Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

David Amess and the sanctity of the Last Rites

Police patrol outside Belfairs Methodist Church, where David Amess was killed (photo: Getty)

Amongst the many appalling details from the murder of Sir David Amess, one detail jumped out at me in yesterday’s reports. Father Jeffrey Woolnough, a Roman Catholic priest, arrived at the police cordon stretching across Eastwood Road North offering to administer the Last Rites to the MP, whom he knew to be a practising Catholic. But he was not allowed through.  “I was refused entry,” he said later. And he added that, as a consequence, he was unable to issue the sacrament.  “I’m so very sorry that I was not allowed to minister to Sir David at the end. The police had their instructions which I have to respect and abide by.”

But why on earth was he refused entry? For a Catholic there is nothing, nothing, more important than being in a state of grace when you die and go to God. That means, ideally, receiving absolution for the sins of your life from a priest. It was precisely because of the nature of the scene – a potentially fatal stabbing – that a priest was necessary. It was because a man, known to be a Catholic, was facing death, that the priest should have been present. If the police had had been better briefed about the nature of the Catholic faith and the importance attached to the Last Rites, which sends a soul prepared into the next word, then they would have been doing their best to get Fr Jeffrey to the scene with all speed. As they should be if a priest turns up at any scene where there is a chance that someone will die.

A priest is an emergency service

It’s not known whether Sir David was alive when the priest arrived at the scene, but he still should have been allowed through. Nothing should come between a dying man and the mercy of the Church.

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