After criticism from national religious leaders and Pope Benedict XVI, The British Government has retreated from plans to implement an Equality Bill many saw as oppressive of religious freedom.
The rules of the failed anti-discrimination proposal could have barred groups from requiring Christian sexual ethics from youth leaders. Some warned it could have also made the male-only priesthood of the Catholic Church illegal.
On Monday Pope Benedict said the proposed laws imposed “unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.”
A source at 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s residence, told The Telegraph, “We are clear that these parts of the Equality Bill should not go forward. The Pope's intervention has been noted.”
Many Catholic Labour Ministers of Parliament are reportedly upset that the new bill has provoked such strong reaction from Rome.
Naomi Phillips, head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, characterized the pope’s remarks as an attack on “modern, liberal values” and said they further motivated her group’s opposition to the Pope’s state visit to the United Kingdom.
Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols told BBC Radio 4 that the Pope was “certainly not” getting involved in party politics but was trying to give his “reasoned voice” a hearing in the public debate.
The archbishop thought Pope Benedict’s words will find an echo among many in Britain who are “uneasy” that an unintended consequence of recent legislation would “drive religious belief and practice into the sphere of the private only.”