Shame on the leaders of the Catholic Church for their sweeping campaign against gay marriage

The one message that echoed this week is that to be Catholic is to be anti-gay. Once this whole dispute over gay marriage has subsided, that is the message that will endure


As an attempt to influence policy, it has been high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful. The Catholic authorities have surpassed themselves with letters read out in churches, archbishops in prime spots on radio and TV, mailshots to MPs and the efficient lobbying of parents and pupils through the Catholic schools’ network. In the run-up to this week’s House of Commons’ vote, no one can have missed the fact that Catholicism regards gay marriage as, at best, the theft of “our” sacrament, and, at worst, as the beginning of the end for our civilisation.


It drives me – and many Catholics I have spoken to lately – to despair. Are these really our Church’s priorities? Jesus, in the Gospels, utters not a single word about homosexuality. But as the nation confronts unprecedented austerity, rising inequalities in wealth, and debates over immigration, education and the alarming growth of an underclass there are passages aplenty from the Good Book that are directly relevant to what we collectively are going through. When are our leaders going to start making as big a song and dance about these?

I have listened carefully to the Church’s objections to gay marriage – the least I owe it as a mass-going member – but I still can’t see what the problem is. The official logic, that allowing gay marriage will somehow diminish every heterosexual marriage, including my own, is utterly lost on me. I’m keen on as many couples getting married as possible. So gay marriage is a cause for celebration. And if the clerics ever find it in their hearts to open the sacrament to same-sex couples, I find it hard to imagine a God who is anything other than delighted at this public affirmation of love and fidelity. Then there has been the procession of prominent Catholics speaking in all our names about consummation, adultery and the need for marriage to “remain open to procreation”. You’d think they were discussing a plumbing problem.

Where does this technical talk leave the heterosexual Catholic couple I met this week, both in their fifties, who are about to get married in church? No openness to procreation there. So presumably, in the Church’s eyes, theirs isn’t a marriage either. And yet it is about to happen in front of the altar in the presence of a priest.

This is the age-old problem of angels dancing on pinheads, celibate clerics spending their (sublimated?) energy on carefully calibrating what the non-celibate laity can do in their bedrooms. I had hoped that, as a Church, we were over all of this. There are positive signs. In the Catholic schools my children attend, those time-honoured messages, passed down to generations, that sex was dangerous if not downright bad, have been discarded in favour of something more nuanced and empowering.

Yet the one message that echoed this week is that to be Catholic is to be anti-gay. Once this whole dispute over gay marriage has subsided, that is the message that will endure. It will impact on Catholic effectiveness in promoting the often counter-cultural gospel values about social justice, the common good and the limits of consumerism and capitalism. The Catholic Church should be celebrated for its leadership on issues such as workers’ rights, climate change, rebalancing global trade. But who is going to be persuaded to listen to that now?

A stark choice faces the Catholic authorities. If they want to influence national debates by drawing on the social teaching of our Church, they need to start speaking up as forcefully as they have done in recent weeks against gay marriage in defence of the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalised. In the three, soon-to-be four years since his appointment as leader of the five million Catholics in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols has been all but invisible on the national stage on everything save gay marriage.

Out of touch

If he is looking for a role model, he might reflect on the example of Pope Benedict himself. When he visited Britain in 2010, many of us feared that he would switch off his hosts by lecturing on those traditional Catholic bugbears – contraception, abortion, sex before marriage, homosexuality, etc. But no, he said hardly a word about them, and in the process won the public round. At the same time as appealing – in Westminster Hall before Parliamentarians – for the voice of the churches to be heard and listened to in the public square, he was careful to highlight by his choice of places to visit those Catholic contributions to society that added to the common good (for example by going to an old people’s home run by nuns).

Perhaps he had listened to what British Catholics themselves believe. Contrary to the impression given in the past few weeks, we are not by and large a monolithic group of fundamentalists. In polls conducted in advance of Benedict’s visit, half of us wanted the celibacy rule for priests dropped; 62 per cent wished to see women given more authority in the Church, and only 6 per cent agreed with the Church in its absolute opposition to abortion in every case. Just 10 per cent agreed with the Vatican that homosexuality was “morally wrong”.

I grew up with the mantra that if you didn’t like the rules of Catholicism, you should leave the club. Today, hardliners use the phrase “à la carte Catholicism” in much the same way. It is a bizarre way to regard belief. The implication is that you don’t have to engage your brain; you just accept what you’re told by your leaders. What this week has shown is that those leaders are out of touch with ordinary Catholics. In this overheated campaign against gay marriage, they have not been speaking in all our names.

Peter Stanford is a former editor of the ‘Catholic Herald’

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Alan Titchmarsh MP?  

Alan Titchmarsh MP? His independent manifesto gets my vote

Jane Merrick

I’ll support England’s women, but it’s not like men’s football – and that’s a good thing

Matthew Norman
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue