The death of Sir David Amess MP diminishes us all: his family and friends, his constituency, his party, British politics. But it is also a loss to the Church. Sir David was a Catholic who took his faith seriously and brought it into public life. He was a disinterested public servant, a champion of his constituents, a supporter of a number of charities and causes and a devoted and tireless campaigner for pro-life issues. He voted against liberalisation of abortion and against the promotion of assisted suicide. And he was pro-life in the fullest sense, in that he cared about the position of the vulnerable and disadvantaged at home and abroad as well as the beginning and end of human life. He was a lovely man. Requiescat in pace.
We may, as the investigation into his alleged killer gets under way, learn whether one reason he may have been attacked by a suspect who had been part of the Prevent programme, was precisely that he was a Catholic. In France, Islamist terrorists have targeted Catholic priests and laity. But it is worth noting that his faith was not properly acknowledged at the end of his life. Once word spread of the attack on Sir David at the Methodist church where he was holding his surgery for constituents, a local priest, Fr Jeffrey Woolnough, came to the police cordon, offering to administer the last rites to the dying man – though it’s not known exactly at what point he died. “I was refused entry,” he said. For their part, the police insisted that the cordon was intended “to restrict an area for emergency services to administer potentially life-saving medical treatment” and to protect a crime scene.
In other words, the police could not accept the concept that a priest is an emergency service, but for the soul rather than the body. The armed services, who must accept the routine possibility of death on active service, respect the forces’ chaplains, including Catholic padres, and would not seek to prevent a priest ministering to the dying, even during action. Yet the police somehow seem unable to grasp the concept that a priest may be exactly what a Catholic in extremis needs. At one time, the Essex police would have included, as a matter of course, practising Christians, or at least individuals with sufficient understanding of Christianity to realise the importance for a dying Catholic of having a priest to absolve his sins. But the Essex force, shocked as they may have been by the murder, showed neither understanding nor mercy. One legacy of Sir David’s life should be that this is remedied in future.
This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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