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Radio 4 Today Programme

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Monday 29th January 2007

Transcript Of Interview with Today Programme - Wednesday 24th January 2007 between James Naughtie (JN) and Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York (ABY). The Interview follows...


JN: Why do you think it's important for you to support the Cardinal on this issue ?

ABY: Because the Archbishop of Canterbury and I believe that freedom of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation however well meaning and also on numerous occasions in the past proper consideration has been given to requirements of conscience alongside other considerations contributing to the common good such as social need or human rights; the right for example of some doctors not to perform abortions even though employed by the National health service.

JN: One man's conscience can be another man's prejudice

ABY: Of course, of course it can be, but I've always thought the best way to describe conscience is to look at the values, particularly of this nation; in terms of magnanimity, meeting someone half-way, values of trust, decency, good faith, keeping one's word, compassion, care for one's neighbour, liberty, justice, allegiance to the crown. So I think these are the things you want to put into the equation when people claim simply "conscience, conscience".

JN: I suppose what people on the other side of the argument would say to you there is that if you are talking about magnanimity, what the anti-discrimination legislation is intended to do is to embed that spirit of magnanimity into the law and to say a line is being drawn beyond which you can't go without being subject to the law which decides that formal discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation is wrong. Don't you have sympathy with it ?

ABY: I think when you over legislate and you intervene too much in people's private lives, in the long-run you end up with a statute being used to cure all ills which it cannot and I think the danger is that of spinning a legal spiders web from which nobody can escape.

JN: Again, those who would oppose you would say it's not a spider's web at all. It's pretty clear. It says that if two people who are homosexuals pass the sorts of tests which an adoption agency would routinely impose on people who want to adopt a child and if that agency came to the conclusion there was a happy home there, they should have the right to decide to make that decision and not to deny them simply on those grounds. Now that isn't a spider's web, you may disagree with it but it's a simple proposition in law.

ABY: I think the trouble is that for so many centuries in this country English law was founded on the inter-mingling of law, of religion, of morality. At present people think religion has nothing to do with law, has nothing to do with morality, and is simply there to give us conditions of behaviour. Now the Roman Catholic agencies which has taken on many vulnerable children and tired to support them in their twelve centres, they put the interest of the child first – above the right of anybody of who wants to adopt, and in terms of their teaching they think that this gives assurance to a number of roman catholic mothers to go down that particular road. What is it that allows, for example, in the NHS, as I have said before, a doctor who has a duty of care to everybody on grounds of conscience, the decision not to carry out an abortion ? When I was in Uganda, Amin tired by decree to force everybody into a way which took away some liberties. As someone who was trying cases I was absolutely sure for myself I would not try a case that led to a death sentence.

JN: So you think it's a question of protection of liberty on that scale ? It's a principle as strong as that ? You've used a very dramatic example there by comparison, do you think it's as important as that ?

ABY: I think it is important. In the long run we're going to reach a situation in which one section is being given its rights, but you've got to be very careful you don't end up with another group being discriminated against.

JN: You understand because of your background what discrimination on the basis of colour race can mean for an individual. I assume you would not wish that any organisation or individual should be exempted from the law because they don't like black people.

ABY: I would say to you the Cardinal, the Archbishop of Canterbury and I are not wanting rights to discriminate. We are totally against discrimination.

JN: You are against discrimination ?

ABY: Absolutely there is no doubt about it. Absolutely against it. But the way of this balancing act mean what in a nation which is very diverse do we allow diversity to play a part while giving rights to one group, not inadvertently discriminating against another.

JN: There's another important point. The Cardinal is the leader of a Church in this country that teaches that homosexuality is a sin. That's not a view you share do you ?

ABY: No. But it doesn't that mean that on this particular issue about adoption agencies, he hasn't got a case. He has made his case very carefully.

JN: But you're not supporting him on the grounds that you share a view that sexual orientation is inherently sinful ?

ABY: The Church of England is very clear that sexual orientation is not sinful. What the Church of England goes on to say is that homosexual genital acts fall short of the glory of God like adultery and fornication and they require repentance. But being oriented in a particular sexual way shouldn't bar anybody from anything. That's very clear.

JN: We have to end it there, although this could continue and no doubt will. Archbishop John Sentamu thank you very much.

ABY: Thank You Jim.

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