Former UK government minister picked for religious freedom post

Ann Widdecombe. Credit: Brian Minkoff
Ann Widdecombe. Credit: Brian Minkoff


Ann Widdecombe, a prominent British politician and Catholic convert, has been named a “special envoy on religious freedom” for the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need.

She discussed the importance of her new advisory post in a March 17 statement, saying she had “become increasingly alarmed by reports of violence and acts of intimidation against Christians,” particularly in a number of countries where Christianity is illegal or severely restricted.

Ms. Widdecombe, who represented the Conservative Party as a Member of Parliament from 1987 to 2007, highlighted the inconsistency between Britain's extensive efforts to protect minority groups and opinions at home, and its willingness to overlook the treatment of Christian minorities abroad.

“We in this country are rightly concerned to protect the rights of minorities over here,” she said. “We cannot therefore turn a blind eye to the plight of minorities in other parts of the world.”

“In many cases,” she noted “those suffering most are Christians.”

Aid to the Church in Need's new global report “Persecuted and Forgotten?” indicates that up to 75 percent of religious persecution in the world is directed against Christians in regions such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Widdecombe's criticism of U.K. inaction on global religious freedom echoed the comments of Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh, who recently described persecution of Christians as “perhaps the biggest human rights scandal of our generation.”

On March 15, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland accused British Foreign Secretary William Hague of adopting an “anti-Christian foreign policy,” by doubling aid to Pakistan without demanding a guarantee of religious minorities' rights from the Islamic state.

Like Cardinal O'Brien, M. Widdecombe is intent on bringing the issue before the public.

“It is time to put our heads above the parapet and speak up in the name of Christians suffering for their faith,” she said. “I am delighted to support the work of Aid to the Church in Need, which is doing excellent work to help persecuted Christians.”

Ms. Widdecombe, a former government minister of the Conservative party, is also a published novelist and television personality. She converted from Anglicanism to the Catholic Church during the 1990s, over a range of issues including the ordination of women in the Church of England.

Her new role as special envoy for religious freedom will involve meeting regularly with staff from Aid to the Church in Need, along with possible travels to survey places where persecution is occurring around the world.

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