The Rt Rev Mark Davies, Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, recently warned that Christians could be treated as extremists and that Christians could become the focus of anti-extremist policies. He said this based on the counter terrorist measures being introduced following events leading to deaths at the hands of Islamist extremists in Manchester and London. Peaceful Christians who happen to disagree with elements of the secular agenda could, said the Bishop, be ensnared. What started out with reasonable intentions – preventing terrorism – could have unintended consequences. The Bishop did not say this, but I think that almost anything the secularists promote and with which Christians do not agree could be classified as extreme views endangering the secular order. These agenda include, for example, abortion and same sex marriage. I predict that the latter may endanger all Christians generally, but it will, specifically, lead to the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain.
David Cameron claimed that his greatest achievement as British Prime Minister was the legalisation of same sex marriage. Looking back on his dismal time in office and its ignominious end, he may well have been correct. Same sex marriage represented a significant shift in the perception of the purpose of marriage. Surely, there has been no greater change in the definition of a major social institution and nothing that has taken place so rapidly. Same sex marriage has only, essentially, been a political issue for the past ten years and, otherwise, a subject confined to the dinner tables of the chattering classes. Quite where the pressure came from is unclear but there was massive support from non-gay people and it is not an issue I recall being high on the gay agenda until the introduction of civil partnerships.
Before same sex marriage, civil partnerships arrived with considerable celebration in 2005, essentially being same sex marriage in all but name. Naturally, they were a step too far for some in the conservative Christian camp, but even the most homophobic person had to admit that civil partnership was a great compromise and a humane gesture; the sanctity of marriage had been preserved and it was not going to encourage gay people to enter into relationships where none had existed; Civil partnership put a legal seal, offering additional and considerable legal protection, to relationships that already existed. Many considered on both sides of the debate that the job was done and we could all sigh with relief.
After all, there were also gay people who thought that civil partnerships were a waste of time. These were people who had shunned convention for decades and saw no need to imitate the conventions of straight people. Certainly, there were gay people who did not see any point in progressing to same sex marriage, even to them, this was a step too far. When civil partnerships were introduced we were assured that this was not the stepping-stone to same sex marriage. But within ten years it was, and it was obvious to anyone with an interest in the issue, for or against, that this would be so. The clichéd thin edge of the wedge got very thick, very quickly.
When same sex marriage was legalised in 2014 assurance was given, and believed by the clergy, that it was to be strictly confined to civil weddings. The Christian Church would not be obliged to perform same sex weddings and another episode was, apparently, closed. This has proved to be false and the Anglican Church, the only denomination over which the United Kingdom government has any sway, is now divided over the issue and, of course, it will either take a vote in favour of same sex marriage at the General Synod or specific legislation and the Church of England will inevitably be obliged to perform same sex marriage ceremonies.
Other churches can hold fast, but for how long? The Roman Catholic Church, doctrinally and magisterially, is opposed to same sex marriage and it is impossible that this could change. A Roman Catholic Church that accepted same sex marriage would no longer be the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally, there are gay Roman Catholics and some pressure from within to at least ‘bless’ same sex relationships is already evident. If same sex marriages can be blessed then why not conduct the services? The logic of that situation is why any ecclesiastical indication of approval is firmly resisted by the hierarchy of the Church as the thin end of another very short wedge.
Nevertheless, it is inevitable in this age of equal rights and potent enforcing legislation, that attention will turn to the Roman Catholic Church and that it will, along with Anglican and other non-Anglican denominations, be expected to conform and perform same sex marriages. This is what will lead to the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain. An institution that finds itself at odds with the law of the land, and not a law it can ignore, must be doomed. This cannot have escaped the notice of the same sex marriage lobby none of whom, gay or straight, are likely to be sympathetic to the doctrines of a church that puts masturbation and mass murder on the same footing as cardinal sins. The Church has no response to the issue of same sex marriage that could enable it to survive in Britain. Its only possible response is to ‘stonewall’ (no joke intended) proposals to recognise, bless or conduct same sex weddings. The Anglican Church can compromise on most issues by allowing special circumstances or creating enclaves and splinter groups permitting certain practices or more commonly, allowing small groups of adherents to carry on regardless of changes in the practices of the church. The response to the ordination of women as priests and bishops is an obvious example, but the point is that it happened. Women were ordained as priests and are now ordained as bishops, something unthinkable twenty years ago.
The Roman Catholic has no such options open to it as it does not generally permit or recognise splinter groups. Opus Dei is one notable exception but only due to its unswerving loyalty to The Pope – whatever he is saying – and this has enabled its survival. It is inconceivable that the Church could allow either enclaves where same sex marriage allowed or accept same sex marriage and create ‘safe zones’ for those who could not accept this change in doctrine.
Thus, the destruction of the Catholic Church in Britain is assured.
As I was writing this I read an article by Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University in the Inquirer section of the Weekend Australian of 19-20 August 2017. Craven argued that the Roman Catholic Church would not fall under the onslaught of the secular atheist agenda. I wish I shared his optimism. In Australia the practice, unique to the Roman Catholic Church, of Confession is coming under scrutiny by the Royal Commission appointed to investigate and make recommendations on the alleged and verified cases of historical child abuse by members of the clergy of the Church. Setting aside the fact that child abuse is not unique to the clergy only of the Roman Catholic Church and that the vast majority of cases of child abuse are not committed by the clergy of any denomination, the Roman Catholic Church is the unique focus of attention. The Sacrament of Confession draws special fire as it has been suggested that this is where paedophile priests go to have their sins absolved and then continue to abuse. The gross ignorance of the sacrament on behalf of the Commission is explained by Craven. But, taken to its logical conclusion the work of the Commission could lead to a legal requirement in Australia on priests to break the Seal of Confession: a solemn promise never to divulge what is confessed to them even under threat of death. This would, essentially outlaw the practice of Confession and such a Church – where at least annual Confession is required of the faithful – would no longer be entirely a Roman Catholic Church.
Therefore, in both hemispheres, the Roman Catholic Church is coming under attack and for entirely different issues. However, there is no reason why success in either issue, in either hemisphere, could not spur identical action in the other hemisphere. If my predictions are over pessimistic then I rejoice; if they are accurate then the key has been found to unlock the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in all western style liberal democracies.
Roger Watson is Professor of Nursing, University of Hull.[pullquote]
This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of The Salisbury Review. (Subscriptions from as little as £10 a year)