I am hugely cheered by the letter which appeared yesterday in the Daily Telegraph, signed by more than 1,000 Catholic priests. I know from my own experience that organising this kind of thing is very time consuming, and frankly I don't know how the hard-working priests who organised it managed it, with no organisation, network, or staff of their own.
The letter itself, which is short, importantly does not present the problem purely as a matter of Catholics worrying about the effect of the law on their own sectarian interest. It makes the point that the natural complementarity of men and women, linked to the raising of children, makes marriage what it is.
I suspect that when they got to 1,000 names they thought it was big enough to send in, given the urgency of the issue, and not carry on chasing up people who'd not replied. So we should resist the temptation to read too much into who didn't sign up, they may have been on holiday, the email may have gone into the old spam-filter a couple of times. It is a little harder to understand in the case of bishops and religious superiors: presumably the message got to them. Here I suppose the natural caution of people in public office is on display. All the more admirable, then, of those who did sign, notably the four serving ordinaries:
Peter Brignall or Wrexham,
Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough,
Philip Egan of Portsmouth,
Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham, and
Keith Newton of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
All, interestingly, are from the younger generation of ordinaries (less so Bishop McMahon I suppose), although there are also four retired bishops in the list. And let's not forget that a number of other bishops have issued their own condemnations of the proposals. May God give them all the grace to continue as they have begun.
What we can observe from the list of names is the broad base of support: this is definitely not something supported by only a particular stream of opinion in the Church. The numbers are enough to show this: no partisan group could get 1,000 signatures; a careful perusal reveals priests of all views (heck there are 18 Jesuits and 19 assorted Franciscans on the list!) This is an issue which is uniting the Church.
It's not hard to understand why. At the end of the day it's not going to matter how liberal you are, if you are a Catholic priest or bishop, you are going to be ground to dust between the Vatican and the British state. Whatever David Cameron may imagine, Rome is never, ever, going to say that Catholics can cooperate with same-sex pseudo-marriages, and bishops and priests who try will not get away with it: they will be carpeted, disciplined, and ultimately removed from office. Everyone in the Catholic Church (well, maybe not John Gummer) realises this, and very, very few people are so far gone as to imagine that such action from Rome could or should be resisted. It follows that if same-sex couples start taking priests and bishops to court for refusing to conduct, sacramentally confirm, or bless, same-sex marriages, then an awful lot of priests and bishops are going to end up in prison.
This is assuming that the European Court will say that the exemption from the legislation put in place for the Catholic and Anglican churches would be illegal, which they have ALREADY promised to find. This is no crystal-ball stuff. The question will be whether the government will find a way of backing down, or will go the whole hog and set up some kind of Patriotic Catholic Church on the Chinese model, which would allow Same Sex Marriage, while the true believers are hunted from house to house. That's when we'll discover the meaning of the Queen affirming, in her welcome to the Holy Father, not freedom of religion, but freedom to worship. Oh sure, you can go to Mass...
If this legislation passes, we are in for an interesting time.