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Last week, I asked Archbishop Nichols to clarify his views on civil unions: this led the CNA to ask him, too. He spoke: but did we get an answer?

This is all getting to look very similar to what we have been told about the Soho Masses

By on Monday, 5 December 2011

Archbishop Nichols: 'Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship, which marriage does'

Archbishop Nichols: 'Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship, which marriage does'

I refer you first to an article which appeared last week on the website of the Catholic News Agency, which is based in Rome, and which refers to a piece which I wrote last week – one which it seems led to the CNA telephoning Archbishop Nichols to ask him whether or not he really did support civil unions.

My initial hope that we would now get a straight answer to a straight question was of course dashed: what we actually got was a kind of sideways slither, in which he said that the bishops actually simply accepted the existence of civil unions. But what he had said before was that they were valuable: “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… The Church holds great store by the value of commitment in relationships and undertakings that people give…” If that isn’t actual approval, I would like to know what is. Here’s the relevant part of the CNA article:

Catholic commentator William Oddie wrote in the Nov 30 edition of the Catholic Herald that “Archbishop Nichols says he is in favor of gay civil unions: but that legally includes the right to adopt. So why did we lose our adoption agencies?”

“Now we are told, by the chairman of the bishops’ conference, [Archbishop Nichols] that the English Church supports civil unions between homosexual persons, unions which have been given the legal right to adopt children,” Oddie continued.

When Archbishop Nichols was asked by CNA if the bishops of England were contradicting the Vatican’s guidelines, he said that the bishops have tried “to recognize the reality of the legal provision in our country of an agreement, a partnership, with many of the same legal safeguards as in marriage.” He further explained that while the bishops recognise the existence of civil partnerships, they also “believe that that is sufficient”, and that they should not be placed on par with marriage…

“Clearly, respect must be shown to those who in the situation in England use a civil partnership to bring stability to a relationship,” the archbishop said, qualifying that while “equality is very important and there should be no unjust discrimination,” that “commitment plus equality do not equal marriage”.

Archbishop Nichols said the key distinction between civil partnerships and marriage is that the former does not “in law contain a required element of sexual relationships”.

“Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship, which marriage does,” he explained. “And that’s the distinction that I think it’s important for us to understand, that marriage is built on the sexual partnership between a man and a woman which is open to children to their nurture and education.”

So while the bishops of England and Wales “respect the existence of same-sex partnerships in law,” he said, “the point we are at now is to say that they are not the same as marriage.”

There’s one new element in that answer: the preposterous argument that “Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship, which marriage does.” In other words, they’re not like marriage at all. But of course they’re like marriage in one very important respect: that they have as a fundamental defining element that those in such unions have the legal right to adopt children. This isn’t the first time Archbishop Nichols has said he accepts and supports these unions, and has attempted to father his views on the bishops’ conference: in the immediate aftermath of the Pope’s visit, in September of 2010, he claimed that the bishops weren’t against them:

ROME, September 24, 2010 (– A day after the departure of Pope Benedict XVI from Britain, his senior archbishop, the unofficial head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, told a BBC interviewer that the English bishops had purposely refused to oppose (my emphasis) legalizing homosexual civil partnerships. (Download the audio here.)

Attempting to defend the Catholic hierarchy from accusations of being opposed to the homosexualist political agenda around the world, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster hastened to assure the BBC’s Huw Edwards, “That’s not true.”

“In this country, we were very nuanced. We did not oppose gay civil partnerships. We recognized that in English law there might be a case for those. What we persistently said is that these are not the same as marriage.”

But that simply wasn’t, and isn’t, the case. Archbishop Nichols, in a tight corner, and faced by several aggressively secularist interlocutors, was winging it. That fact is that “we” (ie the bishops) never said that “there might be a case for those”. What the bishops actually said in 2003, as I pointed out in my article last week, was that “the government’s proposals to create civil partnerships for same-sex couples would not promote the common good”, because 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.”

And now we are being told, preposterously, that gay civil unions aren’t based on a sexual relationship, so Catholics don’t have to be opposed to them. If that’s the case, one has to ask, why can’t siblings living together be given the same legal framework of protection? And I repeat, why do partners in a civil union have the right to adopt – (making these unions virtually indistinguishable in law from civil marriage) – a right which the Church everywhere else in the world including here has consistently opposed?

