Comments calling same-sex marriage “morally defective” by retired Scottish Archbishop Mario Conti are the latest in month-long attacks by Catholic prelates responding to British and Scottish government plans to legalize marriage equality.
Writing in The Tablet against the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill during a period where Scottish officials gather public input, Archbishop Conti said:
“…it is unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed profoundly unwise for political action to do quite the opposite, namely to attempt through the law, by equating homosexual unions with heterosexual marriage, to render moral what is in itself morally defective.”
Previously, the English bishops have spoken forcefully against government plans to legalize marriage equality in England and Wales. Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell wrote a harshly-worded letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in early December questioning Catholics’ ability to trust him and making a comparison that Cameron is equitable to the anti-Christian Roman emperor, Nero.
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham’s warning that not adhering to traditional gender roles as a result of marriage equality laws would have unforeseen consequences for society;
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster declaring, in a letter read during Masses, the government’s move as undemocratic, “shambolic,” and something that would make George Orwell proud;
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury using his Christmas homily to compare the British government’s efforts on marriage equality to Communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes.
Such unwelcomed messages at Christmas time distort the holiday for many, evident in comments by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, to The Guardian:
“’We do think it’s very sad that an archbishop should sully the day of the birth of Jesus by making what seem to be such uncharitable observations about other people. Some of us are mindful of Luke 2:14, which reminds us that Christmas Day is a day of peace and goodwill to all men. Perhaps Archbishop Nichols should have spent a little more time in bible study.’”
Sunday, August 26th, was declared National Marriage Day by the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland, and a letter denouncing the country’s proposed marriage equality legislation was read aloud in the 500 Catholic parishes there.
“The church’s teaching on marriage is unequivocal: It is uniquely the union of a man and a woman and it is wrong that governments, politicians or parliaments should seek to alter or destroy that reality.”
The newspaper also reported the government’s response:
“The Scottish government later issued a statement reiterating its intentions to legalise same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships – because ‘it is the right thing to do’.
“However it was quick to stress that no clergy would be forced to carry out the ceremonies in a church. The issue remains under consultation in England and Wales.
“A government spokesman said: ‘We are equally committed to protecting religious freedom and freedom of expression, and ensuring that religious celebrants opposed to same-sex marriage do not have to solemnise same-sex ceremonies.’ “
Last week’s Catholic LGBT news from Scotland was both good and bad, as two stories highlighted the church’s role in politics.
On the good side, in the first story, it was announced that the Scottish parliament will introduce a bill to legalize marriage between two people of the same gender, despite pressure from Catholic officials not to do so.
“[Government] Ministers confirmed they would bring forward a bill on the issue, indicating the earliest ceremonies could take place by the start of 2015.
“Political leaders, equality organisations and some faith groups welcomed introducing same-sex marriage.
“But it was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland.”
The BBC also noted that:
” . . . [the ]government has insisted no part of the religious community would be forced to hold same-sex weddings in churches.”
Official Catholic response to the decision to go forth with the bill was negative:
“A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: ‘The Scottish government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale.’ “
On the bad side, in the second story, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the newly-appointed archbishop of Glasgow, Scotland, created a row by claiming that the death of a gay Member of Parliament may have been caused by his sexuality. David Cairns, 44, a resigned Catholic priest, died of acute pancreatitis. The BBC reports that during a question period after an address to a university audience, Tartaglia said:
“If what I have heard is true about the relationship between physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society has been very quiet about it.
“Recently in Scotland there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so and nobody said anything and why his body should just shut down at that age, obviously he could have had a disease which would have killed anyone, but you seem to hear so many stories about this kind of thing.
“But society won’t address it.”
Archbishop Tartaglia’s spokesperson claimed that the statements were misunderstood and that the archbishop apologized for any pain that was caused:
“The Archbishop-elect’s words have been taken out of context.
“They were made in answer to an audience question at a lecture he gave on religious freedom in Oxford 14 weeks ago.
