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Archbishop Nichols says he is in favour of gay civil unions: but that legally includes the right to adopt. So why did we lose our adoption agencies?

The teaching of the Church on civil unions is clear enough: does the archbishop support it or not?

By on Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Archbishop Nichols, right, at a press conference following the bishops' plenary meeting (Photo: Mazur)

Archbishop Nichols, right, at a press conference following the bishops' plenary meeting (Photo: Mazur)

I begin with a question, one which has a surprising answer: who, last week, pronounced the following words?

We would want to emphasise that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision… As a Church we are very committed to the notion of equality so that people are treated the same across all the activities of life. The Church holds great store by the value of commitment in relationships and undertakings that people give…

Well, the answer is that these words were uttered by Archbishop Vincent Nichols last week at a press conference following the English and Welsh bishops’ conference. That’s the same bishops’ conference which in 2003 published a document in response to a government consultation on “civil partnership – a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples”, in which the bishops stated their unequivocal view that “the government’s proposals to create civil partnerships for same-sex couples would not promote the common good” and that they therefore opposed them. Their reasons, in brief, were that these proposals would in the long term undermine marriage and the family, and that they were “not needed to defend fundamental human rights or remedy significant injustices for same-sex couples, as these have either already been substantially addressed or can largely be addressed by the couple entering into contractual arrangements privately.”

So, what has changed? It simply won’t do for the archbishop to cover himself by asserting, as he did, that “equality and commitment do not amount to marriage” and that civil partnerships were “categorically different” from gay marriage – which, he asserted, the bishops oppose. He said he was “very disappointed” that the Government had decided to introduce gay marriage. But this is surely mere cant (a word which according to the Oxford dictionary means “hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically of a moral, religious, or political nature”), since civil partnership as actually now defined in English law have virtually all the characteristics of civil marriage except the name – including, crucially, the right to adopt children. So this looks to me very like a volte face, at least on Archbishop Nichols’s part. In 2003, the bishops gave the most cogent and, in sharp contrast to many Vatican documents, lucidly expressed reasons for opposing the legislation the Blair government went on to enact, legislation which Archbishop Nichols apparently now supports:

The signal the law would send to rising generations is that marriage as husband and wife, and a same-sex relationship, are equally valid options, and an equally valid context for the upbringing of children. By publicly elevating same-sex relationships to a legal status virtually equivalent to civil marriage, the signal given to society would be that these two states of life are equally deserving of public protection and respect, when in fact they are not.

Clearly a few same-sex couples do bring up children, though they cannot both be their biological parents. But same-sex parents remove from children’s immediate family experience and context either the male or the female experience… The general psychological male/female complementarity in parenthood is not directly witnessed… It is in this long term context that we have to consider the rights of children. It is wrong to embark on a policy whose probable long-term outcome will be that more children are deliberately brought into this world only to be deprived of having both a father and a mother. This will be the most likely long-term result of a public policy which promotes same-sex couples as parents by giving them a public status equivalent to marriage.

It isn’t just that this document gives the most eloquently expressed rational arguments against civil unions. It also supports (which Archbishop Nichols in effect apparently no longer does) the explicit teachings of the Catholic Church. The following comes from a document which I quoted only a week or two ago in this space, entitled “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons”, issued by the CDF when the present Pope was its prefect. This can be taken therefore as representing authentic pontifical teaching. Like the English bishops, the CDF document stresses the need for children to be brought up in the conditions which marriage provides, with both a father and a mother:

As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.

Really, my own personal view is irrelevant. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has expressed the Church’s view: that the adoption of children by people in civil unions is “doing violence” to these children by placing them “in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development” and that this is “gravely immoral”. My own bishops have stated that “It is wrong to embark on a policy whose probable long-term outcome will be that more children are deliberately brought into this world only to be deprived of having both a father and a mother”. So firmly has the Church in this country believed this that rather than obey a law which would have compelled their adoption agencies to collaborate in adoption by gay couples they have actually closed these agencies down.

