BY CRISTINA ODONE IN A MOVE THAT observers fear will prepare the ground for the disestablishment of the Church of England, a Conservative MP has called for the removal of bishops from the House of Lords.
Harry Greenway, MP for Ealing North and a convenor of Conservative Christians in Parliament, this week proposed that C of E bishops should not be automatically entitled to a place in the House of Lords. Instead, the MP urged that all Catholic and Anglican clergymen be eligible to fight seats for election to the House of Commons, from which they are barred at present.
With Catholic clergy barred from holding elected office by John Paul II, however, a number of Churchmen and politicians expressed fears this week that Mr Greenway's proposal would rob the religious community of its one guaranteed representation in the political arena.
"Mr Greenway's proposal, while worthy and imaginative, is impossible for Catholic clerics," Fr Michael Seed, Ecumenical Officer at Archbishop's House, told the Catholic Herald this week. "Not only has the Holy Father been explicit in his condemnation of such priestpoliticians as President Aristide in Haiti and Congressman Drynan, the American Jesuit, but there is also to consider the time constraints placed upon a parish priest: pastoral work, after all, is allconsuming."
Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional expert, told the Catholic Herald this week that as long as there is an Established Church there must be some representative of the Church to interpret the measures of the C of E in the governing of the nation: "This goes beyond guaranteed representation of Anglicans, for I know that members of all creeds view the 26 Anglican bishops as representing the religious point of view in general."
For Catholic Labour MP Kevin McNamara (Hull North), Mr Greenway's proposal offered a welcome opportunity to discuss the question of disestablishment: The real issue to be faced is whether we should have an established Church and a House of Lords at all."
Lord Longford, the Catholic peer and penal reformer, told the Catholic Herald this week that Mr Greenway's plans would prove "disastrous for the House of Lords, where the bishops' influence is a very positive, very Christian one. The notion of lowering our clergymen to the level of our politicians is ludicrous."
Mr Greenway, he concluded, needed "a good kick in the pants."
Catholic MP Julian Brazier (Cons, Canterbury) argued that "The bishops have added something valuable to the counsels of the nation, and simply to boot them out as a one-sided change to the system I wouldn't support at all.
"Any changes to the House of Lords should be part of a carefully thought-through package; if we're not careful we'll be overwhelmingly dominated by the law lords, which I'd find very worrying." But Mr Brazier did think that "it is very important that the clergy should play an active role in the life of the nation, not only spiritually."
Keith Vaz (Lab, East Leicester) said that "The House of Lords' current constitution without doubt needs reform, but to remove the bishops would be foolish. What I do think is that all religions should be represented in the House of Lords why should only one religion be singled out?"