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Catholic priests are right to express fears over Government marriage plans

Equality legislation will certainly undermine the Government’s supposed guarantee

By on Friday, 18 January 2013

'Love is Love' Gay Marriage Contest Ceremony - New York

I just read this quote from the Caelum et Terra blog: “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendour of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless.” Abraham Joshua Heschel, “God in search of Man: a Philosophy of Judaism.”

There is a lot of truth in this. It is too easy to blame “modern society” for the collapse of religious belief in this country. We should look in the mirror and ask ourselves the question “If I were arrested today for being a Christian, what proofs would be found to convict me?”

Tim Stanley said much the same thing in his article, “Christians need to find some old-time zeal” in the Telegraph on Wednesday. After describing the de-Christianisation within Britain today, he concludes: “In our new consumer-driven, postmodern order, Christians have to compete with people pushing other religions or no religion at all. We no longer enjoy a privileged status in the popular imagination. And while it’s easy to blame politicians and courts for this, responsibility ultimately lies with the true believers. The only thing that will renew British Christianity is to drop all the lazy presumptions that Britain is basically Christian, and start again from scratch.”

“To start again from scratch”: I think we are only just beginning to wake up to this truth.

One thing in Stanley’s article I disagree with: when he comments, “Although the Government insists that no church will be compelled to carry out gay marriages, more than 1000 Catholic priests wrote a letter to this newspaper last week protesting that equalities legislation makes a nonsense of this guarantee and that attempts to legalise gay marriage amount to a renewal of historic persecution against Catholics. I, too, am a Catholic – and the idea that the wedding of Adam and Steve can be likened to Cromwell’s rampage across Ireland strikes me as hysterical. But it reflects a wider panic among religious conservatives – the fear that a metropolitan political establishment is conspiring against us.”

I demur for several reasons: equality legislation will certainly undermine the Government’s supposed “guarantee.” Even if the Church wins in the courts when future cases are brought against her, there will be a long, slow war of attrition against those of all faiths and none who believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman. For instance, the Government has said that teachers must continue to uphold marriage: but if the word “marriage” is redefined they will be breaking the law if they don’t uphold the new definition; they won’t be able to uphold the old understanding and the new one at the same time.

Stanley describes the letter of the 1000 priests – including eight bishops and four abbots – as “hysterical.” I would rather describe it as good sense and right judgement. Are the more than 600,000 signatories to the Coalition for Marriage petition (C4M) also “hysterical”? Perhaps the letter reflects justified forebodings at such a fundamental change to the natural order of relationships and is not about “panic” or “fear” or “religious conservatism”. “Marriage” should never have been used as a political issue in this way and it is not “conservative” for Christians and others to champion it. These 1000 priests are not zealots and religious extremists; they are decent, God-fearing men, alongside all the other people who signed the C4M document, who rightly see that there will be far-reaching implications to a change of definition which will, in the course of time, amount to a form of persecution.

You don’t have to refer to Cromwell to realise that persecution need not be bloody or violent; it can simply be quiet, boring, relentless and implacable, fought through the courts and leaving mental and emotional stress and pain in its wake. That is what opponents of a re-definition of marriage will face if the Government forces through this legislation and I am not remotely “hysterical” in pointing this out. So far only individuals have been challenged, such as Christian B+B owners, a Christian registrar, a Christian marriage counsellor, a Christian psychotherapist. If the definition of marriage is changed by law, the whole of society, whether married or unmarried, priest or lay person, will be affected by it.

But to return to Stanley’s main point: there is no use being aggrieved or wringing one’s hands over this approaching confrontation. Those who want to defend marriage must indeed start again from scratch: acknowledge our own lukewarm support for marriage in the past; our tacit acceptance of a widespread contraceptive mentality; our tolerance of cohabitation as an acceptable alternative; and our placid illusion that the comfortable Christian status quo would last forever.

  • JabbaPapa

    As always, more diplomatically phrased than the way I would make exactly the same points myself. :-)

  • liquafruta

    I mean those who wish to regularise their faithful relationships in the same ways as others do and, for believing Christians, – and yes there are Catholics in this position – before Almighty God. I don’t think that is thin air at all. Blessings.