That claim that civil unions aren’t based on sexual relations taking place has a familiar ring to it, however: it is highly reminiscent of the persistent claim by this same Archbishop Nichols that we cannot know that those gay people who communicate at the Soho Masses are sexually active. He also says that those who aver (with very good reason, including the open and repeated avowals of those concerned) that at the Soho Masses those involved in active homosexual relationships do receive Holy Communion, in defiance of the laws of the Church, should “learn to hold their tongue”. And if you doubt that he said that, here he is on YouTube, actually saying it.

To return to civil unions, the fact is that when the bishops said in 2003 that they “would in the long term undermine marriage and the family”, they have very evidently already been proved right. It’s all very well for the archbishop to say that he supports marriage: why then does he also support the gay civil unions which by having virtually all the rights of marriage have undoubtedly weakened the distinctiveness of true marriage and will certainly weaken it further?

I hope that CNA follow up on this story. They are read in Rome; and that’s where this matter should now be taken up.

  • Garrick8000

    Yes why not a support group to support paedophiles or convicted robbers. Should the church turn its back on the these people and shun them?I seem to remember Jesus himself being criticised by the self proclaimed virtuous of his day for associating with taxmen and prostitutes. Anyway the paedophile support group could prove to be very helpfull to many of the clergy.   

  • EditorCT

    The Church has always provided absolution for repentant paedophiles, robbers, in the same way that Christ preached repentance to the taxmen and prostitutes of the first century.  I don’t recall any support groups being mentioned in the Gospels, perhaps because “support” groups are often no more than strategy meetings for propagandists bent (no pun intended) on getting the Church to change its teaching.

    Correction: pun intended.

  • Garrick8000

    I think you protest too much,far too much in fact. One often finds that those who are the most vocal critics of gays are often motivated by their own denial and self hate of  their own gay tendencies. People secure and comfortable with their own sexuality are far more likely to have a balanced and tolerant approach rather than your hysterical drama queen type of ranting. 

  • EditorCT

    I keep hearing this.  Does that mean we shouldn’t get upset about murderers taking innocent human life, children, for example, and is the sheer horror I felt at hearing the account of the woman whose boyfriend tried to bury her alive (BBC news today) evidence that I secretly long to murder someone or bury someone?

    Get real.  We are naturally horrified at behaviours which contradict nature, such as the taking of human life in wilful murder and in sexual matters, sexual behaviour which is self-evidently unnatural such as sodomy and bestiality.  It is plain ridiculous to suggest that anyone who expresses revulsion at these behaviours is secretly longing to indulge in them. Allow me to assure you to the contrary. Very much to the contrary.

  • Anonymous

    Problem is EditorCT that when you say things like it’s ‘unnatural’ you get the same wearied fallacious responses that sparrows, bonobos, dolphins etc do it and men have a prostate which can achieve orgasm by doing the same-sex horizontee…they use reverse induction on the premise.

    Go down the moral theology route and you accentuate the contra-teleological nature of it.. it’s intrinsically morally disordered directed to the completely contrary end-in-itself and thus gravely destructive – then you can bring in the whole nature thing in that paradigm and they can’t contest it…

    Plus that’s the problem with their ‘hyperbolic aversion implies fear of seduction’ – the obsession/compulsion fallacy – because some of the most paranoid apophenic homophobes have been a bit festive behind the scenes – and they extrapolate the odd case to the general norm…

    There are a few vociferous commentators who need to move away from the ‘it’s sick, disgusting, repulsive’ mentality and move towards ‘it’s just plain wrong! it’s counter-productive, compromising and jeopardising to any potential love between them and it’s abuse of self and their partner – using them as a masturbatory tool rather than an end in itself’…

    …and we need to ensure that we’re not being hypocritical and constantly re-emphasise that heterosexual contraceptive sex is even more gravely sinful than anything two men or two women can do together…

    …but fighting contraception and extra-marital is going to be a tougher one – because our hierarchy most definitely don’t want to offend anyone and simply refuse to denounce them…

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

    Kudos to Abp Nichols. His red hat has gone out the window, but “of so much fame in heaven expect thy meed.” Meanwhile Mrs Clinton is streets ahead of us:

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

     and a good Christian.

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

     and Italy remains a homophobic backwater in Western Europe.

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

    Does the Church not also recognize as valid (though not indissoluble) sexless or Josephite marriages?

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

    I think immigration officials who snoop around such couples seek proof of cohabitation but not of sexual relations.

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

    Is a wimpy liberal Anglican such a very bad thing? Better than a thug, I’d say.

    And is gay marriage a Jewish conspiracy? Nope, it comes from the aspirations of some gay men and women who are monogamously inclined. I foresee a day when the Church will offer them the full blessings of sacramental marriage.