And now we are told, by the chairman of the bishops’ conference, that the English Church supports civil unions between homosexual persons, unions which have been given the legal right to adopt children. What are we to think? That the archbishop (to employ a Bush-ism) “mis-spoke” himself, that actually he didn’t mean the kind of civil union we actually have but another kind, which would envisage all the rights such unions now enjoy except for the right to adopt children?

The trouble is that it doesn’t actually look as though he does mean that, since he also made it clear that “we are very committed [question: who is this “we”?] to the notion of equality so that people are treated the same across all the activities of life”: that’s all the activities of life, presumably including adoption. So what does he believe? Just what is he saying, on behalf of his brother bishops and presumably the rest of us?

That’s a real question, to which we who are members of the English Church need, and I believe have a right to, a considered response. I really hope we will get one.

  • Fr. Seán, Dublin

    The  claim by Patrick Hadley about homosexual couples being regarded at some point in the future by the Roman Catholic Church as a sacramental union is absurd. Catholic teaching is clear, that the acts carried out by homosexuals are contrary to the natural law and the Divine law. Catholic teaching about certain sins which cry to heaven for vengeance is clear enough. While those who struggle with such temptations are to be supported through charity and love, the claims Mr. Hadley makes are truly breathtaking.

  • Bob Hayes

    The interviewee presents a highly-selective interpretation on Church teaching and drives a double-decker bus through Scripture.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    Well said. This is only one of a number of issues where we are receiving no leadership from the hierarchy. If ever there was a time to stand up for what we believe, it is now. The flock need leadership – “The hungry sheep look up but are not fed —”

  • Scyptical Chymist

    Yes – an excellent point. i know of a brother and sister both in old age who share a home. Both are good Catholics and have led exemplary lives but, people such as these are not forever banging on about rights and are ignored by the “great and the good”.

  • Tiddles the Cat

    Thank you, Fr. Sean! You have done a far, far better job of succinctly expressing the Roman Catholic Church’s position clearer than Hi Definition, including the fact that anyone with Same Sex Attraction should be supported with charity and love – the Catechism also makes that perfectly plain.

  • Anonymous

    “I fully recognise the importance of the position of
    the Established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in
    our society today.”

    ## This seems a fair comment, so far as it goes. It’s not an endorsement of the flaws of the C of E.

  • Lawrence

    The Arch Bishop is not serious at all.Why does he go contrary to what the catholic church teaches.He should either apologize or resign immediately.

  • geoffreysmith1

    “For some children, gay parents may even be the better alternative – or the only available possibility.”

    Absolute nonsense.  It can never be in a child’s best interest to place him in a permanent occasion of sin, a domestic environment that sneers at the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. 
    Mr Weldon, your claim to be a Catholic is highly suspect, and quite frankly I do not believe that you are one.  You are like Mr Hadley, a cuckoo in our nest that should be expelled forthwith before you can do any more harm to Holy Mother Church.

  • Anonymous

    Theologians, Apologists. What the New Bishops Have To Be
    “Today, especially in the context of our secularized societies, we need bishops who are the first evangelizers, and not mere administrators of dioceses. Who are capable of proclaiming the Gospel. Who are not only theologically faithful to the magisterium and the pope, but are also capable of expounding and, if need be, of defending the faith publicly.”Please take note Archbishop Nichols

  • Terence Weldon

    This video is highly offensive. You have made no attempt to engage with the man’s words, except to disbelieve his observations on Cardinal Hume’s statements, and to reply with quotations from Vatican documents. But Catholic teaching, contrary to popular opinion here, can be wrong, as Pope Benedict reminded us earlier this year.

    Discussing St Joan of Arc, he pointed out that she was condemned to death by leading theologians of the Church – but they were clearly wrong, and she has since been recognized as a saint of the church. 

    And what was the primary reason for the charge of heresy against her? The offence of dressing as a man – the cross-dressing that you find so offensive.

