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Cardinal and police chief agree to create group reviewing last rites access for priests at crime scenes

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and London police chief Cressida Dick meet outside of Westminster Cathedral, Nov. 9, 2021. / Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

London, England, Nov 10, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

An English cardinal and London’s police chief have agreed to create a joint group reviewing Catholic priests’ access to crime scenes to administer the last rites.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick took the step after reports that police turned away a Catholic priest seeking to anoint Sir David Amess after the lawmaker was stabbed during a meeting with constituents in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Oct. 15.

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Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, announced on Nov. 9 that the group would study “the access given, or refused, to Catholic priests to scenes of traumatic violence” and consider “whether any changes are required to the guidance issued to officers faced with such situations.”

Greeting the police commissioner before the Catholic Police Guild’s annual Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral, London, he said: “I welcome police officers from so many different parts of the country to this Mass in which we remember and pray for your deceased colleagues.”

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“I offer a particular welcome to Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service. I wish to thank all of you for the service you give to the people of this country, often in the most difficult of circumstances and with the many challenges facing you.”

“In recent days questions have arisen concerning the access given, or refused, to Catholic priests to scenes of traumatic violence, such as the violent death of Sir David Amess. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner and I have agreed to establish a joint group to study this issue and whether any changes are required to the guidance issued to officers faced with such a situation.”

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“I am grateful to the Commissioner for this agreement and I am confident that it will help to establish a helpful way forward in this matter of considerable sensitivity and importance to the Catholic community.”

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

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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.

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Following Sir David’s death, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, western England, called for greater recognition of the last rites as an “emergency service.”

“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,” he said.

U.K. lawmakers have formally proposed an “Amess amendment” to a bill going through Parliament seeking to guarantee that Catholic priests can administer the last rites at crime scenes.

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The amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, was presented by four members of the House of Lords, the upper house of the U.K. Parliament.

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The amendment to the bill, which is currently at the committee stage in the Lords, says: “In securing a crime scene where a person within that crime scene is severely injured, such that there is a strong likelihood that they might die, there is a presumption that the constable in charge will allow entry to the crime scene to a minister of religion in order to perform religious rituals or prayer associated with dying.”

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The idea of an “Amess amendment” emerged days after Sir David Amess, a long-serving Conservative Member of Parliament, was killed.

Offering a tribute to his slain colleague in the House of Commons, the lower house of the U.K. Parliament, on Oct. 18, the Labour MP Mike Kane suggested that lawmakers pass an amendment guaranteeing priests access to those requiring last rites.

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

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“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.”

The man accused of killing Sir David — Ali Harbi Ali, 25, of Kentish Town in north London — is expected to face trial from March 7, 2022.

The British citizen of Somali descent is charged with murder and the preparation of terrorist acts.

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The Catholic Police Guild’s members attend an annual Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of Catholics in England and Wales, in November, the month of the Holy Souls.

This year’s Mass was celebrated by Bishop Alan Williams of Brentwood, Essex, the guild’s new liaison to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

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Serving and retired members of police forces from across the country, as well as Catholic Police Guild chaplains, prayed for the guild’s deceased members at the Mass.

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