UK lawmaker proposes adding ‘Amess amendment’ on last rites to bill

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff

Official portrait of Sir David Amess. / Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

London, England, Oct 21, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A U.K. lawmaker has proposed adding an “Amess amendment” to a bill going through Parliament ensuring that Catholic priests can administer the last rites at crime scenes.

Mike Kane, a Labour Member of Parliament, is seeking to add the amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, British media reported on Oct. 21.

The reports emerged before a suspected Islamist extremist was charged with the murder of Sir David Amess, a long-serving Conservative MP, during a meeting with constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Oct. 15.

Nick Price, head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said on Oct. 21: “We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, who is charged with murder and preparing acts of terrorism, appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Thursday.

The Guardian newspaper quoted a spokesperson for Kane, who is Catholic, as saying that the “Amess amendment” would protect the right of Catholic priests and other ministers of religion to pray alongside the dying.

The newspaper added that sympathetic members of the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, were prepared to put forward the amendment to the bill, which is currently at the committee stage in the Lords.

The BBC reported that cross-party discussions were under way.

Kane, the MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, paid tribute to his slain colleague in the House of Commons, the lower house of the U.K. Parliament, on Oct. 18.

In his speech, he referred to the outcry after a priest seeking to administer the last rites to Sir David was reportedly turned away from the crime scene by police.

Kane suggested that lawmakers pass an “Amess amendment” guaranteeing priests access to those requiring last rites.

He said: “[Amess] participated fully in the liturgy of the Church. He participated fully in the sacraments of the Church.”

“While I have the attention of those on the Front Benches [government ministers], Catholics believe that extreme unction helps guide the soul to God after death, so maybe we could come up with an Amess amendment so that no matter where it is, in a care home or at a crime scene, Members, or anybody, can receive that sacrament.”

A member of the House of Lords also raised the issue on the same day.

“Could priests be allowed to attend a crime scene so that they can give the victim their last rites, especially when they are dying?” asked Susan Cunliffe-Lister, Baroness Masham of Ilton.

Fr. Jeff Woolnough, the pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Eastwood, in Leigh-on-Sea, went to Belfairs Methodist Church on Oct. 15 after he heard that Amess had been attacked.

A police officer outside the church reportedly relayed his request to enter the building, but the priest was not permitted to enter. He prayed the rosary outside the police cordon instead.

Paramedics attended to Amess, who was stabbed multiple times, for more than two-and-a-half hours before an air ambulance arrived to take him to hospital.

On Oct. 19, a Catholic bishop called for greater recognition of the last rites as an “emergency service” in the wake of the killing.

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, western England, said: “Every believing Catholic desires to hear Christ’s words of pardon and absolution for the last time; to be strengthened by the grace of anointing; accompanied by the assurance of the Church’s prayer and whenever possible to receive Holy Communion.”

“This is something well understood in hospitals and care homes, yet the events following the murderous assault on Sir David Amess suggest this is not always comprehended in emergency situations.”

“I hope a better understanding of the eternal significance of the hour of death for Christians and the Church’s ministry as an ‘emergency service’ may result from this terrible tragedy.”

The Church helps to prepare Catholics for death by offering them the sacraments of reconciliation, the anointing of the sick, and viaticum (Holy Communion.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “If circumstances suggest it, the celebration of the sacrament [of the anointing of the sick] can be preceded by the sacrament of Penance and followed by the sacrament of the Eucharist. As the sacrament of Christ’s Passover, the Eucharist should always be the last sacrament of the earthly journey, the ‘viaticum’ for ‘passing over’ to eternal life.”

A Catholic Memorial Mass for Sir David Amess took place at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, opposite the Houses of Parliament, on Oct. 20.

Irish lawmakers attended a Mass for the pro-life father of five in St. Teresa’s Church, Dublin, on Oct. 22. Ceann Comhairle (speaker of the Dáil) Seán Ó Fearghail read the first reading.

The celebrant Fr. Vincent O’Hara described Sir David as a man of conscience, reported the Irish Times.

“There is a special poignancy in Sir David’s death, that someone who cherished and promoted life at all stages, from its beginning in the womb, should have his life snuffed out in such a barbaric way,” the priest said.

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