As England Passes Equal Marriage, Catholic Church Given Opportunity to Grow

July 18, 2013

A rainbow double-decker bus passes by London’s Parliament.

Marriage equality is finally legal in the United Kingdom after receiving ‘Royal Assent’ from Queen Elizabeth yesterday, making it the 18th nation to enact equal marriage rights. Now, it will be up to the British public and their religious leaders to implement the new law without further conflict — and perhaps the Catholic Church can seize this opportunity to improve relations with the LGBT community there.

After final approval from the two legislative chambers then the queen, same-gender couples will be able to marry starting next summer. The Huffington Post reports that several British politicians spoke to the importance of this legislation for LGBT people in their nation, including Culture Secretary Maria Miller:

“[She] said ‘marriage is the bedrock of our society and now irrespective of sexuality everyone in British society can make that commitment’.

” ‘It is a wonderful achievement and whilst this legislation may be about marriage, its impact is so much wider. Making marriage available to all couples demonstrates our society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality’…

” ‘It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely. It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in.’ “

Also championing the new law are LGBT advocates like Stonewall UK’s director Ben Summerskill, who are sensitive to the religious issues at play. Summerskill gave an extended interview to The Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Westminster (London) recently where he spoke positively of religion’s relationship in society and in regards to LGBT equality. He calls himself a “critical friend” of Christian churches, not an opponent and continues:

“ ‘I think that one thing the Roman Catholic Church has not been good at is wrestling with these sorts of issues in a constructive and supportive way. Lesbians and gay people in the Church of England might be dissatisfied with what it’s done, but it’s a church that wrestled with these issues. For a gay Roman Catholic, there is no acknowledgment that there is a community of interest within the Church.’…

“ ‘I think it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that many denominations have been insufficiently energetic in addressing some of the hatred and prejudice…Well, there’s no doubt some of them have encouraged it. But I’m wary of caricaturing a whole denomination. Of course there are good things [in the Catholic Church]. There are good things in all churches that bring people together. We now work directly with 500 schools, with a third of local authorities, on dealing with homophobic bullying. And those include Roman Catholic faith schools, which take the issue incredibly seriously. They are exemplary in the way they deal with these issues.’ “

In the United Kingdom, examples of Catholics positively engaging LGBT issues, as one London school did, are contrasted with hyperbolic statements from the Catholic bishops who previously threatened to stop performing marriages if the nation legalized equal marriage rights. Now that the law is in effect, the example of Ben Summerskill and other ‘critical friends’ of the Catholic Church should be guiding influences so that all families are provided for and welcomed by their parishes as same-gender Catholic couples begin to marry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


UK Religious Leaders Claim Marriage Troubles, But Catholics in the Pews Disagree

June 10, 2013

House of Lords

As equal marriage progresses in the UK, religious officials increasingly warn of the consequences that passage of this bill could bring if further religious freedom protections are not implemented. The Catholic bishops are now warning the Church may exit civil marriage licensing altogether if the bill is passed as is, but many people of faith who affirm equality are pushing right back

The Telegraph reports on unprecedented movement by religious organizations to add amendments, or just end the legislation for marriage equality altogether as the House of Lords considers it:

“Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, pleading with him to abandon the legislation. . . .

“Allowing couples of the same sex to marry will cause ‘injustice and unfairness’, the signatories said, accusing Mr Cameron of rushing the legislation through Parliament to prevent proper scrutiny…

“The bill is expected to face stiff resistance from members of the House of Lords. . .and could even be rejected there. That would raise the prospect of a constitutional struggle between ministers in the Commons and the upper house.”

In April, the Catholic hierarchy began calling for greater religious protections when the House of Commons was voting on equal marriage. The Telegraph reports that in the UK, as in other areas, Catholic priests act as agents of the state in recognizing civil licenses. This caused the bishops to worry that it leaves priests performing marriages open to lawsuits for discrimination and expensive litigation. The end result might be Catholic churches refusing to perform marriages for the government.

However, English people of faith are objecting to these religious arguments against equal marriage. Terence Weldon of Queering the Church questions these “terrible consequences” arguments, noting the lack of any negative outcomes against religion in jurisdictions with existing equal marriage rights:

“The most important consequence of extending marriage is (surprise!) people getting married…

“The core problem with Catholic bishops’ pronouncements on gay marriage, and on human sexuality more generally, is that they are usually based entirely on speculation and supposition, made with little or no recourse to evidence – and none at all to the real–life experience of loving, committed sexual relationships, of which they have none themselves.”