  • Terence Weldon

    You are also completely wrong in your claim that the intention behind the Masses was to provide a place for gay and lesbian Catholics to repent of their sins. As one who attended every one of the many meetings with Bishop (now Archbishop) Longley that preceded these the move of these Masses into a Catholic parish, I can assure you that “repentantance” was never even raised for discussion. 

    On the other hand, one matter that was extensively discussed, and accepted, was the importance of established Catholic doctrine on respect for the primacy of conscience. Where conscience is obeyed, the question of sin does not arise. 

  • Agent Provocateur21

    If the intention behind the Masses wasn’t to provide a place for gay Catholics to find strenght to fight this evil inclination, then I really would like to know what the original idea was… for consience…the primacy belongs to the law of God and the teaching of the holy Church. I’m quite sure Hitler believed he is saving mankind, he obeyed his consience and we all know the consequences….

  • Agent Provocateur21

    I don’t know what exactly you find offensive in my video. In fact I tried to be as sensitive as I could, but do not expect I will compromise the truth. That’s not going to happen.

    St. Joan of Arc was condemned to death by a corrupt allies of English, the house of Burgundy and its clergy. I do not want to go into details here, but it’s not as simplistic as you present it here. However, St. Joan of Arc was obedient sheep of the Church and did not question the teaching of the Church. On the contrary, she wanted to protect its doctrine and lead the army into Bohemia to tame the heretics who were terrorizing those lands….

  • Agent Provocateur21

    Not really Bob…I just point out the obvious. The homosexual behaviour is a sin and the teaching of the Church on that matter will never change. How can I know? The Holy Spirit was promised to the Church and will never leave Her…Scripture my friend!

  • Agent Provocateur21

    Soho masses as a seed of a revolt? Homosexual agenda uncovered!

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    “…the gays who attend this Mass are permitted to receive communion, even if they are shacked up with partners.”

    Damn good job too.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Well, good for Archbishop Nichols. I’m proud that the Catholic Church in England has such an enlightened leader.

  • Anonymous

    Let us hope and pray that this “enlightened leader” will soon get the heave-ho from the Vatican.  As far as a red hat is concerned, Nichols can whistle for it.

  • Anonymous

    Pilgrim74 – 25 approvals.  Karif – 7 approvals.  I think a majority of more than 3-1 proves something, don’t you?

  • Anonymous

    Mr Weldon, are you a gay?

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    I suppose it all depends on your scale of values. A decent, humane attitude should come well before a red hat.

  • Anonymous

    “Where conscience is obeyed, the question of sin does not arise.”

    That depends, of course, on whether the individual conscience has been correctly formed, or indeed whether such a conscience is obeyed.  The gays who attend the Mass at Warwick Street know perfectly well what the mind and teaching of the Church is on the matter of sexual conduct between homosexuals.  If they are genuine Catholics (which I seriously doubt), they should acknowledge that any breach of this doctrine is a serious mortal sin.  If they decide to continue in the cohabiting state with their partners, they will have to discontinue their reception of communion at this Mass.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed it should.  What a pity that Nichols doesn’t have such an attitude. 

  • Terence Weldon

    That’s a personal question, that I don’t think anybody has a right to ask. I do not ask questions about your sexuality or sexual practices, nor should you do of mine.

  • Anonymous

    It would certainly help the majority of the posters on this blog if we knew where you were coming from, Mr Weldon, and I don’t mean South Africa.
    Your advocacy of the gay agenda does arouse the suspicion that you are defending your self-interest in this matter, and perhaps also attacking a theological position with which you do not agree, nor accept as an inviolable doctrine of the Church.  Not to put too fine a point on it, we think you are a fraud.

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘Interviewee’!!! The person you interviewed, ‘presents a highly-selective interpretation on Church teaching and drives a double-decker bus through Scripture’. Share your sentiments entirely!

  • Bob Hayes

    And your point…..?

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Exactly what I said.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Sorry? Didn’t you read what he’s reported to have said?

