I published the Archbishops of Southwark and Westminster letter on the redefinition of Marriage without comment. I received the hardcopy of their letter the following day in the post. My secretary assured me it came without a covering letter, in my diocese no-one has said whether it should be read at all Masses or was simply sent for my personal information.
Some people have suggested it is too late and too weak. I’m not too sure about that, but certainly it is perhaps correct to ask whether the Church here really has the heart for a fight. In our effort to get out of the “Catholic ghetto” and to be regarded as “English” rather than an immigrant church, we have downplayed our Catholic identity, possibly to such a level that many Catholics have little understanding of anything distinct about our religion, or if they do they have rejected it.
The majority of Catholics, the official figure is 90%, despite (or in spite of) all the money and energy the Church invests in our schools, do not practice the faith. Neither could we ever dare suggest that Catholics are less likely to cohabit, divorce, abort or contracept, nor are the vast majority of Catholic parents more open to children, than their non-Catholic neighbours, the statistics do not show any difference.
In the latter half of the 20th century abortion and contraception have been issues that have troubled individuals but hardly seem to be a major concern in England and Wales. Co-habitation and divorce seem to be even less of a concern, everywhere these issues are left to a woolly “pastoral solution”, everything depends on the personal convictions of the individual priest.
After members of Catholic Voices have spun the Bishops 2003 statement on Civil Partnership, I am confused by what their Lordships intended to say, I used to think their teaching was clear but maybe not. Milo Mindbender and Co are the official unofficial keepers of the Catholic Voice in E&W but only seem to make the feint voice even more distant and give the real God appointed Voices of the Church a barricade to hide behind. I digress. Even so, anyone but a fool would have realised that the introduction of such partnerships would lead inevitably to the situation we now face. What we have failed to do is prepare our people for any battle over this issue.
I am not part of the dioceses of Southwark or Westminster and lacking any clear direction I will present this letter on Sunday but frankly I think my people are ill prepared to receive it and having received it, I am not sure what they are expected to do with it.
My anxiety is that this letter will be all. That there is no further plan. As an opening salvo it was good but what about the barrage to follow, will it? Or was that all?
It would be good to think that following its publication on Sunday the bishops and leading clergy will be on every television and radio station, that they will write their own letters to every and any newspaper that just might publish them, that they might even start to use modern technology. After years of fudge and drift it, which has not only left Catholics in ignorance and confused but has had an impact on wider society it is time that we had clear teaching on sex, on homosexuality, on marriage, on the duties and responsibilities of Catholic politicians, Catholic Institutions and above all the Clergy to uphold the Church’s teaching.
Fr Richard has a good post on the Public Dimensions of Marriage,
A priest friend emailed me to say I should also have received the following:
To all Parish Priests in England and Wales
01 March 2012
With the agreement of your own bishop, we address this letter to you.
Please find attached a letter from us, as President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference, to be read, and distributed if possible, in your parish over the weekend of 10/11 March. It concerns the Catholic teaching on marriage in the context of the forthcoming consultation by the Government to change the legal definition of marriage.
You will have noted the launch of the Coalition for Marriage, together with its online petition, in support of the present legal definition of marriage. We ask you to encourage your people to sign this petition.
When the Government’s consultation document has been published, it will be carefully studied and a leaflet prepared for distribution in your parishes to assist Catholics in making their own response to the consultation. This leaflet will come to you after Easter, which is time enough as we expect the consultation to run for three months.
We will be grateful if you found space in your newsletter for next weekend for these two points. Below is a standard paragraph which you might consider suitable.
We thank you for your cooperation realising only too well the shortness of this notice which has been determined by the expected publication of the Government’s consultation document.
Most Reverend V. Nichols Most Reverend P. Smith
SUGGESTED INSERT FOR PARISH NEWSLETTERS
At Masses this weekend, we receive a Letter from Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It is a statement of our Catholic faith about marriage and issued in the light of the forthcoming consultation by the Government on changing the legal definition of marriage. In the light of this letter, you are asked to consider signing the Coalition for Marriage’s online petition which can be found at www.C4M.org.uk. It reads:
“I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it.”
The Archbishops also say that after Easter there will be a more detailed leaflet on the Government’s consultation itself, for distribution in parishes, to assist Catholics in making their own response to the consultation.