He also addresses the religious liberty claims as false because everywhere that marriage equality exists, and in the pending UK legislation, ample protections are in place for religions to pursue their beliefs unhindered. Weldon unearths the rub in this most recent UK religious leadership’s push:

“What [the law] does not do, and the bishops appear to want, is to allow people of faith to discriminate in their secular lives, against people who do not share their views, or to prevent those denominations that believe with the Gospels in the importance of full equality and inclusion for all, from exercising their own freedom of religion.”

A Conservative MP, Damian Collins, wrote in The Huffington Post that religious liberty arguments cut both ways, and churches wishing to recognize same-gender couples in marriage should be allowed to do so.

Writing against disingenuous Anglican and Catholic opposition, Stephen Hough of The Telegraph envisions a future focused less on protecting the rights of those who would discriminate, and more on one guided by evangelizing as Christians in support of true equality. He attributes this most recent advancement in human rights to Christianity itself and advocates equal marriage as a way of uplifting Christian faith today:

“It is precisely because gradual moral development over the centuries led us to see human relationships as more than mere procreation that gay people want to get married…the theological insights which have explored marriage as a covenant, a sacrament, an imitation of the inner life of the Trinity could greatly enrich the same-sex relationships of so many…pastoral concern may well be one of the best ways to ensure a future of ‘the general social good’ and even the survival of a national Church of England.

“Overturning the biblical approval of slavery raised Christianity to a new height of moral dignity in the 19th century; overturning prejudice against gay people should become the church’s triumph of the 21st.”

The ongoing debate on equal marriage in the UK is bringing up old arguments for and against, but also new considerations about a more LGBT-positive religious community and the relations between Church and State. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating our readers as the bill progresses.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal O’Brien’s Resignation Highlights Increasing Problems for Anti-LGBT Hierarchy

February 26, 2013

Cardinal O’Brien greeting Pope Benedict XVI

Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leading Catholic prelate in the United Kingdom, announced on Monday that he was resigning as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and that he will not attend the upcoming papal conclave as an elector. The cardinal, one of the UK’s most visible opponents of LGBT equality, is accused of improper conduct by four priests dating back nearly three decades.

While O’Brien denies claims published in a British newspaper on Sunday that he initiated inappropriate contact, this controversial Catholic has quickly removed himself from the public eye. Andrew Brown writing at The Guardian sees the accelerated pace of Cardinal’s resignation as progress in handling sexual abuse claims, but mulls deeper over the issues of homosexuality and forced celibacy in this scandal:

“.  . . [T]he story illustrates the grotesque and humiliating difficulties that the Roman Catholic church has knotted itself into where sex and gay people are concerned…

“Of course, the real problem is that the Roman Catholic church expects an entirely unrealistic standard of continence from its priesthood. Some priests can manage celibacy. The evidence from all around the world is that most can’t…In countries where that isn’t an available alternative, the priesthood becomes a refuge for gay men – especially in societies where homophobia is the public norm.

“This fact adds irony to O’Brien’s denunciations of gay marriage. You can’t really expect better from a church that still hasn’t come to terms properly with heterosexual marriage…And a church that can’t treat women as equals is certainly not going to be realistic about marriage between two men.”

Cardinal O’Brien’s legacy will be multi-faceted, but decidedly anti-LGBT given his repeated assaults on both legal rights and pastoral concerns. Bondings 2.0 reported stories throughout last year about O’Brien, including being named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by UK-charity Stonewall.

In 2012 alone, he referred to same-gender marriage a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right,” claimed legalizing it would be similar to instituting slavery anew, and expressed concerns that school libraries might circulate “homosexual fairy stories” as a result. O’Brien has lead Catholic efforts to block legislation granting equal marriage, through sizeable financial commitments and a failed attempt to hold a referendum on the issue in Scotland.

The realities of gay priests were further elucidated by Peter Stanford at The Telegraph in an article titled, “Too many priests preach truth, but live a lie”:

“…I’ve met many clerics. Many are openly gay. Or so open when not saying Mass that it is easy to forget I’m not meant to remember it when they are.