  • majorcalamity

    I am not a Catholic. I have not been indoctrinated, or “catechised” My knowledge of Catholicism is not about the dogma, but about the practical ways Catholics think and act in certain situations. It is my personal view that there are no rational arguments for the existence of God, or none that have yet been put to me, and many have tried. 

    I don’t have the slightest problem with anyone having whatever belief they want to hold.  If it gives them hope and comfort I am pleased for them. My difficulties begins and ends when religion strays into politics. I am a firm believer in secularism.

  • majorcalamity

    Rather than repeat myself please read my reply to Lazarus.

  • JabbaPapa

    My knowledge of Catholicism is not about the dogma, but about the practical ways Catholics think and act in certain situations.

    Then stop talking about Catholicism, and discuss these or those Catholics instead ?

    But from experience of your posts, your views on Catholics appear to be heavily stereotyped…

  • JabbaPapa

    Then you are teaching Errors that are directly contrary to the Catholic Faith.

    Do you understand that by doing so, deliberately, willfully, consciously, and repeatedly, you place yourself out of Communion with the Church, and should therefore refrain from taking the Eucharist ?

    There is no place for “gay marriage” in Catholicism.

  • majorcalamity

    Catholicism is, in the way I use it, a generic term. You will realise better than I do just how many variants there are within the general heading. The trads are currently the noisiest.  The modernisers seem to prefer to stay out of the spotlight, which is something I regret for they could make a difference and produce a Church which is more in tune with the times and it’s needs. The election of the last pope was a huge missed opportunity in my opinion. Why do I care? Because it affects many people that I care about. 

  • liquafruta

    I am therefore glad that my loving Saviour is my judge and not you. Pax.

  • JabbaPapa

    I am not your judge, but that does not mean that I cannot make you aware of the religious consequences of your beliefs.

  • Tridentinus

     I object to my relationship with my wife being classified as the same as that enjoyed between two men or two women. To any rational person same-sex marriage is absurd. If homosexuals wish to ‘live together’ as far as I’m concerned they can do so. If they wish to avail themselves of the civil benefits of marriage and the State is amenable, so be it.
    Let them, however, not pollute the word ‘marriage’ by applying it to their relationship.

  • Rondre

    Scientist are finding homosexuality amoung animals. Did they choose it?

  • Tridentinus

    I have answered your last point several times already. Marriage is NOT
    designed for the purpose of producing offspring. It is merely your
    opinion that it is.

     And it is merely your opinion that it isn’t.

    Your contribution to this discussion is like that of a child in the playground.

  • majorcalamity

    You object as much as you wish. It’s your right and no-one will stop you. I can assure you I am quite rational, and I don’t agree with you. That’s my right too. If our parliament on our behalf decide that they agree with me, then the change will happen. You can still object but perhaps you ought to stop calling me, and our MPs irrational. 

  • majorcalamity

    Of course it’s just our opinions! That’s obvious. The issue though is whether mine, or yours, will be the one which prevails. So far as acting like a child in the playground I rather think that is a neat description of the way the Church has behaved over this. Toys thrown out of the pram comes to mind! 

  • Tridentinus

     When opinion polls agree with one’s views they are quoted as uncontrovertible evidence. When they disagree a myriad of reasons as to why they should be ignored are put forward. Opinion polls are not democracy. This proposal was in no one’s manifesto at the general election, therefore no one can know how people in constituencies all over the country would have voted had it been in the Conservative manifesto.

    I would wager, however, that had it been in their manifesto we would now have had a Labour government since May 2010, despite the ignomious record of Tony Blair and the unfortunate, Gordon Brown. Had Cameron publicly proclaimed his committment to ‘gay marriage’ because ‘he was a Conservative’ it would have been political suicide.

    Conservatives are continuing to desert their Party in droves over the issue, only yesterday the Chairman and Treasurer of Somerset and Frome Conservative Association resigned. It was even suggested to the Chairman of the (Tory) 1922 Committee in an interview on Radio 4′s PM programme tonight that ‘gay marriage’ was a greater vote-loser than his previous anti-referendum stance on Europe and he did not disagree.

