Party leaders say people want to see Catholic church "confess" and "repent" for "sin"

By Jonathan Bartley
April 23, 2010

It will be interesting to see how the Catholic church responds to last night’s television debate between the leaders of the three biggest parties in the UK. It saw the Catholic church roundly challenged on its views about sexual ethics, contraception and homosexuality, as well as the child abuse scandals.

Nick Clegg said said more people wanted to see "repentance" for the church's "sin". The Prime Minister urged greater openness and "confession".

The comments came in response to a question from the audience about the Pope’s visit, and what the response should be in light of the positions that the Catholic church held, as well as the Catholic child abuse scandals.

All three party leaders have welcomed the role of faith in the UK, and have been seen as courting the churches over the last few weeks.

David Cameron said: “Do I agree with everything the Pope says? No. I don’t agree with him about contraception, I don’t agree with him about homosexuality and I think the Catholic church has got some very, very serious work to do to unearth and come to terms with some of the appalling things that have happened and they need to do that but I do think that we should respect people of faith, I think faith is important in our country.”

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: “My wife – I’m not a man of faith – my wife, Miriam, is Catholic, my children are being brought up in her faith so I have a little bit of an insight into the immense feelings of anguish in the Catholic community here and elsewhere and I think many Catholics themselves feel really extremely torn apart by what’s happened and I think they do want to see the Catholic church express greater openness and repentance. You can’t keep a lid on sin and of course you need to move with the times. I do welcome the Pope’s visit but I hope by the time he does visit there is a greater recognition that there has been terrible, terrible suffering, there has been abusive relationships which have left immeasurable scars on individual people’s lives and we need a process of openness and then healing. You can’t undo the tragedies of the past but you can be open about them so people can start to move on.”

Labour leader Gordon Brown said: “I’ve met some of the people who have rightly complained about the abuse that they were subject to when young and it never leaves them, it’s something that is with them always and no matter what you can try to do to help, there is always this problem that they have to face up to every day that they were abused, cruelly abused, by people in whom they placed their faith and trust.

“So the church has got to deal with these problems and it has got to make sure there is an open and clean confession about what has happened and that we help those people that have been put into difficulty by this abuse."

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