One thousand Catholic priests have signed a letter to The Daily Telegraph warning that David Cameron’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage threaten the return of the persecution of Catholics in the UK.
The priests write: “After centuries of persecution, Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country.
“Legislation for same sex marriage, should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences, severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship.
“It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time.”
Arguing that marriage as traditionally understood is “the foundation and basic building block of our society”, they add: “We urge Members of Parliament not to be afraid to reject this legislation now that its consequences are more clear.”
This is a grass roots initiative among our priests. Rev Mark Swires, one of the organisers, said it had taken weeks to compile the signatures but that it showed the strength of opinion in the pews. This is a grass roots initiative by priests, it isn’t an initiative by the hierarchy of the church.”
The Daily Telegraph reports:
In one of the biggest joint letters of its type ever written, they raise fears that their freedom to practise and speak about their faith will be “severely” limited and dismiss Government reassurances as “meaningless”.
They even liken David Cameron’s moves to redefine marriage to those of Henry VIII, whose efforts to secure a divorce from Katherine of Aragon triggered centuries of bloody upheaval between church and state.
They claim that, taken in combination with equalities laws and other legal restraints, the Coalition’s plans will prevent Catholics and other Christians who work in schools, charities and other public bodies speaking freely about their beliefs on the meaning of marriage.
Even the freedom to speak from the pulpit could be under threat, they claim.
And they fear that Christians who believe in the traditional meaning of marriage would effectively be excluded from some jobs – just as Catholics were barred from many professions from the Reformation until the 19th Century.
The comments are contained in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, signed by 1,054 priests as well as 13 bishops, abbots and other senior Catholic figures.
They account for almost a quatrer of all Catholic priests in England and Wales.
Last night the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Philip Egan, one of the signatories, insisted that the comparison with the penal laws was “dramatic” but not an exaggeration.
“It is quite Orwellian to try to redefine marriage,” he said.
“This is strong language but something like this totalitarian.
“I am very anxious that when we are preaching in Church or teaching in our Catholic Schools or witnessing to the Christian faith of what marriage is that we are not going to be able to do it – that we could be arrested for being bigots or homophobes.”
Rev Dr Andrew Pinsent, a leading Oxford University theologian, who also signed the letter, said: “We are very sensitive to this historically because of course the reformation started in England as a matter of marriage.
“Henry VIII could have been forgiven for his adultery but he didn’t want to do that, he wanted to control marriage and redefine what was a marriage and wasn’t.
“Because the Church would not concede that point, that launched three centuries of great upheaval in English society, and from the Catholic point of view life was very difficult.
“We fear that what is happening now is that a network of laws are being put in place which would violate our freedom of conscience.”
He added: “I think people in the Westminster bubble have underestimated the level of concern in the country – at a local level there is great concern about these things.”
Protect the Pope comment: Through ordination bishops and priests participate in a unique way in the munus regendi of Christ, Christ’s power of leadership. This letter to the Daily Telegraph from over one thousand priests and bishops is a powerful expression of the munus regendi at work in the Church of England and Wales. We pray to God that it will be heeded by the politicians of our country, be they Catholic or not, and in particular by those Catholic politicians who are supporting gay marriage, such as Ian Duncan Smith and John Gummer.
This is a great day for the Catholics of England and Wales, which we should thank God for, because our priests are uniting at last to publicly lead God’s people in defence of the faith. As a deacon it is an honour to be able to assist our priests in this work of witness given us by the times in which we live. Deacon Nick Donnelly