The Pope vs Harriet Harman

By Ian Dunt

Harriet Harman is facing up to an entirely different level of political opposition today after Pope Benedict XVI came out against her equality bill.

Speaking to Catholic bishops from England and Wales who made the al-Limina pilgrimage to the tombs of Peter and Paul in Rome, the pope revealed his discomfort with some aspects of the bill.

“Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society,” the Telegraph reported him as saying.

“Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.”

The comments come just after a Lords vote in which amendments to the bill relating to the responsibilities of religious establishments were shot down.

The government says it has no plans to reintroduce the amendment, which opponents said would remove exemptions from employment regulations from religious establishments, thereby forcing them to employ homosexuals.

Some Catholics even suggested the law could see them forced to admit women to the priesthood.

“I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth,” the pope said.

“Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?”

The pope insisted that despite the secularism of British society, “faith and devotion” continued to exist in the UK.

He also revealed an impending state visit – the first of its kind.

“On the occasion of my forthcoming apostolic visit to Great Britain, I shall be able to witness that faith for myself and, as successor of Peter, to strengthen and confirm it,” he said.

The equality bill, which consolidates Britain’s plethora of equality legislation and introduces mandatory pay audits for companies who fail to tackle the pay gap between men and women, is currently at committee stage in the Lords.