Catholicism and secularism in Britain: a test of strength on same-sex adoption

Catholicism and secularism in Britain: a test of strength on same-sex adoption

Joanna Bogle

The clash between the Britain's Catholic adoption societies and the Government, over the question of adoption by homosexual couples, has now reached a quiet stage.

But the issue isn't going to go away. The Government has announced a two-year period during which an 'independent assessment' will be made to see if there is a way forward. It is hard to see what this could be.

At present, all that the Catholic agencies are seeking is the right to send children to families where the Catholic understanding of marriage and family (i.e., marriage is male/female only, and lifelong) is respected and accepted. The Government's new 'Sexual Orientation Regulations' will make this illegal. The law will force all adoption societies to offer children to homosexual and lesbian couples.

Beliefs and teachings

All non-Catholic adoption societies in Britain already willingly accept homosexual couples and some deliberately seek them out and give them priority. There is no question here of the Catholic societies actively promoting unjust discrimination - on the contrary, the discrimination is all the other way: the Church's work in this area is simply to be banned, and purely on the grounds that the Government does not like our beliefs and teachings in this specific area.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, who first raised this issue when the new 'Sexual Orientation Regulations' were going through Parliament, has highlighted the real concern: that this public dispute with the Government has 'raised wider issues about the role of faith and conscience in the public space'. That's putting it mildly.

Commentator Melanie Philips - who is Jewish - writing in the Daily Mail, put it with greater vigour: 'This is but the latest move against religion by a culture that believes that only secularism provides freedom. This is a big mistake.

'Our liberal values arise from our Judeo-Christian tradition. Eradicate that, and you will destroy not only individual freedom but also the civil society formed by the diverse institutions it creates, to be replaced instead by repression, uniformity, and intolerance.

'If the Catholic adoption societies are forced to turn down the shutters, it will also be liberal Britain that turns out the lights'.

Already, other issues are waiting in the wings. Catholic schools in Britain - which are very popular and frequently over-subscribed - receive substantial public funding. What will happen if it is announced that they may not teach 'homophobic' ideas on love and sexual ethics, i.e., that they may not teach what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on these matters?

Forget for a moment the fact that - tragically - many Catholic schools do not teach Catholic doctrine well, and some are scandalously confused about it. Of course that is terrible, but it is an internal matter for the Church. Think about schools which do teach the Church's message, and which have invited in speakers - for example from Catholic youth mission teams - which specifically tackle issues concerning love, sexuality, marriage, relationships. They are teaching the pupils to 'discriminate' - in a good way - between a wrong way of life and a right one, between true and false understandings of human loving.

At stake are the rights and freedoms of believers and of the Church's place in the public sphere. And it isn't just about money. Even if public funding were to be withdrawn, would our schools still be allowed to teach the Catholic under- standing of love, sex, and marriage, including the teaching that homosexual activity is gravely sinful?

It is at least an open question. The Government's new Sexual Orientation Regulations aim at banning any form of discrimination against those who live a full homosexual lifestyle. The Regulations do not merely apply to organisations which receive funding from the public purse: even people offering private holiday bed- and-breakfast accommodation in their own homes will have to comply. They will have to prove they do not discriminate and are prepared to offer a homosexual couple a shared room and bed.

And there's more. At present, Catholic schools and colleges cater for pupils up to the age of 18, but there is now pressure to ban any form of community worship or instruction for 16-18 year olds on the grounds that such activities amount to religious coercion and infringe the teenagers' 'human rights.'

Christian heritage

This is officialdom acting as a bully and we have to stand up to it. More is at stake, too, than the mere notion of religious freedom - though that is important. It is a matter of the values by which we live, the nature of our common life, our own understanding of ourselves and our heritage.

Veteran journalist Malcolm Muggeridge wrote that our civilisation was born of Christianity, is bound up with it, 'and will most certainly perish without it'. That is the point. Seeking to ban, from our common life, the standard Christian teaching on central issues of love and life, is to seek to ban the very principles on which our civilisation was built.

'In condemning us', St Edmund Campion told his judges at his trial, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when the Catholic religion was banned, 'you condemn all your own ancestors É all that was once the glory of England'. His words have an uncomfortable resonance for Britain today.

Joanna Bogle is an English Catholic author, journalist and lecturer.

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