A Pastoral Approach to Responding to the new Sexual Orientation Regulations

Hugh MacKenzie FAITH Magazine May-June 2007

The confrontation between the Catholic Church and the Government over ‘gay adoption’ threatens to penalise the practice of the integral Catholic faith with legal sanction. Many ordinary parishioners are expressing shock at this state of affairs. Many of our people are tragically unaware of just how deep a divergence there is between fashionable sexual mores and the true principles of Christian love. Sadly, such ignorance is not uncommon given the gradual and subtly persuasive way in which secularism has been fostered in the UK over the last few decades. The situation has not been helped by the confusion and compromise which infects much of British Catholic thinking and teaching.

The implementation of the Sexual Orientation Regulations calls for clear catechesis in the parish, not in the spirit of political controversy, but out of pastoral compassion. It is an opportunity to address some of the false assumptions in the minds of many of our people and to bring out the profound harmony between Catholic truth and true human compassion, which is the purpose of this column.This is really an opportunity to take our people deeper into the life and work of the crucified Christ. What follows is one attempt to meet that challenge

1. Introduction A significant issue has been given great prominence in the Press. It has placed the Catholic Church in serious conflict with the Government and requires clarification. Before going into detail, it is worth remembering that we should expect such clashes. From Christ’s crucifixion onwards, this has been the pattern of His Church’s life. She has survived all such previous conflicts.

2. Outline of the problem:

The new Sexual Orientation Regulations will make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation when offering “goods, facilities or services”. This may sound well intentioned, but it actually carries some serious implications for the practice of the Catholic Faith. It calls for a concerted and considered response, comprising both prayer and political action.

3. Implications:

The most immediate, and currently the most prominent, implication will be the forcing of Catholic adoption agencies to cooperate with the institutionalization of gay partnerships forcing them to accept the possibility of placing children with such couples. But wider implications would also apply across many aspects of modern life, from NHS care to service in hotels and restaurants. A Christian operating a bed and breakfast will break the law if they refuse to allow a gay couple to share a bed in their house. If a church (or mosque or synagogue) hires out its hall to other groups, it will not be lawful to refuse a gay activist group who wish to hire the hall. A Muslim printer or Christian web designer cannot refuse their services to a group promoting a homosexual lifestyle orsexual activity.

Government guidelines indicate that Catholic schools should remove anything that might be termed “bias” in favour of heterosexuality. They could fall foul of the law by teaching or even appearing to assume that marriage and heterosexual relationships are more normal than homosexual relationships [1]
If the Government follows the recent recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Human Rights, Catholic schools will not be allowed to teach Christian sexual morality as if it is true (see below). It is difficult to see how Catholic Schools could remain within the law without undermining their raison d’etre.

4.Why this is wrong

The Sexual Orientation Regulations will ensure that the “right” to a homosexual lifestyle trumps the right to a Christian lifestyle. It is inherent to Christianity to believe the opposite. They are in conflict. They cannot both truly be fundamental rights.

We should remember that for a long time now our culture has been profoundly influenced by the redefining of the meaning of sexual relations that is inherent in the acceptance of artificial contraception. If the sexual act is not intrinsically orientated to procreation within the loving commitment of marriage between man and wife, then there is no logical objection to homosexuality. The full consequences of this seismic shift in our view of sexuality may have taken a long time to dawn upon us, but the present outcome has been inevitable. The Catholic Church, as ever, has continued to witnesses to the perennial teaching from Christ in this as in other matters, against the tide of social fashion. This radical, anti-life, redefinition of sexual love has been a dangerous wrong turning. This isalready evident in the hundreds of daily abortions and the general lowering of respect for the human person.

Forcing the Catholic Church and her agencies to act and to teach as if active homosexuality is not wrong is to compel us to go against the understanding of love and sexuality handed down to us from Christ through Christian tradition. We believe that all sexual activity outside marriage undermines growth in true self-less love in the image of Christ and so is morally wrong. And the same is true within marriage when artificially frustrating its orientation to new life. The Church cannot cooperate in any way with anything that undermines such love.

Of course we do not condemn everyone involved a relationship that involves immoral physical actions – be that fornication, adultery or homosexual activity – as utterly evil and incapable of loving actions at the same time. We can accept that goodness and immorality can be interwoven in complex ways in peoples’ lives. We do not deny that homosexual couples are capable of loving actions towards others, even children they may look after.

