Official portrait of Sir David Amess./ Richard Townshend via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).
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.
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.”
The text, entitled “Crime scenes: religious rituals or prayer,” was proposed by Tina Stowell (Baroness Stowell of Beeston), Susan Cunliffe-Lister (Baroness Masham of Ilton), Chris Patten (Baron Patten of Barnes), and Nuala O’Loan (Baroness O’Loan).
Patten, the chancellor of the University of Oxford and the last governor of Hong Kong, helped to organize Benedict XVI’s trip to Britain in 2010 and was asked to advise Pope Francis on modernizing Vatican communications in 2014.
The idea of an “Amess amendment” emerged days after Sir David Amess, a longtime Conservative Member of Parliament, was stabbed multiple times during a meeting with constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Oct. 15.
According to reports, police turned away a priest who hoped to give the last rites to the Catholic lawmaker.
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 referred to the reports.
He suggested that lawmakers pass an 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.”
The man accused of killing Sir David — Ali Harbi Ali, 25, of Kentish Town, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
The BBC reported on Oct. 25 that Woolnough was forced to delete his Twitter account after receiving criticism.
“Most people have been so kind with messages of support, others have accused me of capitulating at the scene,” he said.
“The police have a job to do. When I say I have to respect it, it doesn’t mean I agree with it.”
“But I have to respect as a law-abiding citizen that the police would not allow me in and I had to find plan B, and plan B for me was prayer, and I had to pray on the spot, pray on the rosary.”
Woolnough said that he had spoken with “some really top priests in the hierarchy” who assured him that he “did the right thing.”
In the wake of Sir David’s death, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, western England, called for greater recognition of the last rites as an “emergency service.”
“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,” he said on Oct. 19.
“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. May Sir David rest in peace.”