Friday, January 25, 2013

Same Sex Marriage debate and the lay apostolate

I was at the meeting organised by the Catholic Union reported by The Reluctant Sinner. The commitment and energy of the lay people and their organisations is very heartening. There is also an interesting degree of consensus, not only on the urgency of the problem, but of the means to tackle it. Archbishop Smith spoke about the 'Million Postcards' initiative, which is excellent; we should think of it, however, as the bare minimum: a personal letter in an envelope is better, and best of all is to ask to see your MP face-to-face in a 'surgery'.

My MP is, ahem, David Cameron. We've written in fact but I'm not expecting a change of mind.

It made me think about the longer-term causes of the crisis we are now facing, in relation to the organisations represented around the room. I don't think anyone there would be offended by my saying that, encouraging though the meetings (this was the third such meeting) have been, the world of lay Catholic associations is not in especially good shape, from a historical perspective, to face this supreme test.

There are many reasons for the decline in membership of voluntary organisations, and non-Catholic organisations have certainly suffered too. I recently discovered that the membership of the Masons in the USA has been falling steeply since its peak in the mid 20th C - see the graph - so it's not all bad.

This is something which has effected membership organisations: organisations based around people attending meetings or events and sending in subs. But there is a self-inflicted aspect to the decline of Catholic organisations, which is the dilution of Catholic identity of many of the organisations themselves, even, or especially, ones not based on membership.

These are often organisations with significant property or resources - the kinds of organisations which it is worth someone's effort to take over. This dilution is very often to the point when they cease to be Catholic altogether. One then usually finds the organisation disappears from the Catholic map, sometimes by merging with another organisation without even vestigial Catholic connections. In any case, such organisations were not represented at the Catholic Union meeting: the organisations which were once called Catholic Marriage Care (now 'Marriage Care'), The Catholic Prisoner's Aid Society (now PACT), Catholic Institute of International Relations (now 'Progressio'), and of course the Catholic adoption agencies (RIP). The justification for shifting the pennies of the Catholic poor, which usually established such organisations, to the service of the state and, very often, to the culture of death, are familiar: essentially, Why not? Surely we can reach more people, and more money, if we 'widen our appeal' beyond the Catholic population.

The question was asked with increasing urgency from the 1970s onwards because the people in these organisations, and above all their trustees of Catholic Great and Good, had lost the sense that  there was anything of value about a distinctively Catholic approach to the problems which the organisations were addressing, or indeed that there was a distinctively Catholic approach at all. This is a familiar 'spirit of Vatican 2' attitude: the idea that 'opening to the world' meant ceasing to take anything to the world; taking 'dialoguing' to mean the disappearance of the Catholic dialogue partner; and taking the recognition of good in non-Catholic individuals and groups to downplay, or even deny, the existence anything distinctive and good in the Church.

This is the classic 'spirit of Vatican 2' which actually contradicts the texts of the Council.

These were coupled with two other factors from the 1970s onwards. One was the professionalisation of charities, starting with the biggest, which was an excuse for employing non-Catholics and tidying away distinctively Catholic aspects of their work. The other was the increasing attractiveness of Government grants, and the onerousness of regulation, each of which tends to lead to the adoption of Government policies and attitudes. These trends could, however, easily have been managed if trustees had been determined not to risk their organisations' Catholic identity. The 'spirit of V2' rubbish gave them an excuse not to bother.

The disappearance of these organisations means the drastic decline of the Catholic charity sector, as a benefactor, as an employer, and as a something needing trustees. Far fewer people, from the widows and orphans to the Catholic Great and Good, are now exposed to the effectiveness of Catholic values in action, and to the problems which social and legal changes pose to them. The question of what Catholic teaching has to say about our society has become an increasingly academic one.

Catholic charitable work gives, even in the eyes of the World, the Church a right to be heard in society. The work of lay Catholics, as identifiable Catholics, using an identifiably Catholic approach, to social problems, to those left behind in society, demonstrates that we really do care. That can no longer be demonstrated today with such force. We've been robbed.


  1. This is so true. Without a strong Catholic presence in charities, hospitals and other organisations such as adoption agencies, and with Catholic schools for the most part no longer being distinctively Catholic, what is there to show the secular world what is 'good' and 'worthwhile' about the Catholic faith?