    Judeo-Pagan is a horrible antisemitic neologism. True Catholics are proud to be children of Abraham and to regard the Jewish people as their elder brothers and sisters in faith.

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

     being reassured of a safe pair of hands — I don’t think the Jesus of the Gospels gave that sort of reassurance

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

    With similar statements from Cardinals Martini and Schoenborn, there is clearly a hope that the Church may become more constructive and reasonable in its guidance of gay and lesbian folk.

  • Joseph S. O’Leary

    sanctus3x, thank God you are not a bishop!

  • Bellator

    True Catholics ARE the children of Abraham, in the spiritual sense. Not so much your apostate Talmudic Babylonian-inspired allies, who are promoting your homosexual perversion down in New York City as an evolutionary strategy to undermine (even persecute) those who uphold Christian morality and to divide society against itself.

    Evan Wolfson is described by Rolling Stone Magazine as the “Godfather of Gay Marriage”. He is pro-Marxist and Jewish from New York City. These are objective facts, I’m not making this up. The Catholic Church should have nothing to do with the agenda promoted by creeps like this.

  • Charles Martel

    Archbishop Nichols,
    You are utterly unfit for your job. Resign now.

  • Apostolic

    Shocking, if not entirely surprising.

  • EditorCT

    And be aware, folks, that Joseph O’Leary is a Catholic priest in good standing.
    He’s also Irish and if you want to see the (schismatic) state of the Church in Ireland take a look at the  short video documentary linked at the top of our middle panel at and note Fr Ahearne’s description of the priest at the elevation of the Host in a Traditional Mass.

    Then take a look at the linked article about Archbishop Nichols who is obviously perfectly at home participating in pagan rituals – in this case, in the rituals of sun and fire worshippers.

    And you can take it as read that Joseph S O’Leary won’t be one teensy weensy bit troubled. “Father” O’Leary is, if I’m not mistaken (judging by his regular posts on their blog) a sympathizer if not member of the Association of Catholic Priests featured in the Irish video – their objectives are manifestly schismatic.  All, however, “priests in good standing” and referenced in the Catholic papers here as representing priests. Only one priest wrote in to either the Catholic Herald or Catholic Times (can’t recall which) to say that they do NOT represent priests but represent only themselves and other dissenters.

    Nice to disagree with you again, Joseph S O’Leary. 

  • Dr PJ McFall

    What do you suggest the Archbishop should do? The Catholic Church cannot isolate itself from world public opinion anymore. People no longer feel that they need to have the sanction of the church to engage in coitus. Civil unions are a public declaration of love, and in this world, love from any quarter is most welcome. You do not sound like a Oxbridge, Sorbonne, or Ivy League man, however to give you the benefit of any doubt, please supply a synopsis of what you would do instead of Archbishop Vincent Nichols. If you cannot do this, please be quiet.

  • Charles Martel

    What should Archbishop Nichols do? Hmmm, a teaser. No, not really. Perhaps he should teach the Catholic Faith in its fullness – that is what he was appointed to do. That may involve saying some deeply unfashionable things, such as ‘The Catholic Church can never condone homosexual acts, or ‘marriages’ / civil unions between homosexuals’. There. Easy really, when you try.
    And, by the way, Mr Oxbridge/Sorbonne/Ivy League, Our Lord said, “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.
    You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour,
    wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be
    cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a
    candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.”
    This means we are not to worry about what men say, about being marginalised, about being scorned as unenlightened reactionaries by the opinion makers of the day. We answer to God, not man. The Catholic Church will endure, while their conceits and their errors will lie in the dust before long.

  • Peter

    You are quite wrong as a civil union is a legal entity and is not dependent on people having, or not having, sex.  I’m not saying that people in civil unions don’t have sex!  The same applies to civil marriages.  Similarly you can have sex anyway without a civil union or a civil marriage…or even a religious marriage.  Sex cannot be legislated against.

  • Peter

    Obviously you do not appreciate that such groups have pastoral needs, in many cases to handle the feelings of guilt and rejection.  

    Of course a  support group is mentioned in the  New Testament it’s called ekklesia.  Neither paedophiles, gays, lesbians, alcoholics, drug addicts etc or abortion gets a mention.

    Compassion does.

  • Anonymous

    why don’t you just go away?

  • Bellator

    Ever met Italian women? Homosexuality is a disease.

  • Catherinei

    “heterosexual contraceptive sex is even more gravely sinful than anything two men or two women can do together…”

    whilst I agree with the fact that heterosexual contraceptive intercourse is a grave moral evil I do not agree that it’s worse than sodomy for example since that is among the sins that cries to heaven for vengeance.

