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They want people to be ashamed

11 January 2013

Anglican and RC opponents of homosexuality see it as 'disordered', says Paul Vallely


What has changed when it comes to gays and the Church in the past ten years? A decade ago, Canon Jeffrey John was forced to decline the post of Bishop of Reading after an outcry over the fact that he was gay. His admission that he and his partner were celibate did little to lessen the hoo-hah. Celibacy was not enough. Yet now the Church of England has decided that celibacy is quite sufficient, thank you.

Over in the Roman Catholic Church, the tide is moving in the opposite direction. The Soho Masses for gays and their families, which were approved by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, have just been banned by his successor as Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols ( News, 4 January). In a move heavy with symbolism, he has handed the Soho church in which they took place to the Ordinariate, which was set up by Pope Benedict XVI to poach disaffected Anglicans - likely to disapprove of the ordination of women, let alone gays.

It is not, in either case, the theology that has changed, but rather the psychology. Anglican opponents of celibate gay bishops seem motivated by distrust: "They may say they are celibate, but can we believe them?" The Roman Curia, which one conservative Catholic recently described as "absolutely paranoid about homosexuality", appears to assume bad faith, too.

Weasel words are common in politics, but we should not expect them in theology. Roman Catholic apologists have talked about the dilemma of ministering to a group that feels separate, without endorsing its members' separateness.Gay masses risk the growth of a ghetto mentality, which is the opposite of Catholic universalism; so ending them is a welcome into the embrace of the whole Church rather than an act of alienation. Separate worship can be justified only as a transition, as for incoming ethnic groups, such as Poles, for example. Nor does it address the fact that the Soho Masses are held only fortnightly, to allow attenders to worship at their parish mass on the other Sundays.

So why these changes? It is hard not to suspect that Church of England bishops have acted out of embarrassment at the ridicule poured on the Church when it rejected women bishops. The fact that the Measure failed - despite a yes-vote from two out of three Houses in the General Synod, and 42 of the 44 dioceses - looked to the rest of society like gerrymandering, which has damaged the Church's integrity.

Politics may also explain the Roman Catholic shift. The English hierarchy has been under pressure from Rome, which has also been unhappy with Archbishop Nichols's lukewarm welcome for the Ordinariate. This might explain why he has not yet been made a cardinal. Putting the Ordinariate into the very church that has been used for gay masses kills two birds with one stone.

It is often supposed that both Roman Catholic and Anglican critics of homosexuality draw a distinction between homosexual acts, which they see as sinful, and "the homosexual condition or tendency", which is not. But, in fact, Anglican opponents to celibate gay bishops seem to draw on the same ideological prejudice expressed by the present pope.

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he wrote a Letter to Bishops, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, in 1986. It said that, while homosexual acts were "intrinsically disordered" and sinful, even homosexual inclination was a "tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder". What the reactionary elements in both Churches really want, it seems clear, is for gay men and women in the pews to be cowed, quiet, and ashamed.


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