“In general, such double standards don’t overly concern me. Like the rest of us, priests, monks, bishops and even cardinals are as God made them. Whatever inner tension they struggle with as leaders in a Church that teaches that to be gay is – and I am quoting a document sent out by the soon-to-retire Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger – ‘a strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil,’ that is a matter for their own conscience.

“Tolerance wears a bit thin, however, when they start attacking gay marriage in such strident terms from the pulpit, and even signing letters en masse in protest at the Government’s proposals. It is getting dangerously close to hypocrisy.”

Not all critics focus on the visceral efforts that Cardinal O’Brien led as one of many outwardly anti-LGBT clergymen who secretly struggle with their sexuality. Instead, LGBT advocates in some quarters express hope for change in this transitory period. Pink News reports on reactions from pro-LGBT organizations, including that of Tom French of Scotland’s Equality Network:

“‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien. Of course we hope that the Catholic Church in Scotland will use the opportunity new leadership brings to reassess its opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.’

“‘The Catholic Church does a huge amount of good work on issues like poverty, and it’s a shame that this important work is so often overshadowed by its position on issues of sexuality.’”

Sexual abuse claims laid against homophobic leadership detracts from the Church’s truest work of justice, and undermines the more progressive policies of those like Cardinal O’Brien, who just recently proposed a renewed discussion around married Catholic clergy. In this period of episcopal transitions worldwide, perhaps the hierarchy will critically address the sexual ethics it promotes instead of doubling-down on its anti-LGBT policies.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related articles: BBC.co.uk:  “Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigns as Archbishop”

                                      The Guardian:  “What lies behind religious homophobia”


Catholics Have Played Significant Role in Britain’s Marriage Equality Successes

February 17, 2013

While it is well-known that England and Wales are drawing closer to legalizing marriage equality, what is less well-known is the role that Catholics have been playing in bringing about this reality.

When Parliament’s House of Commons last week overwhelmingly voted to approve marriage equality, another strong statistic that emerged was that the majority of Catholic Members of Parliament (MP) also voted for the measure.  London’s Tablet magazine reports:

“Out of the 82 Catholic MPs, 47 – almost 60 per cent – were in favour of same-sex marriage. Of these, 32 are Labour, 12 Conservative, two Liberal Democrat and one SDLP. . . .

“Twenty-eight Catholic MPs voted against the bill including Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat former children’s minister. She said: ‘It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken.’ “

St. Thomas More

St. Thomas More

One of those 82 Catholic MPs is Damian Collins, a Conservative who voted for marriage equality, and, interestingly, used St. Thomas More as his model for doing so.  In an essay in The Guardian, he stated:

“Saint Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor and a former speaker of the House of Commons is famous for the moral stand he took against his King, even though it cost him his life. . . . Thomas More is particularly remembered because he could not in conscience swear an oath recognising the Succession to the Crown Act 1533 which had the effect of annulling one of Henry VIII’s marriages and therefore changing the royal succession. He could not swear the oath because, although he would abide by the Act’s content, he could not in conscience say that he agreed with it. Parliament, he said, had the right to decide matters of marriage, and had the right to require all subjects, including Catholics, to abide by its laws, but it could not have the right to require Catholics in conscience to agree with them. As a result he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and then executed.

Damian Collins

Damian Collins

“Last month press reports of a letter signed by a large number of Catholic clergy who opposed the Same Sex Marriage Bill asserted that if it passed that this could be seen as a return to the persecution that Catholics experienced during the English Reformation, because they would be required to acknowledge equal rights to marriage, against the teaching of the Church. I’m not sure that Thomas More would agree with this, and nor for that matter do I.

“The Same Sex Marriage Bill is not seeking to tell the different churches and religions what they should believe, or to restrict them practicing their beliefs as the do now. Churches will not be required to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies if they do not want to. The Catholic Church will remain free to teach that marriage is a sacrament of the Church, it is between a man and a woman, that its purpose is for the procreation of children, and that it is for life. . . .

“The Bill is an attempt to strengthen equality in our society, without compromising religious freedom. I believe that Thomas More would have understood this distinction, and regardless of how he would have voted (I would not seek to presume on a matter of conscience like this) I think he would have agreed that this was something that Parliament had the right to do.”

