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English Police Guidelines Change After Catholic MP Dies Without Last Rites

English Police Guidelines Change After Catholic MP Dies Without Last Rites

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, speaks with a police officer outside Westminster Cathedral in London, Nov. 9, 2021. Cardinal Nichols helped initiate the working group to make sure last rites were included in policing guidelines. (photo: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk / via CNA)

Catholic leaders said the change will help meet the religious needs of crime victims in England and Wales.

Police guidelines in the U.K. have changed to allow clergy to assist badly injured crime victims after Catholic Member of Parliament David Amess died without benefit of the last rites when police failed to grant access to a priest who had rushed to the crime scene.

Catholic leaders said the change will help meet the religious needs of crime victims in England and Wales.

“This is really encouraging news. For the first time, we have official guidance from the police that recognizes the importance of priests and the sacrament of the last rites,” Nigel Parker, executive director of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, said April 1. “We are extremely grateful to everyone involved in the working group for producing such a clear and sensible set of guidance notes.”

In Catholic practice, last rites are the name for the final sacraments and prayers for the dying. Catholics in danger of death are strongly encouraged to take part in these rites.

Last rites can include sacramental confession, anointing of the sick and final reception of Holy Communion, known as viaticum. Priests may also impart the apostolic blessing on a dying Catholic, a blessing which includes a plenary indulgence.

Sir David Amess, a Catholic and a minister of Parliament for the Conservative Party, was stabbed multiple times during a meeting with constituents in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Oct. 15, 2021. Paramedics attended to Amess for more than two and a half hours before an air ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital.

Police turned away a Catholic priest seeking to anoint the dying man, causing much commentary and concern. The priest instead prayed a Rosary outside the building where the crime took place.

In response, a working group has revised national guidelines for the College of Policing, the professional body for police-service employees in England and Wales. The guidelines allow better access for priests and other religious ministers at crime scenes where the victims of murder or other violence remain on site.

“At a critical time, such spiritual and/or family support can make all the difference for those for whom it is important,” Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark said March 31. “For Catholics, this means access by a priest who will be able to offer absolution, anointing and prayers of accompaniment — often referred to as the last rites. We are very grateful for this.”

Archbishop Wilson and a deputy assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police led the working group behind the revisions. Father Liam Bradley, a priest of the Diocese of Menevia and lead chaplain to the Dyfed-Powys Police in Wales, was also part of the group.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick helped initiate the working group.

The Catholic Union worked across political parties to raise concerns about the police response to clergy. Parker, the lay group’s executive director, reflected on the death of Amess.

“We were all deeply shocked by the news of Sir David’s murder,” he said. “He was a friend to the Catholic Union and a supporter of many of our campaigns. This new guidance should prevent people at crime scenes being denied access to the last rites in future. However, there is still work to do to make sure people working in public services have a better understanding of the importance of faith to those who believe. The Catholic Union will continue to campaign for the culture change we need to bring that about.”

Parker praised the work of Minister of Parliament Mike Kane, who is the Catholic Union’s vice president, and others like Baroness Tina Stowell of Beeston and Baroness Susan Masham of Ilton who raised the issue in Parliament.

Priests still face difficulty in administering the sacraments in hospitals and care homes. The Catholic Union said a change in culture is needed.

Late last year U.K. lawmakers formally proposed an “Amess Amendment” to a bill going through Parliament seeking to guarantee that ministers of religion may access the severely injured at crime scenes where there is a strong likelihood of death.

The man accused of killing Amess is Ali Harbi Ali, 26, of Kentish Town in north London.

Ali is a British citizen of Somali descent. He is charged with murder and the preparation of terrorist acts, though he denies the charges. His trial began last month.

In police interviews played to the jury, Ali repeatedly said he was motivated by targeting MPs who had voted in favor of airstrikes in Syria, BBC News reports.

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