  • Kathydq

    PULEEEEESE   you have just proved my point.

  • Anonymous

    Doctor Oddie: Perhaps you might be interested in the comments of Austen Ivereigh on Twitter? [to be read from bottom ascending] – Dr Ivereigh claims you’re mistaken and exploting ambiguity of terms – are you? Dr Ivereigh also seems to be informing us that we’re all mistaken – when the Vatican opposes ‘same-sex unions’ they are only opposed to gay marriage – not civic partnerships!!!???

    Austen Ivereigh
    @blondpidge yes: it’s a shame CP privileges r restricted to gay relationships rather than offered to any non-conjugal stable partnership.

    Austen Ivereigh

    @Michael_Merrick Nothing Jesuitical. Very straight. (a) CPs deliver all legal etc. needs of gay couples; (b) no to redefining marriage.

    Michael Merrick

    @austeni if it was very straight this wouldn’t have blown up – you could at the very least acknowledge potential for misunderstanding.

    Michael Merrick

    some would say he was being Jesuitical; others Janus-faced. He’s far
    too smooth an operator to not know precisely what he was doing

    Austen Ivereigh

    Tonight’s constitutional challenge, following Can Supreme Governor of C of E be in a gay marriage (once it’s legal)?

    Austen Ivereigh
    @blondpidge Oddie was exploiting the ambiguity of the term ‘legal recognition of same-sex unions’, saying it meant CPs. But it means GM.

    Austen Ivereigh
    @blondpidge ‘He was not speaking in defence of the legal recognition of same-sex unions’ (ie what Vatican condemns).

    Austen Ivereigh
    ‘He was speaking in defence of marriage, not of civil partnerships. He
    was accepting CPs as part of established legal framework’

    Caroline Farrow
    there *are* issues of natural justice solved by CPs. It is just a shame
    they are framed as romantic relationships & thus limited

    Caroline Farrow @austeni do you have a translation of that?

    Austen Ivereigh
    Good answers from +Vincent spokesman re civil partnerships to Vatican Insider, after silly attacks by LifeSite ‘News’

  • AidanCoyle

    Here you go again, EditorCT, with your tired, spurious, disgraceful analogies when the topic of same-sex sexuality comes up. The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks… 

  • AidanCoyle

    Do you people ever stand back and listen to yourselves? Or are you outrageous queens working undercover and having a whale of a time engaging in joyous parody here?

  • Deesis

    Not true. Civil unions are a parody of marriage. In any event the State has no jurisdiction over the baptised when it comes to matrimony. If civil unions were intended to clarify who gets what in terms of property it would not be specified it was between members of the same sex.

  • Deesis

    “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. As with gps or lawyers we only ask they not give us quackery and break the law. In the same way I do not think we Catholics care for empathy or generousity that departs from the moral law of the Catholic Faith. Hilter was kind and empathetic to his dog! Being nice in his position but talking in the way he does is like smiling while poisoning another. That is all we want …. the Catholic Faith  

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Peter: I am not sure you are right about this.  First of all marriage is not a contract but a status in English civil law.  Secondly non-consummation is grounds for an annulment in English civil law.  The law on annulment has its basis in Canon Law.

  • Tridentinus

    “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… The Church holds great store by the
    value of commitment in relationships and undertakings that people give…”

    The only construction that can be put on this is that the Church approves of civil partnerships (CPs) which gives people of the same gender the right to live together in a sinful and unchaste relationship under the same legal protection as though they were a married couple. To imply that sex is not a factor in these relationships (when, in fact, it is the single and only reason for them) is disingenuous and casuistic. Those who are barred from contracting such ‘unions’ for practical purposes are the very same who are forbidden by law to have a sexual relationship, i.e. siblings.

    CPs were introduced at the instigation of homosexually active lobbyists such as Stonewall et al. The State, subservient as ever these days to minority groups, is intent upon making homosexuality looked upon as normal as heterosexuality, viz; its aggressive promotion as an alternative and equally reputable lifestyle by the Dept: of Health and the Dept: of Education in schools.  David Cameron, never dodging an opportunity to improve his ‘liberal’ credentials has gone one further and intends to put CPs on a par with marriage. Apart from showing his total ignorance of Christianity, this has saddened and is resented by a large number of his MPs and non-Libdem voters throughout the country. The promotion of CPs by Governments, both past and present and their endorsement by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in no uncertain terms tells the people of this country, particularly the young  and impressionable, that homosexual acts (promiscuous by there very nature) are a legitimate expression of ‘love and commitment’ and are to be valued.