  • Terence Weldon

    I reject out of hand the offensive and insulting claim that I am a “fraud”.   I have disclosed on-line far more about myself, my history and my experiences (including deeply personal spiritual experiences) than most people. This is all available, in the public domain, for anybody who cares to look. 

    I am precisely who I claim to be, no more and no less. If I do not repeat the details every time someone who asks, I fail to see why I should be expected to do so.

  • Terence Weldon

    Furthermore, I shall henceforth simply ignore inappropriate personal remarks and questions.

  • Terence Weldon

    You state that you tried to be as sensitive as possible. I will take this at face value, and assume that you are being sincere. I shall do likewise, and attempt to respond equally sincerely, more fully than I would otherwise be inclined to do.

    If this is as sensitive as you could be, my response must be, report card style, “Must try harder”. What you have written, does not display any sensitivity at all, and this on two counts. 

    First, your commentary interspersing your interviewee’s remarks are full of self-righteous judgementalism. Have you not heard the words of sripture? Those about removing the beam from your own eye, for instance, or about those without sin casting the first stone? or “Judge not, that you be not judged?”

    You insist that you are doing no more than pointing out the “truth”. Do you make a habit of similarly pointing out “the truth” on contraception to married couples in your local parish, or on sex before marriage to all engaged couples, or on masturbation?

    I assure you, those attending the Soho Masses do not need to hear the words you quote. We have heard them all before, and studied them, and for many of us, have prayed over them, and taken them to extensive spiritual direction, and studied a great deal of the matter relating to the subject, in theology, and church history, and natural and social science. 

    We know that church teaching is opposed to same sex genital acts. But we also know that church teaching also demands that gay men and lesbians be treated with respect. Please show us the same respect that is given to other Catholics who in conscience depart from teaching on contraception and other matters of sexual ethics.

    There is also no respect shown in the manner in which you obtained your video footage – as your own on-line moniker proclaims, as an “agent provocateur”.

    You stated earlier that you could not understand the point of the Soho Masses, if not to call sinners to repentance. The point of the Masses is this:

    Far too many gay and lesbian Catholics are so intimidated by the perceived hostility of the institutional Catholic Church, and of some individual Catholics, that they simply walk away from the Church and the sacraments entirely. It is in fact not true that the Church is inherently hostile, as many of us have found – but the perception is difficult to counter. Providing an environment where people can come together to celebrate the Mass in an atmosphere free of this hostility, allows them to grow in their faith, and frequently leads people who have stayed away for years, to full and active participation in their local parishes.

    Reinforcing the image of Catholic hostility, as you and so many of the comments here do, does not help. Instead, it simply drives many Catholics away from the Church entirely.    

    Of course, that may be precisely what you want. But to be consistent, you should offer equal treatment to all those practising artificial contraception, and to engaged couples sharing sexual love-making before their wedding day, and to all those who masturbate. I’ve yet to see such even-handedness in these columns

  • Harry

    Many gays think that Mr Wheldon and the organisers of these services have a case to answer for gross intellectual hypocrisy.

  • Charles Martel

    Time to resign, Your Grace.

  • Scripturals

    It seems to me an absolute evil to condemn two people who feel a great love for each other and a connection with each other for wanting to be together. This need not have anything to do with homosexual acts. So many people here seem to be seeking to reduce love to sex. This is wrong. Our call is to God. Should we have sex, it must be procreative. It is an evil to engage in sexual activity for other purposes. This includes heterosexual sex where one or the other partner is clearly sterile, for example after a woman has had her womb removed. It extends also to masturbation, though this is accounted a venial sin. Yes, let two old spinsters become civil partners; the fact that the law is not so does not warrant the desire to exclude those from God’s love to whom the various legal rights have been granted. Love is love. Love is not sex. It is so important to be Christian about this, to look with love, to see other people’s failings, to forgive. And not to assume – that people are engaging in sinful acts just because they love each other. To assume that people who love each other and want to share their lives with each other must be having sex is – frankly, weird. Love does not need sex. Love is enough – for and with the people we love and for and with God. 

