By Hilary White

ROME, September 14, 2010 ( – As Pope Benedict XVI prepares for his historic state visit to Britain later this week, his unequivocal message on the inviolability and sanctity of natural marriage is clashing sharply with the approach of the country’s top Catholic cleric to the issue of homosexuality. Speaking on Sunday to Neil Tweedie of the Daily Telegraph, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster was asked, “Should the Church one day accept the reality of gay partnerships?” He replied simply: “I don’t know.”

“There is in the Book of Nature an inherent connection between human sexuality and procreation; and those two things cannot ultimately be totally separate,” he said. “People who are of a homosexual orientation say: ‘Well, hang on a minute. How is the Book of Nature written in me?’

He went on to say that the demands made by the Christian tradition “are difficult.”

“That tradition says human sexuality is for an expression of total self-giving in fidelity in a way that is open to the creation of new life. Now, that’s tough, that’s a high ideal. I’m not sure many people have ever observed it in its totality, but it doesn’t mean to say it has no sense.”

Nichols called the “old language” of mortal sin to describe homosexual acts as “misguided.””Fear is never a good motivation,” he said. “The whole point of the Catholic journey is that it is a journey, and we try to hold together high ideals and understanding. That is the same for people who struggle in whatever way with their sexuality. It’s an aim.”

Nichols had made similar comments to the BBC in July, saying then, “I don’t know” when asked if the Church would change its teaching on “gay unions.” “Who knows what’s down the road?” he added.

However, the pope has made clear that he does know. Just yesterday, Benedict said, “[T]he Church cannot approve of legislative initiatives that involve a re-evaluation of alternative models of married life and family. They contribute to the weakening of the principles of natural law and so the relativization of all legislation and also the confusion about values in society.”

He continued, saying, “[T]he Church sees with concern the growing attempt to eliminate the Christian concept of marriage and family from the consciousness of society.”

“Marriage is manifested as a lasting union of love between a man and a woman who has always aimed also to the transmission of human life. This condition is available for partners to relate to each other forever. It requires a certain maturity of the person and a fundamental social and existential attitude, ‘a culture of person’.”

Nichols was more directly castigated by John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who wrote that the bishop’s ambiguous comments are a threat to children, particularly children in Catholic schools. Smeaton wrote that Nicols’ comments “are dangerous to the souls of my children.”

In other comments to Tweedie, Nichols claimed that the crisis of “pedophilia”– which has been shown by independent research to be abuse by male clerics not of children, but of adolescent boys and young men – is a thing of the past. “The sexual abuse of children is the most hidden crime, and it’s taken a long time to be understood,” he said.

“Remember, there was a movement in the seventies to make sexual intercourse with minors of 14 legal. So there was a whole different culture.”

That culture, however, seems still to be thriving in the homosexualist political lobby. Just days before Nichols spoke to the Telegraph, one of Britain’s most prominent homosexualist activists, Peter Tatchell, called for the reduction of the legal age of sexual consent from 16 to 14.

Nichols added that he believes the Church has now got it right on the sex abuse issue. “Now, that is no excuse at all for the way we didn’t get it right, but we are now on the right road.”

These latest remarks by Nicols come not long after he and the bishops’ Catholic Education Service horrified UK Catholics by issuing an enthusiastic endorsement for proposed government sex education guidelines that would tell children how to obtain abortions and contraception without the knowledge or consent of parents. The former Labour government also insisted that “faith schools” would be forced to teach children that homosexuality is normal, under the guidelines.

Additionally, highly placed officials of the Westminster archdiocese admitted last week to approving of the notorious Soho Masses, that openly contradict, and often mock, the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage. Fr. Seamus O’Boyle, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Westminster told the BBC’s Mark Dowd last week that the Masses have been approved at the diocesan level and in Rome.

Fr. O’Boyle said, “Well obviously, when you do something like this, some Catholics don’t like the idea; some priests wouldn’t like the idea of it, so, inevitably, Rome is aware: and the guidelines that we prepared were actually sent for comment to Rome so that Rome was aware, also able to say ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ and I have to say that at the time and certainly continually that Rome has been very supportive.”

Asked how high the approval went, O’Boyle said it was “quite high up.” Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, he said, had spoken about and received approval from Cardinal Levada, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The two cardinals, he said, “had an understanding.” Fr. O’Boyle said it “wouldn’t surprise” him if the pope knows, and, he implied, approved.

Daphne McLeod, the head of the Catholic campaign group Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, told that the situation has not improved under Nichols. The Soho Mass group, she said, is “getting worse, more brazen. They’re spreading and have groups now to attract the young people.”

Read related LSN coverage:

The “Geopolitical Epicentre of the Culture of Death”

English Bishops Must Reject Homosexualist Agenda or Lose Ground on Life Issues: John Smeaton