A man and woman dressed in wedding attire join a protest against a same-sex marriage bill outside the parliament building in London in June 2013. (CNS photo/Toby Melville, Reuters)
We seem to be rather short of good news for Catholics at present. Here
is something that is at least faintly cheering.
Dame Louise Casey is a government-appointed official with the rather
worrying title of “Integration Tsar.” With distinctly Tsar-like pretensions, she
recently announced that Catholic schools would have to teach what sherather
than the Catholic Churchbelieves about marriage. She seemed unaware that, in
announcing herself to have the right to ban the Church from teaching about the sacraments,
she was dragging Britain back into the grim years when Catholicism was banned
and its teachings deemed dangerous to the State.
But Dame Louise’s announcement that
it was “not OK for Catholic schools to be
homophobic and anti-gay marriage” brought her much more trouble than she had
imagined. A barrage of criticism and challenge met herand not just from Catholics. And she has now backed down.
Don’t get out the champagne. She should never for one moment have tried
to impose her beliefs on Catholic schools and announce what is and is not “OK”
for them to teach on marriage (or any other sacrament, come to that). There is
no need to have a wild general celebration simply because she has acknowledged
our freedom and our rights. But it’s something significant, all the same. A
leading public official has backtracked from the official imposition of an
unjust and unreasonable demand and has (sort of) reaffirmed the right of the
Church to hold and teach what it believes on a central tenet of the Faith.
The letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government is,
surprisingly, written in readable language and is relatively free of the
current cant and jargon. It’s straightforward. It says, in part:
Dame Louise is a supporter of the right to
gay marriage now enshrined in law, however she does respect and understand the
Catholic Church’s long-held view that marriage is between a man and a woman, even
if that is not her own view.
The letter continues: “She is not threatening the right of the Church or individuals of faith
to hold that view, or to include it in teaching it as a fundamental tenet of
faith. That is indeed an important aspect of a shared British value of freedom
of religious expression.”
No apology for the insult earlier given to the Church,
and no added pleasantries about the immense popularity and value of Catholic
schools. But don’t let’s carp. It’s a climb-down, and it’s good to have a
victory, however small, in the fight to retain space for some sanity in our
public discourse on marriage.
Poor Dame Louise was evidently rather out of her depth
in announcing what Catholics could and could not do. I honestly think she
simply didn’t understand what she was doing or saying when she blithely stated
that Catholic schools would have to teach only her version of marriage. She was simply caught up in a panicky desire
to affirm the politically-correct but actually utterly bizarre idea that two
people of the same sex can marry one another.
Catholic schools in Britain regularly top the league
tables in exam results, are generally over-subscribed, and are hugely popular.
They cater for a wide range of children from every sort of social background.
They play a notable role in community life at every levelactive in local
sports tournaments and music festivals and charity fund-raising events and
competitions and more. Their names evoke the great truths of the Faith, and the
saints and heroes of the centuries: Sacred Heart, Assumption, Corpus Christi,
Vincent de Paul, St.
Thomas More. Andwith,
inevitably, varying degrees of conviction and of successthey teach the Catholic faith, because that’s why they were
built and that’s what they are meant to do.
There are all sorts of problems facing them: the
difficulty of finding faithful and committed Catholic teachers, the problems of
children from broken and disconnected families, the constant tensions with a
society rife with pornographic images and wide intolerance of Christian values.
Ensuring the Catholic school’s freedom to operate is
essential: making good use of that freedom to ensure the full flourishing of
the Faith is a daily task for all involved, from parents and
teachers to bishops and parish priests. But at least the Tsar has backtracked from
stopping us. For this, Deo Gratias. And let’s keep vigilant.