    The old Act of Contrition ended with the words, ‘……. and carefully to avoid the occasions of sin’. Would anyone really believe that a CP isn’t an occasion of sin? Our Bishops don’t seem to think so.

    What saddens me is the responses that I imagine they have to the criticisms expressed here and elsewhere. ‘What do they know?  We are all PhDs and TDs, what do they know? We are almost part of the establishment, what do they know? We confer with the Pope himself, don’t they know? Oh, will no one deliver us from this turbulent laity?

    Hæc via illorum scandalum ipsis.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    What is quite clear from most of the comment is that whether you are a Tabletista or worse such as the author of or a Taliban Catholic or just in the middle most people have been given the impression that the “Archbishop praises civil partnerships” – to quote the Tablet headline and more specifically “His comments mark the clearest support that a Catholic bishop has given to civil unions”.

    In contrast to this the CDF has said:

    those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have
    been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and
    emphatic opposition is a duty

    (For Austen Ivereigh to claim that this does not apply to civil unions is just plain silly)

    On Wednesday His Grace gave the inaugural Thomas More Memorial Lecture on “Religion is not a problem for legislators to solve but a vital contributor to the national conversation” followed by a Question and Answer session.

    This was the perfect opportunity to reply to William Oddie’s very pertinent question asking for clarification.  We did not get it.

    His Grace’s lecture can be read at:

    His Grace suggested three points for action.  The first was to promote community and he suggested that joining something would lead to a community spirit which would eventually lead to a discussion where “the surge of awe, will come to the fore” presumably leading to religion.  One of his suggestions was bird-watching (shades of Fotherington Thomas and tell that to David Attenborough”).  Community is expressed in “a network of stable, lasting relationships in which encouragement, companionship and support are to be found”.  That was as near as he got to the subject of civil unions but one can see where he might be going.  It is rather like praising loyalty and by implication supporting the German soldier’s oath to the Fuehrer.

    Anyway in the Question and Answer session the question about Civil Unions was put to him in writing in no uncertain terms with the above quote from the CDF being read out.  Effectively he dodged the question repeating something along the lines of what he had said after the Bishop’s Conference.  His answer was that we should concentrate on the proposal that civil unions should be redefined as marriage.  (A proposal that an eminent Professor of Law  at Oxford has pointed out could be achieved by simply changing the definition in the Civil Partnership Act – a one line Act of Parliament could do that).  He said that we should concentrate on that issue alone and forget about civil unions as being done and dusted.  He said that bloggers who had brought the question up about civil unions were “mischievous”.

    Can he not see that these bloggers and many commentators are serious, sincere and genuine in their concerns and in dismissing them as mischievous is not acceptable from one who is suppose to be our shepherd?

    We must resist the redefinition of civil unions as marriage but surely His Grace has effectively undermined the situation.  The Government will say “These English & Welsh Catholic Bishops were initially opposed to Civil Unions but they have come round at last and praise them.  They are a bit slow to adapt to modern needs and they do have Rome breathing down their necks.  We may as well pass an Act redefining marriage and eventually the Bishops will come round to our point of view somewhere down the road”.

  • Bellator

    But Anglicans are atheists.

  • Wweepingwillow

    Nichols is an utter disgrace – he has no credibility and authority.
    I am at the mild end of the spectrum – I can assure you that a lot of my fellow catholics in the Midlands are far,far more scathing and abusive about him. And very angry.
    I do not regard him as the head of my church in this country – indeed he denies that very role by his disgraceful, politically inspired agitprop.
    As we dont have a big enough crisis with the abuse scandal.
    What an utter, utter cretin.

  • Josephsoleary

    and Catholics?

  • Josephsoleary

    so 600 Irish priests do not represent priests?

  • EditorCT

    Last time I checked, the ACP claimed 300  members but a priest friend of mine in Ireland told me at the time that that is undoubtedly an exaggeration. He wouldn’t touch them with the proverbial barge pole, he says.

    But if every priest in Ireland joined that bunch of faithless clergy it wouldn’t change this fact – they’re wrong.  They’ve no idea about the nature and purpose of the Church. They have fallen into grave error and unless they repent, God (literally) help them at their judgment.

    So, numbers don’t impress – except in the sense that if that outfit had only ONE member, it would impress upon us the extent of the apostasy in once Catholic Ireland.

    Laughably, when I posted on the ACP blog, my comments more often than not didn’t make it onto the page.  So much for “open-ness” and “dialogue” within the Church. Bunch of hypocrites.