    My husband overheard a man at a restaurant the other evening holding forth to his table about how much he hated the Catholic Church. He listed all the usual things and ended by saying 'the Catholic Church is like Jimmy Savile, only Jimmy Savile did some good'. Horrible, yes – but realistically, what is there out there to persuade this man, and his friends and so many others, that the Catholic Church is a force for good? Very little. Out in Africa, South America and other parts of the world, the Church is still heavily involved in hospitals, and charitable work. But here, its role in the wider society has been diluted to practically nothing.

    On another matter, you talk about the fight against the Same-sex marriage bill, which is increasing in urgency as February 5th draws near. May I suggest that even if one knows one’s MP is a hard-and-fast advocate of same-sex marriage, there is still a strong case to be made against this bill on procedural, democratic grounds, and there is every reason to write a letter to your MP and ask for a response.

    It is worth pointing out that this legislation poses a fundamental threat to the civil and religious freedoms that we take for granted in this country. It will have far-reaching implications for a substantial number of the population who find that they cannot agree with the State and refuse to promote, teach about or conduct same-sex marriages. They will find themselves facing legal action, dismissal and even imprisonment. We hear in the news today about Michael Gove’s admission that teachers who refuse to promote same-sex marriage in schools will not have protection from prosecution and dismissal if their case goes to Strasbourg. This means that many ordinary citizens will, effectively, be barred from working as teachers, governors, educational advisers etc.

    We also hear of a Glaswegian adoption agency that has been found by the Charity Commissioners to be in breach of the Equalities Act of 2010 for seeking to place vulnerable children in a stable married family rather than with a same-sex couple. They will have their charitable status removed unless they change their policy.

    The follow-up point is that this major piece of legislation, which will affect so many ordinary people’s lives, has not been sufficiently debated. The hundreds of thousands of people who signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, and took part in the government’s public consultation, have been ignored, or worse, classed as ‘bigots’. Additionally, there is no mandate for this bill. A commitment to same-sex marriage does not appear in the manifestos of any of the three main political parties. Therefore, it is being imposed on the electorate without any possibility of a debate or a popular vote, in a manner which is illiberal and undemocratic.

    It is worth suggesting to MPs that even if they support the principle of same-sex marriage, they should push for this proposal to be postponed until after the next General Election, so that it can be included in their party’s mainfesto, and put to a popular vote. And if it proves impossible to safeguard the rights of those who do not agree with the legislation, the proposal should be abandoned altogether.

  2. I spent my professional life giving legal advice to clergy, religious orders and Catholic Charities and I can endorse everything you say.

    I think the rot set it well before Vatican II.
    Even at school in the 1950s Religious Instruction was being relegated in favour of getting on in the world by taking A-levels as possible. The Catholic ghetto was losing its cohesion and there was too much complacency and a distinct lack of leadership from the top. People thought that anti-Catholicism was dead when it was not. I remember my father coming home from having had dinner with Sir Henry Benson chairman of what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers when he asked my father whether he knew of any young men who could join the firm but of course they could not take Catholics. That was about 1956.

    Catholicism often seemed to be something you inherited but did not actually take too seriously. The religious orders and clergy wanted to be seen as men of the world.

    Then of course there was the contraception issue. The Church's teaching was undermined by the likes of Archbishop Roberts S.J. of Bombay years before Humanae Vitae. And then when HV appeared Cardinal Heenan announced that it was a matter of conscience so good-bye to that.

    After Vatican II matters got worse as you describe. We have ended up with a laity that is pretty clueless when it comes to doctrine and that same laity has been allowed to run and ruin many Catholic institutions. Anyone who appealed to the hierarchy about the growing abuses got no help at all. Latterly there have been people received into the Church with little idea of doctrine viz: Blair and Gummer. Injecting a few lay outsiders is seen as a cure for situations such as Ealing rather than a drastic reform of the Benedictines themselves.

    However I think things are now changing. In the past people were not bothered if their children were taught how to use condoms. A member of the Order of Malta and Chairman of the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth could blithely say that he did not understand what was meant by being a "Catholic Hospital". Another had no problems with abortion referrals and even now one hears that one must not spoil the business for the sake of a few condoms. But now parents are presented with sex education where sodomy is treated as normal and instructions are given as to how to perform every sexual perversion. The real issues are becoming much clearer particularly under Benedict XVI and with the extremism of the secular lobby. New orthodox Bishops are being appointed etc. The situation is still very mixed but the green shoots are there.

  3. This is very interesting, thank you!