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


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


British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

August 13, 2012

The Times of London, England, has published a letter to the editor today from 27 prominent British Catholics expressing support for the United Kingdom’s proposed legislation to legalize same-gender marriage.  (It is not possible to link to the text on the Times’ website because a subscription is required to access letters to the editor.)

The 27 signatories include James Alison (theologian & priest), Tina Beattie (theologian), Mary Grey (theologian), Bernard Lynch (priest), Martin Pendergast (Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality).

The text of the letter reads:

“Sir,  Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales  to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.

“It seems  to us, as Catholic laity, theologians and clergy, important to uphold some key pastoral care principles used by the Catholic Church in England & Wales. Its 1979 guidelines stated that the Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society.

“In 1997 Cardinal Hume wrote that love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change? Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens? We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The full list of signers:

James Alison, Theologian & priest
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (LGBT Catholics)
Tina Beattie, Theologian  
Mike Castelli, Educationalist
Mark Dowd, Journalist
Michael Egan, Chair, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Maria ExallChair, Trade Unions Congress LGBT Committee
John Falcone, Theologian
Eileen Fitzpatrick, Educationalist
Kieran Fitszimons, Priest
Mary Grey, Theologian
Kevin Kelly, Theologian & priest
Ted Le Riche, Retired educationalist
Bernard Lynch, Priest
Gerard Loughlin, Theologian
Francis McDonagh, Lay-person
Patrick McLoughlin, Priest
Anthony Maggs, Priest
Lorraine Milford, Lay-person
Frank Nally, Priest                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Pendergast, Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality                                                                                         Sophie Stanes, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                       Joe Stanley, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                   Valerie Stroud, Chair, Catholics for a Changing Church                                                                                                                                Terry Weldon, Editor, Queering the Church                                                                                                                                            Matias Wibowo, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                           Deborah Woodman, Clinical Psychologist

Congratulations and many thanks for this thoughtful piece.  Let’s hope and pray that Catholic leaders in other countries, particularly the United States, will speak out as clearly and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


England’s Leading Catholic Archbishop Again Strikes a Moderate Note

February 26, 2012

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has made the news once again for offering a more moderate position on marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, and issues related to the topic, than some of his more conservative religious colleagues.

Last week, in response to a speech at the Vatican by England’s Lady Warsi, a Conservative Party member in the British cabinet, in which she decried persecution of Christians by “militant secularism,” Nichols commented to The Guardian newspaper:

“”I personally don’t feel in the least bit persecuted. I don’t think Christians should use that word.”

These comments were made in the wake of a petition circulating the internet by Lord Carey, the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, which denounces marriage for lesbians and gays.  The Guardian article notes that

“Catholics will be encouraged to sign the petition against gay marriage as individuals, but the church as a whole will not be part of Carey’s campaign. . .”

In a post entitled “Gay Marriage, and the English Catholic Church: More Sanity From Vincent Nichols” at QueeringTheChurch.com, blogger Terry Weldon notes:

“Archbishop Vincent Nichols has once again demonstrated sanity and moderation on the place of the Catholic Church in modern society. While there are many loud, outraged voices raised in complaint in the US and in the UK over alleged assaults on religious freedom and of perceived persecution of Christians, Nichols has correctly pointed out that what is happening is not the “persecution” of Christians, but an attempt to separate the legal and cultural life of the country from its Christian roots. He is saying in other words, that what is happening is a removal from the Church of its previously privileged position. This may be deplorable, unfortunate, or welcome – but does not amount to persecution, any more than the removal of apartheid in South Africa represented the persecution of Whites.”

The Guardian report notes a shift in favor of LGBT rights among English Catholics:

“The emergence of the Catholic church into the mainstream of national life has been accompanied by a change in character: the old working class Irish-based Catholicism has almost vanished, to be replaced by a much less traditional English middle class which largely rejects the Church’s teachings on birth control and homosexuality, while still treasuring it for its spiritual value.”

The hierarchy, led by Nichols, is also taking a more moderate approach to civil unions legislation than their counterparts in Scotland:

“The reasoned tone [of Nichols] seems a deliberate attempt to take the high ground in the national debate. The statements of the English Catholic bishops in favour of civil partnership (as an alternative to gay marriage) contrasts very noticeably with the grumbling anathemata issuing from the Scottish and Irish churches on the subject.”

A Tablet article highlights the different approach taken by the Scottish the the English/Welsh hierarchies on the issue of civil unions.  Back in December 2011, Bondings 2.0 reported on Nichols’ support and reasoning for civil unions.  You can access those two posts by clicking here and here.

While certainly not a progressive on these marriage issues, Nichols represents a moderating voice in the Church which at least holds open the possibility of discussion on these matters.  The Guardian notes that his perspective on issues of homosexuality are far more pastoral than many other prominent church leaders:

“When asked how to interpret the notorious Vatican description of homosexuality as ‘a tendency towards an objective moral evil’, Nichols gave me a carefully prepared talk on the roots of Catholic philosophy. ‘This is a philosophical construct,’ he said.

“It is all part of a careful balancing act between the demands of Catholic theology, and of conservative factions in the Vatican, and the reality of the English Roman Catholic Church, where several of the most prominent lay figures are either gay themselves, divorced, or married to divorced people. . . .

“In most countries, the Conservative wing of the Catholic church is more or less homophobic, but in England the Catholic Herald, which would be their paper, has been edited by an openly gay and partnered man (who died this month) and does not attack the bishops on that front. . . .

“Phrases like ‘abstract moral evil’, [Nichols] said, are not aimed at any individual. ‘One talks about objective moral evil, you might say today, that’s racism. No matter what’s intended or understood, that, objectively, is wrong. In a similar way, you can say, in every sphere of life there is objective moral evil.  But that does not imply subjective moral guilt.  That does not imply guilt on an individual.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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