Will Catholic ministers soon be allowed to administer the last sacraments at any time and in any place in public? This is the likely consequence of the crime perpetrated by an Islamist, which has just shaken up the UK.
The case made headlines in England: on October 15, 2021, while he was at his office in Leigh-on-Sea (Essex, UK), Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP, was stabbed to death in a meeting by Ali Harbi Ali, a notorious Islamist, who was preparing several other terrorist acts on British territory.
As soon as Fr. Jeff Woolnough, pastor of St. Peter's Parish in Leigh-on-Sea, learned of the recent crime, he rushed to the scene of the crime to give the last sacraments to a politician well known to be of the Catholic faith.
The policeman outside the Baptist church where the murder took place - the place that usually serves as the Conservative Party's constituency in the township - relayed Fr. Woolnough's request, unsuccessfully: the parish priest of St. Peter's was only allowed to recite a rosary for the dying outside, without being able to personally attend to the dying man.
It created an outcry in the United Kingdom: in the wake of Sir David Amess’ death, Msgr. Mark Davies, Catholic Bishop of Shrewbury, in the west of the country, called on the authorities to finally recognize extreme unction and the support given to a patient as an “emergency service.”
“I hope that this tragedy will make it possible for Christians to realize that the hour of death is decisive for the eternity that follows, and to see the Church as an emergency service,” said the prelate.
British MPs, eager to allay the controversy, have formally proposed an ‘Amess Amendment’ to ensure that Catholic priests have the opportunity to administer the last rites at crime scenes - as well as any recognized minister of worship.
An idea put forward by Labor MP Mike Keane: “Sir David Amess has been fully involved in the rites of the Church and its liturgy all his life. For Catholics, whom extreme unction helps guide the soul to God after death, perhaps we could find an Amess amendment so that no matter where one is, in a nursing home or at the scene of a crime, a deputy, or anyone else, may receive this sacrament.”
As for the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, it wrote on its website:
“Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick have agreed to work together to establish a joint group to study the access given, or refused, to Catholic priests to scenes of traumatic violence. In particular, the group will consider whether any changes are required to the guidance issued to officers faced with such situations.”