Wednesday, 3 June 2015

St Charles Lwanga and Companions: an opportunity to comment on recent events

Today sees the celebration in the Catholic Church of the feast of St Charles Lwanga and Companions. The account of their martyrdom below is based on Butler's Lives of the Saints New Concise Edition:
In the interior of central Africa the first Catholic missions were established by the White Fathers in 1879.In Uganda some progress was made under the not unfriendly local ruler, Mtesa, with catechumens being prepared for baptism; but his successor, Mwanga, determined to root out Christianity from among his people.  
Mwanga was an active homosexual, and his hostility towards Christianity was made worse when Christian boys in his service refused to give in to his sexual advances. Joseph Mkasa, a Catholic, reproached Mwanga after the killing of a protestant missionary and his team. He also reproached Mwanga for his lifestyle. Mwanga beheaded Joseph Mkasa.  
The following May, Mwanga was infuriated when he learnt that a servant he had sent for had been receiving instruction from one of his fellow servants, Denis Sebuggwawo. Denis was sent for, and the king killed him by thrusting a spear through his throat. Charles Lwanga, who had succeeded Joseph Mkasa in charge of the servants, secretly baptised four of them who were catechumens, including Kizito, a boy of thirteen whom Lwanga had repeatedly saved from the designs of the king. The next day, the servants were drawn up before Mwanga and the Christians were ordered to separate themselves from the rest. Led by Mwanga and Kizito, the oldest and the youngest, they did so - fifteen young men, all under twenty five years of age. They were joined by two others already under arrest and by two soldiers.  
Mwanga asked them if they intended to remain Christians. " Till death” came the reply. “Then put them to death”, said the king. Three of the young people were killed on the road to the execution site. The others were burnt to death on a pyre on 3rd June 1886.  
The persecution continued, with both protestants and Catholics giving their lives rather than denying Christ. Charles Lwanga and 21 others, including 17 royal servants, were beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1964.
A more recent testimony on behalf of the Church's teaching with regard to same sex relations is that of Rocco Buttiglione, in 2004. What follows is an extract from a speech given by Rocco Buttiglione, Italian Minister of European Affairs, at the VI Congress on Catholics and Public Life, in Madrid, Spain, on November 20, 2004
As you know, I was recently a candidate to be a European Commissioner. And as you also know, I was rejected for the position for expressing my Catholic beliefs on sexuality and marriage at the hearing (before the appointment). One may think: If we cannot express our principles in public we will seem to be ashamed of them. ….  
I was not ashamed; but I was not provocative. I was prudent. I don't know if God would give me the courage to offer my head for my faith, like St. Thomas More... But a seat on the EU commission – yes, that I can offer. …  
They introduced the category of sin into the political discourse, and I said "No, in politics we may not speak of sin. We should speak of non-discrimination, and I am solidly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, or any type of discrimination." I did not say that homosexuality is a sin, as many newspapers reported. I said, "I may think." It is possible that I think this, but I did not tell them whether I think it or not. What I think about this has no impact whatsoever on politics, because in politics the problem is the principle concerning discrimination and I accept that principle.  
That was not enough. They wanted me to say that I see nothing objectionable about homosexuality. This I cannot do because it is not what I think. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is written that, from a moral point of view, homosexuality is not a sin but rather an objectively disordered condition. Homosexuality can become a sin if one adds the subjective element, which is to say, full knowledge that this is wrong and also freedom of the will which accepts this wrong position. I was not allowed to say that and for this reason I was deemed not worthy to be a European commissioner.  
Catholics have the right to hold positions in the European Union. Is it conceivable that Catholics can be prohibited from exercising public office because of their Catholicism? Because they take the Church's position? Some say that the Catholic position on sexuality is aberrant, and this view should be grounds for discrimination at the EU, or in regard to holding public office. I do not want this to become accepted practice. They have established that a Catholic who says that perhaps it is possible that homosexuality would be a sin can be discriminated against. I found myself in a position in which I clearly had to decide with respect to whether I would keep my position, between my faith (or if not my faith at least the doctrine of my faith) or to accept being discriminated against. For my faith I was able to sacrifice a seat in the EU, which is not such an important thing. Ultimately, this is what happened.
At the present time, the question that Catholics face in this regard arises from the legalisation of marriage between people of the same sex. How do we go about maintaining a testimony in favour of the Church's teaching in the circumstances created by the recent referendum in the Republic of Ireland and the earlier legalisation of same sex marriage in the United Kingdom?

In France, the movement Manif pour tous, and the vigil movement that started on the edge of its protests against "la loi Taubirau", have used the term "resistance" to articulate a permanent stance in favour of their opposition to the law. It is of great interest to me that these movements are not explicitly Catholic - indeed, the vigil movement is expressly non-denominational/non-religious and the suggestion recently in the Catholic Herald that Manif pour tous had largely ecclesial backing from the Catholic Church is not one that I share. The statement from Senator Mullen after the referendum in the Republic of Ireland suggests the emergence of a similar movement, at least in sentiment, in that country. These movements call, not for the engagement of the Catholic Church as institution, but for the engagement of citizens, the lay faithful, translating into a lived experience "in the world" of  a stance rooted in their Catholic belief. It is their proper "office", irreplaceable by the action of clergy or religious in the Church.

I have not thought through the full implications, but I do think there is something to be said for Catholic priests/parishes no longer acting as the civil registrars of marriages conducted in their churches. It would provide one way of clearly saying that the term "marriage" in a Catholic Church is not the same as the term "marriage" in a register office. However, whilst this suggestion might provide a testimony on the part of the officiating Catholic priest, it still leaves the couple themselves with the compromise of their testimony when they have additionally to go through the civil form of marriage at the register office. And perhaps the compromise of testimony has been there in a different way for many years already, by way of legal provision for divorce.

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