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Pope criticised for attack on equality bill

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 02 February 2010

Equal rights campaigners have criticised the Pope ahead of his visit to Britain after he attacked the UK's equality legislation. Catholic commentator Clifford Longley speaks to Jon Snow.

In remarks seen as a challenge to the government's equal rights agenda, Pope Benedict said the legislation imposed "unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs".

He is believed to have been referring to the equality bill going through parliament, which is intended to bar discrimination against the employment of gay people.

The government says it only applies to religious organisations when they employ people in non-religious jobs, not as priests.

The church fears it might mean having to employ teachers who do not believe in God.

The National Secular Society says it will protest against the Pope's visit to the UK, expected in September.

Clifford Longley told Jon Snow that "What really has got to him (the Pope) is the bishops' concern about the gay adoption issue.

"About three years ago legislation was introduced that has effectively driven Catholic children's societies out of the adoption business - and the bishops, frankly, are still very sore about that."

He went on: "There is, of course, a slightly bigger agenda because the gay adoption thing was part of a larger picture, and the equalities bill... is part of that same agenda.

But specifically, if you look at what he's said, precisely he's talking about legislation already passed, not legislation in the future."

Jon Snow suggested that the row was a PR disaster for the Pontiff. "There are a lot of dimensions to this," replied Clifford Longley. "Clearly the press reckons that public opinion is extremely sensitive on that point. I'm not sure quite how true that is.

"But anyway, the way the press reacted this morning gave the impression that this was a major constitutional issue - and indeed people are talking it up as if it looks like that.

He concluded: "There is a balance here between, on the one hand, the government's desire to achieve certain principles in terms of non-discrimination, and religions' desire to carry on according to their own value system. And you have to find some way of accommodating those two."

"They haven't yet found the right balance."





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