On Wednesday, the 73-year-old bishop was found refusing to answer reporters' questions about his sex life, while dressed in tight jeans and a black leather jacket. Thank God he was not wearing a fur coat, or someone might have accused him of real immorality.
Bishop Rawcliffe's confessions might have caused less fuss in another week. After all, if the most prominent gay Anglican you can find is an assistant bishop in the diocese of Ripon (the post he holds after retiring as Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway), you are not trying very hard. He was a man whom even Outrage had scarcely bothered to out, on the grounds that any bishop who writes regularly to the Pink Paper under his own name scarcely needs more publicity.
But Bishop Rawcliffe's interview was broadcast the day after Cardinal Hume, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, had issued his own expansion of the Vatican's teaching on homosexuality. "Love between two persons ... is to be treasured and respected," he said, while making it clear that homosexual practice remains unacceptable.
The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, known as the magisterium, is a much more subtle instrument than it appears to be in the press, and the Cardinal plays the magisterium like Lou Reed plays rhythm guitar: the same riff is repeated over and over again until it sounds different every time.
This week's statement on homosexuality was a prime example of his skills. In substance, it says nothing that earlier Vatican statements have not said. It would be astonishing if it did so. But in practice it marks a tremendous shift of emphasis.
What he appears to be saying is that practising homosexuals are sinners comparable to practising adulterers or even fornicators. This has naturally been taken as a tremendous insult by many practising adulterers, especially if they are Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church does not recognise remarriage after divorce: this makes a great many happily remarried Catholics practising adulterers. What will they do without practising gays to look down on?
Historically speaking, the Christian attitude is much easier to understand than the military prohibition against homosexuality. There is a great deal in the Bible that was certainly meant to rule out homosexual practice, usually by killing anyone found at it. Soldiers are different. Probably the greatest military genius, Alexander the Great, would have been shocked at the thought that a real man preferred women. But it appears that modern soldiers are more squeamish. They prefer their officers to stand behind them armed with nothing more dangerous than a revolver.
Jeanette Smith was dismissed from the RAF last year for being a lesbian, and this week was granted leave to appeal against the policy. It may turn out to be illegal under European law, in which case the Ministry of Defence, which has just had to come to terms with shelling out a small fortune in compensation to women who were dismissed for having children, will now have to pay out almost as much because it has been dismissing women (and men) for activities that could not possibly make anyone pregnant.
The whole affair is, of course, a gift to the Tory right, which could hardly welcome anything more than a European Court ruling demanding that our soldiers all turn gay. Just proves that Brussels is allied with the Foreign Office in a plot to stamp out the British people, doesn't it?
In all the confusion, the likelihood is that the Cardinal will come out best, if the phrase be excused. He has laid down the outlines of a policy that can last. In a hundred years' time he will look less ridiculous than almost everyone else involved.Reuse content