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Why we decided to interview Stonewall’s Ben Summerskill

Engaging the Church’s most vocal critics is risky, but ultimately worthwhile

By on Thursday, 11 July 2013

Protester prepare placards opposing the papal visit to Britain in 2010 (AP)

Protester prepare placards opposing the papal visit to Britain in 2010 (AP)

In last week’s issue of The Catholic Herald we ran an interview with Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of the gay rights lobby group Stonewall. It was the first of a series of conversations with leading critics of the Church.

We had the idea a while back of interviewing some of the key figures in those organisations that pop up repeatedly in news reports involving conflict between Catholics and secularists. The aim is to inform readers about the views of people who they might not normally engage with and, in turn, tell them our side of the story.

The idea had its genesis in the papal visit to Britain, before which the “debate” seemed to consist of a bunch of extremely angry people shouting at each other about contraception, clerical abuse and Aids in Africa. Paul Sims of New Humanist magazine noted the poor quality of public discourse at the time. After Benedict XVI’s visit, I interviewed him about it. We have different views about the benefits or drawbacks of religion, but it was an interesting and constructive conversation.

I found it similarly worthwhile talking to Ben Summerskill, who has his own passionately held view of what constitutes injustice. Not everyone liked the way the interview turned out. One commenter on this website, Gabriel–syme, wrote: “I do hope the interviewer will challenge the next guests a bit more and ask them to substantiate their views. Summerskill gets away with murder here. It’s not an interview, it’s a stage for him.”

I certainly hope this wasn’t the case. I was aware of that risk when I wrote up the interview, but I was convinced – and still am – that it’s vital for Catholics to truly understand how their political opponents think. Besides, there is the opposite danger: if we pursue our subjects too aggressively then we might end up with something resembling this Onion headline.

The next interview in the series will be with Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association. We welcome suggestions of who we should interview after him.