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 origins of complaints of persecution in the UK are in a series of high profile court judgements which have consistently found that religious freedom does not give Christians the right to contravene anti-discrimination laws. Recently, the volume has stepped up with complaints against the proposed introduction of marriage equality. (A former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has launched an on-line petition drive in opposition to gay marriage). Archbishop Nichols says that the Catholic Church in England and Wales is against the proposals - but will leave actual opposition to individual Catholics as individuals, but the Church "as a whole" will not join in the campaign.
After a fortnight which has seen the emergence of a "Christianist" backlash – most recently in evidence with an internet petition against gay marriage spearheaded by Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury – Nichols seems to be supporting the movement from a careful distance.
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 even though it opposes a change in the law.
This is in stark contrast to the position of Scottish and American bishops (and may explain why unlike Timothy Dolan, Nichols was not in Rome last week for a cardinal's red hat). It recognizes though, that while opposition to same - sex nuptials may be the logical implication of one part of current church teaching, it is one that is not accepted by the Church as a whole. Research has shown that a clear majority of British Catholics in fact support marriage equality, and we know from our own experience that active opposition by the Church is deeply hurtful to LGBT Catholics. Nichols' refusal to get the Church actively involved in opposition is the logical result of following that other part of current church teaching that is conspicuously absent in the war on Catholic queer families in some other dioceses: that we deserve to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
Nichols' own "respect, compassion and sensitivity" was further demonstrated in his response to a question about the Vatican language on homosexuality.
via The Guardian.
This is a carefully phrased restatement of what he said in 2010, at the time of the Papal visit to London: that we must not judge the interior state on another's conscience, and in effect affirms yet another strand of Catholic teaching that is important for queer Catholics- the primacy of conscience.
However, try as he might to lessen the hurtfulness of current teaching, he is unable to get away from the hard fact remaining - that it rests on an assumption that the primary purpose of sex is mere procreation, and that "homosexuality" in the abstract is seen as an objective moral evil, is "intrinsically disordered".
Yet it is current church teaching itself that is disordered, and will not last. It is not based on anything more secure than the Church's own tradition, is not securely founded in scripture, and is in conflict with the findings of both biological and human sciences. It is rejected by an overwhelming majority of ordinary Catholics, and probably by a majority of professional Catholic theologians. Other Christian denominations, especially those whose leaders whose understanding of sexuality is grounded in personal experience as well as mere book learning, are moving rapidly in the direction of full LGBT inclusion in church. It is becoming clear that the Catholic Church's long tradition of hostility to homoerotic relationships is part of the distorting tradition about which Pope Benedict has written, and has warned us about. The writing is on the wall.
I am certain that a significant number of Catholic bishops know this, and that Vincent Nichols is one of them. The real challenge facing the leaders of the Church today is not facing up to the need to articulate a more realistic doctrine on sexual ethics, but finding a way to admit that for so long, they have been wrong.
- Catholic Bishops Divided on Civil Unions
- Soho Masses - Supporting Church Teaching
- Give Thanks for Archbishop Nichols’ Balanced, Sane Response to British Gay Marriage.
- 35 Years as LGBT Catholics: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (3: Internal Contradictions in Church Teaching)
- Sebastian Moore, On The Transformation of Catholic Responses to Homoerotic Love
- Archbishop Nichols, on Catholic Priorities & The English Church
- The Transformation of Christian Responses to Homoerotic Love
- On Faith, Reason and the “Sensus Fidelium”.
- Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit
- More on Debates about Same-Sex Civil Unions in Britain: Mystifying Case of Dr. Oddie and Catholic Herald (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- The "Gay Civil Unions" Approach of Some Within the Catholic Hierarchy: Too Little, Too Late (thewildreed.blogspot.com)