  • Bob Hayes

    Receiving Communion while in a state of mortal sin?

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘I’ve yet to see such even-handedness in these columns’. 

    Perhaps that is because, ‘all those practising artificial contraception, and to engaged couples sharing sexual love-making before their wedding day, and to all those who masturbate’ have not sought special Masses for the ‘community’.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Being in a gay relationship is hardly a mortal sin – even if some cranks think that it is.

  • Harry

    James, although I respect the fact that are progressive by the extreme standards of this site – and thank you for it – that post is just as bigotted a proposition as the more orthodox catholic ones posted elsewhere in these comments. What you are saying is , first, gay married couple, such as I and my husband of nearly 20 years, are not a family: that is deeply offensive and I certainly would advise you to keep such a backward opinion to yourself in a work environment. Secondly you fail to put the children’s interests first and foremost where they belong, which is that the children should be placed with a family or individual who are best placed to serve their needs, of whatever sexuality the adoptive parents. And that is the clear and settled policy of the state in the 21st century. 

  • Agent Provocateur21

    Sorry man, didn’t read properly. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

  • Agent Provocateur21

    Dear Terence,

    I do not judge anyone. I do not judge people who attend these Masses. I said it clearly in my video and I say it here again.

    As Bob said below all those who make love before their wedding day, using contraception, mastrubating etc. do not have their own special Masses. In fact, every Mass is INCLUSIVE and EVERYONE is invited, including homosexuals. I am talking about participation in the Mass, not about communion of course. To have special Masses for alcoholics, homosexuals, fornicators etc. would create divisons in the Church. 

    And yes, when people ask if mastrubation is a sin or pre-marital sex, then I always say yes. I suspect this is what you call judgment…it’s just distinguishing between good and evil. St. Casimir masturbated (once) and he is a saint now! If you TRULY love people, you do not hide the truth from them. You try to protect them from evil.

    You say those who attending these Masses prayed over the Scriptures, educated themselves in theology, social science etc. Well, I guess they didn’t pray enough! How can you explain there was a man selling books BANNED by Spanish bishops????!!! How can you explain the BLASPHEMOUS suggestion in a parish newsletter St. Sergius and Bacchus were a homosexual couple?????!!!! Such an idea is TRULY DIABOLICAL.

    As for respect…I respect all people whether they are homosexual or not. But I respect them as people, because their are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. NOT because they engage in homosexual behaviour. In fact there is nothing to be proud of. Would you be proud of your pre-marital sex or masturbation?????!! Of course not. That’s why people who struggle with sinful inclination should have a place where can find spiritual help in their combat. They certainly shouldn’t have a place where they openly undermine the teaching of the holy Church.

    The way I obtained this video…my friend, I wanted to get an HONEST opinion. In fact it’s a standard journalistic practice in the investigative and undercover journalism. Nothing to be scandalized about. Do you really think I would get the same answer should I publicly express my view?

    And finally, to claim the Catholic Church is hostile to homosexuals is not true. The Catholic Church is hostile to sin, always was and always will be. As the bride of Christ she must be perfect. However, the Catholic Church is always merciful and full of charity towards sinners. Homosexual or not, it really doesn’t matter. There is a place for everyone in the Church. It’s your choice if you want to become an obedient sheep or revolting goat.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, yes, yes, I have read what Archbishop Nichols is reported to have said.
    It is not “a decent, humane attitude” to encourage people to enter, or remain in, an occasion of sin.
    A homosexual relationship, involving two gays co-habiting in a legalised, pretentious form of ‘marriage’, is just such an occasion of sin.
    I have nothing more I wish to add on this subject.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps, Mr Weldon, you would answer the same question that I asked Mr Hadley, a question that seems to have embarrassed him a great deal, judging by his reluctance to provide a response: Why do you find it so difficult to acknowledge and accept that Our Lord’s promise to His Apostles and their successors will be enforced by Him until the end of time?