LONDON, April 27, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Despite government assurances to the contrary, concerns continue to grow that religious institutions will be forced to participate in “gay marriages” in the UK under soon-to-be issued rules. Secularist campaigners are openly questioning the right of Christians to be involved in the debate, while one Catholic bishop warns that the pressure is growing to keep Christianity strictly a private matter.

This week, the Catholic Education Service (CES), was criticized when it contacted 385 Catholic secondary schools asking that a letter issued by the bishops encouraging opposition to the government’s same-sex “marriage” plans be read out in classes. The CES also asked for participation in the petition being circulated by the Coalition For Marriage. As of this week, over 470,000 people have signed the petition, which is asking the government to retain the legal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

Maeve McCormack, policy manger for the Catholic Education Service, told the Telegraph the bishops’ letter “was an explanation of marriage and a positive affirmation of marriage, celebrating the huge value that it brings to society – we are proud of the fact that these kinds of values are taught in our schools.”

But two secularist campaigners have responded with press releases questioning the legality of Christian educational bodies becoming involved in the debate. Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said in a media release, “This is a clear breach of the authority and privilege that the Catholic Education Service has been given in schools.” Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association, said, “The Coalition For Marriage petition is very deliberately a political document and for this reason we question whether the CES has broken the law.”

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In an impassioned keynote speech at a conference on religious freedom at Oxford University earlier this month, Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley, Scotland, warned that the government’s push for “gay marriage” will herald genuine persecution of Christians dissenting from the zeitgeist.

Those Christians who refuse to “bend to become a religion of the state,” he said, will soon no longer be tolerated by the powerful of British society, politicians, judges and celebrities. 

Bishop Tartaglia did not hesitate to name the source of the current conflict between the Church and the state in Britain. Shortly after his elevation as bishop of Paisley in 2005, Bishop Tartaglia said that he quickly realized that “the advance of the homosexual agenda, in concert with equality legislation was beginning to have a problematic effect on the freedom of the Catholic Church to operate in the public sphere.”

The bishop said that several cases in which courts ruled against Christians in conflict with homosexuals demonstrated to him that “with the support of the courts… the power of the courts and of the political establishment, that religious freedom and freedom of conscience could be set aside in favour of the advance of the homosexual agenda.”

Bishop Tartaglia asked, “Will society continue to afford the Catholic Church and other religious bodies the oxygen and the vital space to be themselves and to express themselves in the public square, or will my Church be forced to conform to a publicly acceptable form of religiosity, a kind of patriotic Church?

“Or worse, will we be driven to the margins of society, and perhaps denied the legal right to carry out our mission and to express our faith in public?

Some are concerned, however, that the Catholic and Anglican churches and their educational bodies, may have impaired their ability to stand against that advance, including the change to the definition of marriage, after years of ambiguity towards the central issue in the debate: homosexuality itself. Critics have pointed out that statements and letters from Catholic bishops defending traditional marriage have painstakingly avoided talking about Christian teaching on human sexuality, shying deliberately away from bluntly stating that homosexual behaviour is sinful, as many of their Evangelical co-religionists do regularly.

Leslie Pilkington, a Christian psychotherapist who is facing professional discipline for helping homosexuals leave the gay lifestyle, told LifeSiteNews.com that the failure of the churches to clearly articulate the moral objections to homosexual behaviour has significantly contributed to the current situation.

Pro-family campaigners have questioned whether the focus exclusively on the goods of marriage from both the Anglican and Catholic Churches in Britain, and the refusal to address homosexuality directly, comes from the long history in both communions of tacit and even overt support for the homosexualist political agenda.

As early as 2005, the Anglican Church of England voted to allow homosexual clergy to “marry” members of the same sex and live together openly. This March, the current Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, announced he was retiring from the position, after a ten-year tenure plagued with arguments over the acceptance of homosexuality that have all but fractured the Worldwide Anglican Communion. 

The last three Catholic Archbishops of Westminster, Cardinals Basil Hume, Cormac Murphy O’Connor and the incumbent, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, have actively endorsed significant points of the homosexualist program, including allowing the continuation of “gay Masses” in London that have been the subject of criticism from faithful Catholics around the world.

Last year, while expressing opposition to gay “marriage,” Nichols told media at a press conference, “We would want to emphasize that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision.”

“As a Church we are very committed to the notion of equality so that people are treated the same across all the activities of life,” Nichols said. “The Church holds great store by the value of commitment in relationships and undertakings that people give. Stability in society depends upon the reliability of commitments that people give. That might be in offering to do a job but especially in their relationships with one another. Equality and commitment are both very important and we fully support them.”

Last year, Archbishop Nichols told an interviewer at the Tablet magazine that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in England and Wales had no problems with homosexual civil unions, a stance that the pope has been specifically mandated against by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

At the same time, evidence continues to mount that the government, despite its assurances to religious leaders, will not fight the pressure of lobbyists to force churches and other religious bodies to participate in “gay marriage.”

Prime Minister Cameron did not reprimand one of his Conservative Party MPs who urged the government to force Christian churches to conduct homosexual “wedding” ceremonies. Cameron accepted without comment a letter last August by Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove and Portslade, that said, “As long as religious groups can refuse to preside over ceremonies for same-sex couples, there will be inequality.”