“He had no previous knowledge of the question, which was not related to his speech. In his reply he mentioned a situation he had been closely involved in, namely the funeral arrangements for the late David Cairns.
“The archbishop knew David Cairns, met him regularly at events in Inverclyde, and got on well with him, and was personally involved in his funeral arrangements. He is sorry for any hurt which has resulted, there was certainly no offence or judgement intended in his words.”
“An audience question was posed by Lesley Pilkington, the Christian psychotherapist who was censured by the BACP [British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy] for negligence after offering a gay man therapy to help him turn straight. She was seated next to Mike Davidson of the Core Issues Trust, a group which actively campaigns for ex-gay therapies.
“Ms Pilkington said she wanted to speak about why the ‘homosexual agenda has become so powerful’, saying it was ‘intimidating, bullying and generates fear’, and people should ‘stand against it’.
“She drew attention to the case of Bob Bergeron, a gay American self-help author who had committed suicide at 49 having written a book about happiness for gay men over 40.
“Tartaglia welcomed such an opinion coming from a psychotherapist, indicating that as a Catholic priest people would expect him to say such things, but that she brought a different ‘angle’.
“The new archbishop continued: ‘If what I have heard is true about the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society is being very quiet about it.
“ ‘Recently in Scotland there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so, and nobody said anything, and why his body should just shut down at that age? Obviously he could have had a disease that would have killed anybody.
“ ‘But you seem to hear so many stories about this kind of thing, but society won’t address it. You’re right, Lesley, thank you.’ ”
Dermot Kehoe, Cairns’ partner, told the BBCthat the archbishop’s remarks caused added the the grief and pain of Cairns’ family. Cairns said:
” ‘The Archbishop elect brought up David Cairns himself. He wasn’t asked about him, he chose to bring him up and essentially he implied that David’s death was due in some way homosexuality and his being gay.
” ‘This is not only in complete ignorance of the facts in this case.’
“Mr Kehoe added that to take a personal tragedy and to make it political ‘was more than upsetting, it is deeply painful’.
“He went on to say: ‘This has not only upset me and David’s family, but it added to our grief and pain and he [Archbishop elect Tartaglia] hasn’t shown any contrition for doing this.’ “
The Scottish Parliament has rejected Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s request that any decision about legalizing same-gender marriage be reached by a referendum rather than by legislative process.
The BBC reports that Scotland’s Cabinet ejected the request from the Cardinal of St. Andrew’s and Edinburgh, and said that a committee would be established to further examine legal issues in the marriage equality bill:
” . . . [A government] spokesman said: ‘This is an important issue and it is right that cabinet takes the time to get both the principle and the detail of the decision right.
” ‘During the discussion, recent calls for a referendum on the subject were carefully considered. However, cabinet views this as an issue of conscience not constitution.
” ‘Given that if a bill is brought forward it should in the view of the Scottish government be determined by a free vote, cabinet has concluded that a referendum would not be appropriate.
” ‘Cabinet has now asked a cabinet sub-committee, led by the deputy first minister, to further examine some particular issues of detail before a final decision is reached.
” ‘We remain committed to publishing the consultation responses and our clear decision on the way forward before the end of this month.’ “
“Cardinal O’Brien welcomed the subcommittee but attacked the decision not to hold a referendum. ‘The serious implications for freedom of belief and expression of redefining marriage should be as important to a free society as any constitutional matter,’ he said.”
The report also noted that a national consultation, a process of soliciting the public’s input on a bill, was held on marriage equality, a record 80,000 people responded.
Gay Star News carried the reaction of Tim Hopkins, chair of Scotland’s Equality Network, who is working for the passage of a marriage equality law:
“We agree with the Scottish government that a referendum would be completely inappropriate.
“We very much hope that the Scottish government is taking this two week delay to get the details of same-sex marriage in Scotland right.
“We have always said that religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, should be free to decide for themselves whether or not to do same-sex marriages. Religious freedom works both ways, and it’s time the Cardinal acknowledged that religions like the Unitarians and Liberal Jews, who want to do same-sex marriages, should be free to do so.”