Conor Burns

Conor Burns

Another Catholic MP is Conor Burns, a Tory who is also an openly gay man. PinkNews.co.uk notes that while Burns originally did not feel that the marriage bill should be considered, he has come to support it:

“He said he did not think there was a clamour for the gay marriage proposal but added: ‘That said, it’s being presented as bringing greater equality and as a gay man I don’t see how I can vote against something that’s presented as bringing greater equality.’ ”

Burns also added that he opponents of the bill strongly lobbied him to vote against it, and that he was shocked at the manner of presentation:

“ ‘The lobbying that has been undertaken by those against this bill has been some of the most unpleasant spiteful, hateful things that I’ve ever known,’ he said.

“ ‘Some of my constituents have written in opposing it. I don’t know what sort of relationship they have with their God but he’s not the God of compassion that I recognise. They’ve been hateful.’ “

Archbishop Peter Smith

Archbishop Peter Smith

Not surprisingly, Catholic leadership in Britain have opposed the marriage equality bill. One British bishop, however, has already admitted defeat in the matter.  PinkNews.co.uk repots:

“The Archbishop of Southwark has said he has accepted defeat and same-sex marriage will become law in England and Wales.

“Peter Smith, who is also vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said he has reluctantly accepted the government proposals.”

Catholic British theologian Tina Beattie argued for marriage equality in the pages of The Guardian, handily debunking one of the greatest myths used against such proposals:

Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie

“I have never been able to understand the argument that same-sex marriage threatens marriage as we know it. Marriage is far more threatened by a consumerist culture in which the demand for instant gratification is worth the sacrifice of any relationship or responsibility which involves commitment and struggle, and by an ethos of sexual libertarianism which so easily mutates into predatory and exploitative relationships involving young and vulnerable people, and which fosters unrealistically high expectations of sexual performance among adults who ought to know better.

“In this context, society stands to benefit from any move towards a deeper understanding of the value of ‘lifelong fidelity and commitment’ between two people, whether of the same sex or of different sexes, as a basic building block for community and family life.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


France and Britain Make Significant Progress Towards Marriage Equality

February 7, 2013

French legislators play Scrabble

Legislators in Britain and France made significant gains towards legalizing marriage equality this week, passing parliamentary tests that nearly ensure full victory later this year.

The British House of Commons concluded six hours of intense debate by approving a marriage equality bill’s second reading in a 400-175 vote. The bill now enters committee for review and amendments before the House of Commons will likely approve it in a third reading and send it to the House of Lords for their vote, where it is expected to pass later this year.

The New York Times reports on the debate in Parliament, noting the lackluster efforts of an opposition who knows they are defeated:

“By comparison [to the debate in France], the debate in the House of Commons was mostly understated, with a strong undercurrent of realism among lawmakers who oppose gay marriage but sensed that the battle was already lost, not only in the crushing parliamentary majority favoring change but in a wide variety of opinion polls that have shown strong public support.”

However, given recent efforts by the Catholic bishops in England reported by Bondings 2.0 (view links below), it seems likely that anti-equality opposition will continue trying to defeat the legislation.

Across the English Channel, the French National Assembly, in a 249-97 vote, passed a vital article that defines marriage as a contract between two individuals without reference to their gender. The margin of victory is a positive sign that a law will be fully passed by mid-2013, even as assembly members continued debate over adoption rights and other amendments this week.

Attaining legal equality for same-gender couples and their families has been a hallmark initiative of the left led by President Francois Hollande, although the BBC reports French citizens are split with only about 60% supporting equal marriage rights.

Catholic right organizations have led the campaign against equal rights through massive demonstrations, with both sides acting extremely in preceding months. Bondings 2.0 has reported on these protests, along with more positive language from the French bishops that recognizes the goodness of same-gender relationships. Links to these are provided below.

On a lighter note, the Daily Mail shows two French assemblymen playing Scrabble during the proceedings – with fully commentary on their word choices, if you are interested.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Recent Posts on Britain

February 5, 2013:  Marriage Equality a Closer Reality in Britain, But What Will the Consequences Be?

