In 1997, I stood for Parliament as a candidate for the Pro-Life Alliance. Depending on my frame of mind, I look back on this as either being one of the more interesting experiences of my life or one of the more insane. Be that as it may, my reason for referring to it now is to recall a conversation I had at the time with one of the local Catholic priests. He mentioned to me that he was being asked by some of his parishioners as to why he was not expressing support for me during the election campaign. My reply was to say that, not only was I not expecting him to make any such declaration of support for me, but that it had not even occurred to me that he should do so. My reasons for this reply were two. Firstly, as a lay person with a certain amount of political acumen, I felt it was entirely within my own competence to judge the wisdom or otherwise of my involvement with what the Pro-Life Alliance were doing, and that I did not need any priestly permission or imprimatur for my decision to engage in the election. Secondly, like any political enterprise, what I was doing had great potential for going wrong, and that with a great deal of unpredictability. As an individual, and bearing in mind the freedom that went with that, I could quite easily wipe the proverbial off and carry on; but not so the local Catholic parishes, if they had launched out in backing me. There, the proverbial would have stuck with a certain permanence.
I believe this to have been an example of what Pope Benedict XVI termed an "appropriate secularity"; it also represents the genuine meaning of the French term "laicite". It is for lay persons to mediate the mission of the Church into the political arena, where they engage as citizens; it is not for the priests, religious or bishops in the name of the Church to so engage. [That is not to say that they should remain silent on matters that have political implications. One can perhaps particularly expect bishops to teach with regard to whether particular legislative proposals are in accordance with Catholic teaching or not. But it is not for them to take on the leadership of the associated political campaigning.]
As far as the proposals to allow same sex couples to marry in the United Kingdom are concerned, the Catholic bishops have clearly spoken out against the proposed legislation. The website of the Bishop's Conference has a page dedicated to the issue; and some individual bishops made their own well publicised statements. And yet, according to the Tablet report, some 60% of Catholic MPs voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) bill at its second reading. One might see "appropriate secularity" in play again here, as some might make the judgement that secular law should allow something that they do not consider morally just. But one can certainly see that the bishops cannot displace the responsibility of the relevant members of the lay faithful in the political working out of this issue.
The same question in France has a more complex character to it. The major opposition to the legislation proposed there to open marriage and adoption to same sex couples is a "collective", a kind of informal organisation, "Manif pour tous". Its nearest parallel in the UK is the Coalition for Marriage, and the parallel to "Manif pour tous" huge demonstrations the Coalition for Marriage's 600 000 plus signature petition. Whilst Catholic bishops in France have indicated their support for the demonstrations organised by "Manif pour tous", they have not directly taken part in them - see my previous posts here. They have, if you like, respected the lay nature of "Manif pour tous".
However, the video I saw first linked at Laodicea - French police give Catholic priest a kicking - does need to be seen in a proper context. First of all, watch the whole, not just the 4 minutes onwards. And secondly, recognise that these appear to be priests and laity associated with the Society of St Pius X. Exactly what the video shows - I certainly didn't see the arrested priest being kicked, and he did appear to place himself in the way of CRS officers arresting another individual, and the video certainly shows protestors violently attacking a static police barricade - is open to some question. I am unsure what the priests present - and their attendant cameras - were really trying to do. The context can be seen in this report at La Croix: La « Manif pour tous » espère mobiliser 50 000 personnes à Paris, which includes a reference to the steps being taken by the organisers of this afternoon's demonstration to respond to possible violence by groups attaching themselves to their demonstration. Another report - Qui sont les opposants radicaux au mariage pour tous - includes an integrist group l'Institut Civitas, associated with the Society of St Pius X, among the fringe groups involved in potentially violent protest.
An analysis of the French situation from a Catholic point of view, in both its current and historic contexts, can be found here: Le catholicisme intransigeant, une tentation permanente, par Mgr Dagens. I would suggest reading this alongside viewing the above mentioned video clip, which is not necessarily exactly what it appears....
UPDATE: A very careful look at the video clip does show a CRS officer kicking the arrested priest, somewhat gently I suspect by CRS standards, as he lies on the ground behind the police barricade .... If you watch the earliest part of the video clip you can see the stewards of the "Manif pour Tous" demonstration between the demonstrators and the police line, and the request from the "Manif pour Tous" organiser for the demonstrators to disperse (it is now the end of their earlier demonstration), a request ignored by the priests and others present. The main events shown in the video clip develop after the "Manif pour Tous" stewards have left the scene.
There is also a longer video clip of the events here, the title of which attributes the events concerned explicitly to l'Institut Civitas.