Interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme
posted on 30 March 2002
SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST
John Humphries: Tomorrow Christians around the world celebrate Easter Sunday, the day when the Church celebrates Christ redeeming our sins and when he rose again, the ultimate promise of peace and love - but where? Not in the hills of the Middle East, not in the hills of Afghanistan, not in a hundred other places around the world. How do Christians deal with that? Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and he will deliver a homily tomorrow morning. He is with me now. Cardinal , what is the answer?
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: If only I had the answer. I think that sometimes when hope seems gone and everything is in despair, particularly with regard to the Middle East and the Holy Land, I think that is perhaps when the Easter hope enables us to say that, when things are very bad, light shines - and I can't tell you and your listeners the answer.
JH: Things couldn't be much worse than they are at the moment.
CMOC: No, I think things have reached a very terrible stage. What is positive, it seems to me, is that the whole world is leaning on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, to give a little in order for there to be tolerance, in order for there to be peace.
JH: Leaning enough? Is the United States leaning heavily enough on Israel?
CMOC: I think the United States have a special part to play and therefore one relies on them particularly because of their influence. I think also that we forget the European community has again a special relationship it seems to me with all the countries of the Middle East and that we have to play our part too.
JH: 'We all have to play a part', you say, but nobody is listening to anybody. You talk about hope, and everybody hopes you are right, but we are sinners and do the things that we want to do regardless of anything else and whether it's Easter and we are Christians, or whether we are Jews, or whether we are disciples of The Prophet - Muslims, it doesn't matter.
CMOC: It has happened before - in Jerusalem, the place of the three great faiths - Judaism, Islam and Christianity. One of the reasons why there can be some dialogue in Jerusalem is precisely because it is not only between two great faiths but because Christians are also there. Therefore, I think our particular input - Christian input - is not unimportant in urging reconciliation, peace and urging tolerance, all those things that we look for. I suppose that the whole world this Eastertide will be saying in that Holy Land: 'Let there be peace'.
JH: If President Bush decides, and he appears to have decided, that the next step in his war against terrorism is an attack on Iraq, how should the Roman Catholic Church react to that?
CMOC: All of the politics of the Middle East are focused in a strange way on the Holy Land, and if only that could be solved I think that a lot of other matters regarding the Middle East but also the Gulf would be resolved. I am not a politician…
JH: (interjects) …but would it be wrong to attack Iraq?
CMOC: I haven't got all of the intelligence. All I would say is this: anything that doesn't lead to greater stability in the Middle East, anything that doesn't lead in the long term to peace in the Middle East should not be done. To that extent, if a unilateral attack on Iraq would in fact cause instability, would cause the loss of ultimate peace in the Middle East then in my view it would be a very dangerous step to take and the consequences must be very, very seriously looked at.
I am sure our own Prime Minister would realise that we are a close ally of the United States. I think I'd also say that we are a close ally and a part of Europe with whom we have a loyalty, an understanding, and I would be very sorry if the United Kingdom as it were ruptured its joint mind with the rest of the European community on these issues.
CHILD PROTECTION AND THE CHURCH
JH: Let me just raise with you another incidence that the Pope himself raised this week, talking about paedophiles in the Church, priests who attack children, who abuse children in your Church, saying this is the most grievous form of evil. A lot of people are saying, 'Why is it happening to such an extent? Why cannot the Church stop it?'
CMOC: I think that child abuse of any kind is a terrible thing, and shameful and a great evil. I think that allegations that came up in the past about child abuse by priests - a tiny number, but one is more than enough - were not dealt with adequately, not through ill will, but through naivety and ignorance. That is now no more.
Certainly in this country, not only have we apologised for any mishandling of this in the past but the Roman Catholic Church is taking steps as far as possible to make sure this never happens again, that the procedures that are now in place in every diocese and every parish for the protection of children will I think ensure that as far as possible there will be real protection for children.
In the Catholic Church there will be a voluntary body that takes child protection seriously. I would like to see in the light of all that has happened that the Catholic Church in this country would be a model for what child protection procedures should be.
JH: Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, many thanks.