January 14, 2013: Extreme Protests from Both Sides of the Catholic Marriage Equality Debate

January 10, 2013: Bishops in United Kingdom Attack Marriage Equality on Several Fronts

Recent Posts on France

January 30, 2013: Excerpts from French Bishops’ Document Which Affirms Same-Gender Relationships

January 25, 2013: Bishops in France Release Hopeful Statement on Same-Sex Relationships

January 16, 2013:  Catholic Anti-Equality Protesters March in Paris, Fail to Reverse French Government’s Plans

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of San Diego Controversy Growing as PRIDE Celebrates 21 Years

November 11, 2012

University of San Diego

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on the University of San Diego’s (USD) decision to withdraw a fellowship invitation to British theologian Tina Beattie, largely speculated to be based on her support for marriage equality. In response, the community at USD is rising to Beattie’s defense and conversations over conscience, marriage equality, and academic freedom are occurring in the USD and wider academic community.

The American Association of University Professors stated  in a letter last week  that USD President Mary Lyons’ decision to disinvite Beattie was troubling. On campus, 170 faculty gathered outside of the main administrative building in protest on the same day the academic assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of Beattie. The assembly formally asked Lyons to reconsider her decision or face a vote of no confidence this week, characterizing it with a sense of importance and urgency. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Carlton Floyd, chair of the academic assembly executive committee and associate professor of English , was quoted:

“Floyd also portrayed Lyons’ decision as opposed to allowing a diversity of viewpoints on campus.
‘Diversity is the hallmark of education,’ he said. ‘If you can’t have opposing viewpoints, what exactly are you looking at if you can’t engage in dialog about those matters? What exactly does a university do?’”

Mary Lyon
President, University of San Diego

On Thursday evening students and faculty engaged these very issues in a forum titled, “Authority and Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities,” reported on by USD’s student radio organization. Included in the concerns of many was the connection of the Beattie decision to Vatican-backed conservative organizations linked to powerful financial donors:

“The concerns extended, too, to potential alumni and donor pressure that the panelists thought may have been at the root of this decision. Conservative donors have threatened to rescind funding from the university in the past based on similar events.

“Dr. Watson noted that alumni and donor uproar, especially those represented by the unofficial group Alumni for a Catholic USD, has often been linked to events or speakers in support of same-sex marriage and other issues of homosexuality, although Dr. Beattie was not scheduled to discuss homosexuality in her talks. ‘I fear that religion is being used as a shield for bigotry,’ Dr. Watson said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that although Lyons denies such connection, there is evidence that some conservative alumni did try to get Beattie disinvited:

“While Lyons and a university spokeswoman denied that pressure from outside groups had influence on the decision to cancel Beattie’s invitation, McKenna and another San Diego man known for his conservative Catholic viewpoints said in interviews with NCR that they had widely expressed displeasure with Beattie’s appointment.

“Among those they said they contacted were current and former members of the university’s board of trustees, San Diego coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and the Cardinal Newman Society.

“In her statement Monday, Lyons identified Beattie’s signing of an August letter in The Times of London along with 27 others, which said it would be ;perfectly proper’ for Catholics to support civil marriage for same-sex couples as ‘the heart of this matter.’ “

President Lyons’ decision has created an opportunity where many are speaking out about the case and its significance for discussion in the Church. Gerard Mannion, director of the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at USD where Beattie was to be a fellow, rejected Lyon’s charges of public dissent stated:

“There’s nothing to dissent from,’ Mannion said. ‘The church doesn’t have binding teaching on civil same-sex partnerships. It has a position and a preference, but it doesn’t actually have a binding teaching. Even were this not the case, the policy on academic freedom should protect her right to sign such a letter, which, after all, urged Catholics to follow their conscience.’”

The chair of Fordham University’s theology department, Terrence Tilley, echoed these sentiments defending the place of Catholic theologians as simultaneous public intellectuals in an interview with National Catholic Reporter:

“’Beattie doesn’t dissent from doctrine,’ said Tilley, who is also the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology at Jesuit-run Fordham. ‘[Beattie] has just made a statement about the legitimacy of Catholics voting in favor of civil rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex…But that she has chosen to make a statement regarding politics means that she is not denying or opposing Catholic doctrine.’”

In related news, PRIDE, the University’s LGBT student group, held a fundraiser Saturday to celebrate its 21st anniversary on campus and the milestones it has attending including LGBTQ coursework, the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in the nondiscrimination policies, and programming to create a welcoming campus.

These two events, contrasting controversy over Tina Beattie in this most recent iteration of culture wars on campus with the successes of PRIDE for over two decades, signify the ongoing challenges Catholic campuses face in maintaining their mission while creating welcoming and affirming communities.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


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