- - Sunday, March 4, 2012

LONDON — The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland has fiercely attacked the British government’s plans to allow gay marriage, calling the proposals “madness.”

In an article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Scottish Roman Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brien accused the coalition government of trying to “redefine reality.”

He called the plans “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and said the government’s backing for marriage to include gay couples is “madness.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has advocated gay marriage. Britain’s equalities minister will launch a consultation this month on how to change the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

While Cardinal O’Brien conceded that arguing in favor of “traditional” marriage “risks one being labeled an intolerant bigot,” he said changing the definition of marriage would “deliberately” deprive children of the right to a mother or father and “shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.”

Cardinal O’Brien also cast doubt on government assurances that churches would not be forced to perform gay marriages: “Imagine for a moment that the government had decided to legalize slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave,’ ” he said. “Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right?”

Margot James, the first openly lesbian lawmaker from the ruling Conservative Party, criticized the cardinal’s use of “apocalyptic language” and accused him of scaremongering.

“I think it is a completely unacceptable way for a prelate to talk,” she told the BBC. “The government is not trying to force Catholic churches to perform gay marriages at all. It is a purely civil matter.”

The Home Office said Sunday that the government believes that “if a couple love each other” and want to commit to a life together they should “have the option of a civil marriage irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

FRANCE

Socialists riled by European ‘snub pact’

PARIS — The Socialist front-runner in France’s presidential election, Francois Hollande, hit out at an alleged pact Sunday among right-wing European leaders to snub him ahead of the April-May vote.

The conservative leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain agreed not to meet Mr. Hollande because of his promise to renegotiate an EU stability pact, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine said in its edition to be published Monday.

Der Spiegel said that right-wing European leaders were “scandalized” by Mr. Hollande’s declared intent to renegotiate the budgetary discipline pact signed Friday that they consider key to saving the debt-stricken eurozone.

The right-wing wall of silence allegedly also would have been agreed to bolster the re-election chances of incumbent conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, Der Spiegel said.

Mr. Hollande, who is tipped by polls to beat Mr. Sarkozy - 30.5 percent to 23 percent in the first round - has said he wants the treaty renegotiated to deal more specifically with economic growth and jobs.

“I’m not impressed by this report,” Mr. Hollande told France 3 television. “It is the French people who will decide their own future. It won’t be European leaders, who I respect, who will influence the French people’s decision.”

Since December, Mr. Hollande has traveled to Berlin, Rome and London without meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti or British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The German government denied the existence of any such pact.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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