    Despite this question being a matter of conscience and Cameron has given his party a ‘free vote’. He would have done this secure in the knowledge that he can rely on the Labour party to whip its MPs to vote for the motion when it comes before Parliament. There are, however, a lot of Catholic MPs on the Labour party benches so it will be interesting to see which way they jump, towards their God or the State, by their fruits shall ye know them.

    Please, try to distinguish between opinion polls and democracy.

  • Tridentinus

     Is that the basis of your reply? Please, try to imagine what it is like to live in the real world.
    Homosexual activities are regarded as, at least, disgusting, depraved,  if not even obscene by most people. If they were not then you would have no need to try to win people over to your side.
    Regardless of what Parliament decides homosexual relationships will always be regarded as deviant by the vast majority who may well tolerate them but will never cease to snigger at them.
    Marriage will always be looked upon as between a man and a woman. The absurdity of same-sex relationships being regarded as ‘marriage’ will hopefully be shown eventually as  a nine-day-wonder or if not, the novelty or aberration which it is but never the norm.
    Parliaments may come and Parliaments may go, they are hardly regarded as democratic any more as their decisions are determined by party whips rather than the conscience or conviction of individual MPs; 5 year dictatorships.

  • majorcalamity

    You sir, have revealed yourself as homophobic! Your view was common place 50 years ago but has gradually been eroded, as we have been better informed, more tolerant and inclusive. I just don’t believe that the “vast majority” think as you do. That there is such a view is undeniable, but I think it is a minority one and is decreasing. Your view is as old fashioned as it is wrong.

    Marriage has always been regarded as being between a man and a woman. That’s true. There is no reason though why it always will be so regarded and I suspect in 20 years time we will wonder what all the fuss was about.

    My parents hated homosexuals almost as much as they hated “blackies”. They never learned better and held their prejudice until they died. Maybe you won’t learn either, whilst your children will. Maybe not, but that a majority will learn is for me a racing certainty. 

    I spend half my life living in a Catholic country where homosexuality is completely accepted, both inside and outside the church. Gays are not regarded as anything other than completely normal, their behaviour is not thought to be disgusting or depraved and no-one sniggers. They are welcomed into main stream society and the family. It is only here where I still come across this type of stupidity. 

  • Arden Forester

    Mrs Miller talks of equality yet she has drafted a bill that makes her idea of marriage very unequal. A man and a woman will still have to consummate a marriage yet a homosexual union is allowed not to have this as a legal requirement. Adultery is only for a man and a woman too.

    The current law says a child is assumed to be the child of a marriage. With homosexuals this is not to be. However if a lesbian conceives within a homosexual union it will not be interpreted as adultery or anything else. It just passes by. So whereas Christian marriage is for raising children the government sees no reason to give a child its birthright of knowing who its father is.

    Mrs Miller talks of religious marriage but seems to know little about what she says. If there was no quadruple lock the Church of England and Mrs Miller said “OK carry on”, the church could not marry two same sex people. There is no marriage service that is appropriate because there is none. Even the most liberal and apostate Anglicans do not believe matrimony is for homosexuals. Blessings, they may do. So Mrs Miller talks as if churches could possible marry homosexuals. Not possible so long as the wedding service is part and parcel of the legal requirements. No gay men are going to listen to a preamble about the meaning of marriage without wondering why they were there in the first place.

    Mrs Miller needs to drop this nonsense and think of more meaningful things to do.

  • Adrian Johnson

    Christians with a backbone need to re-read Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”; and learn how to dress for, and otherwise prepare for jail.  The time may return when, as in the American South in the ’60s Civil Rights struggle, you will meet more moral people inside, than outside jail.   “Right’s right if nobody’s right;
    Wrong’s wrong if everyone’s wrong.”Holy bishops and priests going to jail for moral principles will restore authentic leadership and  credibility lost by “False shepherds” who have caused  scandal to the Church.