a tolerance but a respect for religion, and for religious values, even if they themselves don't feel they're practising any religion. I think there's a kind of secular tradition in Britain which is different from France - in Britain it's not averse to hearing the voice of religious people.

ES: Can I just ask you about something else briefly, seeing as you are with us. You were, I believe, a friend of John Monckton -

+CMOC: Well I was a friend of the family, yes -

ES: Has it made you change your view of the question of whether people should have a greater right to defend themselves in their home?

+CMOC: Yes, I noted Sir John Stevens brought this up, and I think it's worthy of debate, because the question of what right people have to defend themselves is very pertinent today, when we live in a more violent society. But we mustn't be too quick to jump to conclusions on this matter, after all there is a law, the law should be kept in terms of what are crimes, and the right of self-defence must be viewed against what is legitimate and what is illegitmate self-defence. I don't think it's an easy question.,

ES: And finally, you are saying a requiem Mass today for Margaret Hassan, who was killed in Iraq but her body was never recovered.

+CMOC: Yes and I think that's so awful and sad, especially for her husband who is left bereft but feels that for him and for the family it is terrible. So today the Requiem Mass for Margaret Hassan will be a profound reflection of dsorrow for her family, a prayer for the repose of her soul, and for all the victims of violence in Iraq at this time.

ES: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, thank you very much indeed.
Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 11 December 2004

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