A plea to Catholics: Stand up for equality
I passionately believe that most people are basically decent. I know from experience that people often disagree violently with the official views of their chosen denomination. I know what it’s like to be a member of a church which often stands for things you don’t agree with, and I know what it’s like to be caught in a difficult situation where you’re caught on the hop by a surprisingly unpleasant, reactionary comment in church. There are many times I wish I’d made a point of objecting to some form of ignorance or bigotry from the pulpit, but ended up sitting tight and quietly seething.
So I hope that Catholics in England and Wales are prepared for this weekend. We know that a letter from Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, is to be read out at every Catholic church, and we know what it will say. As a result, we are also in a position to check the facts and consider the issues beforehand, rather than having to assess the situation as it arises.
It is possible for every Catholic to verify some important facts. Many countries have gay marriage without any noticeable effect on their culture, marriage rate, or the wider nature of marriage. The church will not, despite some ignorant or dishonest claims to the contrary, be obliged to marry gay couples, nor will they be obliged to recognise these civil marriages, just as they are not obliged to recognise the marriages of divorcees, or even people married in other churches. And this is a simple question of equality, applying perfectly Biblical principles of treating others as we would like to be treated.
It is also possible to question why, if the church’s understanding of marriage is to determine the legal status of certain acts, there are no similar campaigns to ban the remarriage of divorcees, to abolish civil partnerships, or to make adultery a criminal offence. And to wonder what it is about gay marriage in particular that is causing such a vociferous reaction.
Make no mistake – when the letter is read out, it will be a declaration of war on equality. It will be a statement that the church believes it has the right to tell Catholics that some people should have lesser rights than others. And the church has the nerve to compare their opponents to advocates of slavery! I have no doubt that many decent Catholics will disagree with the church’s position. And those Catholics have the perfect opportunity to make their disagreement clear.
So here’s my plea to all Catholics – before attending church, examine your conscience. Ask yourself whether you genuinely support this letter. You may object on grounds of equality. You may object to the selective nature of this complaint, the way it is made, the interference of the church in a civil matter of administrative definitions, or anything else. But if you disagree, please make that disagreement known.
When the letter is read out, don’t sit there and allow yourself to be treated as a captive audience – stand up for your beliefs, and walk out. You don’t need to make lots of noise or create a stir. You know this is coming, so you can sit in a place where you can easily escape. You can leave with dignity, albeit pointedly, and you can return as soon as the letter is finished and the service proper continues. But please, do this to register your protest.
I understand that this may go against the grain. I understand that you may feel a strong connection with the church, even if you disagree with much of what it stands for. But if no one objects, the church will simply carry on doing the same thing. By remaining silent out of loyalty, you are damaging the church in the long run, just as enabling behaviour harms alcoholics. By way of contrast, imagine what would happen if everyone who disagreed with the church on this issue took this simple step to register their protest.
Even the longest journey begins with a single step. Please, take that first step.