But the Church of Christ is convinced that sexual relationships outside marriage are not the authentic expression of loving and that such actions constitute an erosion of human goodness and a negation of human dignity. Where such relationships are made public and institutionalised with legal rights, the Church cannot recognize those rights, and should not be forced to recognise them against her conscience. Formally and publicly to cooperate with such an institution (as distinct from treating the individuals who happen to be involved in them with human respect and charity) must always be a destructive thing for the whole of society. This can be argued convincingly from reason (as attempted in the March/April 2006 edition of this column). We know also from our Christian faith that suchpolicies are based on error and deeply distorted thinking. If Christian morality is not the key to the fullness of life then it is of little value, and Christianity itself will, rightly, wither on the vine. This is, of course, what our opponents believe and hope will happen. History will prove them wrong, as so often before. It is their agenda that is leading us into cultural oblivion. We must pray for their conversion at the same time as resisting their disastrous policies.

For the Church of Christ formally to cooperate with this recently invented secular morality would spell the end of coherent morality itself.

5. Basic respect for those who experience homosexual inclinations

None of this takes away from the obvious duty not to judge anyone’s culpability when they do something wrong, nor to discriminate against someone because the particular temptations they happen to have include a sexual attraction to someone of the same sex. Like all of us, such people need support and friendship on their journey to wholeness and holiness.

As Andrea Williams of the Christian Lawyers’ fellowship commented “Whilst Christian groups have been clear from the outset that they would not wish in any way to deny the provision of basic goods and services to homosexuals, the Government have refused all calls that the Regulations should contain a simple clause that ‘no-one should be forced by this law to promote or actively condone any sexual practices which are contrary to their deeply held religious belief.’”

6. Action

Write to your M.P. and a Peer.

Be prepared to explain clearly the true purposes of marriage and sexuality (e.g. read March/April 06 version of this column). Priests, teachers and catechists must teach more on this, lest more of our families get sucked into the secular mindset and the culture of death.

Most importantly, attempt to respond more fully to Christ’s call to each of us to “Repent and Believe the Good News.” Renew our prayer, asking for the grace to act wisely, charitably and to resist the temptation to cooperate in thought or action with the undermining of authentic love. It will not be without persecutions and sacrifices, but this is how we will rebuild Christian culture.

See letters page

[1]Some details concerning the implications of the regulations

With acknowledgements to Fr Tim Finigan’s blog.

(a) Current Government guidance Stand up for us. Challenging Homophobia in Schools, tells schools that as part of their action to prevent homophobia, they should avoid “heterosexism” a new word which the Department helpfully defines for us:

“HETEROSEXISM describes the presumption that everyone is heterosexual. It refers to a culture in which individuals, families and their lifestyles are categorised according to a heterosexual model. Examples include the assumption that a male pupil will have, or be looking for, a girlfriend; or that a female parent, when talking about her partner, is referring to a male. Such a culture can make LGB pupils and staff feel marginalised, and not valued or understood within the school community.”

(b) At the end of last February The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights published recommendations including the following:

Para 65. “We welcome the Government’s acceptance that the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation should apply to all schools in both the maintained and the independent sectors, without any exemption for particular types of school such as faith schools. “

Para 67. “Applying the Regulations to the curriculum would not prevent pupils from being taught as part of their religious education the fact that certain religions view homosexuality as sinful. In our view there is an important difference between this factual information being imparted in a descriptive way as part of a wideranging syllabus about different religions, and a curriculum which teaches a particular religion’s doctrinal beliefs as if they were objectively true. The latter is likely to lead to unjustifiable discrimination against homosexual pupils. We recommend that the Regulations for Great Britain make clear that the prohibition of discrimination applies to the curriculum …”

(c) The Northern Ireland version of the Regulations make it illegal to harass someone on the basis of their sexual orientation. This is extremely concerning because the definition of harassment relies largely on the perception of the person who claims they were harassed: all they need do is allege that someone has ‘violated their dignity’ or that someone created a ‘hostile or insulting environment’ for them, and they can take legal action.

Faith Magazine

May - June 2007