Wednesday, 22 September 2010

After the Papal Visit: a pause for thought

I have been prompted today to take a pause for thought in the light of a couple of things happening as the Papal Visit came to an end.

The first prompt to pause for thought was the numbers of people who turned out for the Protest the Pope demonstration in London on the Saturday of Pope Benedict's visit. The vast majority of the evidence I have seen indicates that the mingling of Papal pilgrims and anti-Papal protestors in pretty much the same area of our capital city was very good natured. In particular, the protestors did not try to disrupt the Papal drive along the Mall and the Hyde Park vigil. But, judging from this "guest post" at Protect the Pope, we should acknowledge that somewhere between 10 000 and 20 000 people turned out for the protest march, perhaps at the lower end of this range rather than the upper end. Tim H, in the post just referred to, describes the removal of one offensive banner, but my own sight of  the march, suggests that some offensive banners did remain (I saw one that accused the Pope of being a "practising homophobe"). Those turning out to greet the Holy Father far, far (far, far, far ...) outnumbered the protestors - but nevertheless the significant number turning out to protest along the lines offered by Messrs Tatchell, Dawkins et al, should give us pause for thought.

The second prompt is the motion passed (according to the Times today "overwhelmingly") at the Liberal Democrat conference calling for LGBT people to be able to marry as opposed to being able to just enter into civil partnerships. The resolution was moved by Dr Evan Harris and the Summation (I assume that refers to a summing up rather than a seconding) was by Stephen Gilbert MP. The full text of the motion can be found here, and the press release, which quotes Stephen Gilbert can be found here. If the report by Ann Trenemann on p.15 of today's Times is correct, the speakers to the motion represented a procession of LGBT activists. One can see this motion as a continued effort by the LGBT lobby to undermine the standing and effectiveness of marriage as an institution - having got as far as civil partnerships, the call for the legal equivalence of same sex and opposite sex commitment under the heading of marriage can be seen politically in this way. The evangelical intent of the motion is expressed in its sub-paragraph 8, which calls on the British Government:
8. To openly promote and encourage recognition of same-sex marriage and civil partnerships across the European Union, especially in countries where currently no laws exist.
Paragraph 2 calls on the British Government:

2. To allow approved religious and humanist celebrants who wish to do so to legally solemnise and celebrate same-sex and mixed sex marriages and civil partnerships in any authorised place.
I think Catholic Churches would be included under the heading of "authorised place", and so this paragraph seems to suggest that a priest who wanted to could be legally able to celebrate marriages or civil partnerships in his Church (or elsewhere). It is not clear where the ecclesiastical authority that wished to ban such activity in a Catholic Church or by a Catholic priest would stand in law.
I believe a much more detailed analysis of this conference motion can be undertaken, in the light of Pope Benedict's address in Westminster Hall. Many of the presumptions in its "Conference recognises that:" section need to be critically analysed, in particular its reference to the preamble to the Libieral Democratic Party constitution, which I suspect is misrepresented in its real import by being cited as it is in the motion.  Does the motion really represent the proper activity of "secular reason" to which Pope Benedict referred? Or does it attempt, by way of undermining the authority of religious bodies internal structures, to impose a secular morality (cf the quotation from Nick Clegg in paragraph (a) of the motion and the call to promote LGBT marriage across the European Union) on society as a whole and religious communities in particular? Compare it to Pope Benedict's words in Westminster Hall:
For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed.
That a motion like this can be passed overwhelmingly at a party conference within days of Pope Benedict's Westminster Hall address leads one to ask whether or not the liberal elites really understood what the Holy Father was saying.  Again, this should give us pause for thought.

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