Tuesday February 2, 2010

Pope Drops Strong Hint to English Bishops: Get with the Program

By Hilary White

ROME February 2, 2010 ( – Pope Benedict XVI has urged the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to stand firm against proposed legislation that he said opposes the natural law, and to present the Catholic Church’s moral teaching in the face of the acceptance of moral relativism.

The pope’s remarks are being interpreted by the media as being aimed at the Equality Bill that the Catholic bishops have warned will force churches to violate their religious beliefs on homosexuality, marriage and the priesthood. But others have pointed out that the pope also is likely hinting that the bishops have some changes to make in their defense, or lack thereof, of doctrinal orthodoxy.

“Your country,” Pope Benedict said, “is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.

“In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.” He urged the bishops to present Catholic moral teaching “in its entirety” and to defend it “convincingly.”

The English bishops are in town for their “ad limina” visit, the tradition in which the world’s bishops come to Rome to give an account of their dioceses personally to the pope. “Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth,” the pope added.

The comments are widely being interpreted as an attack on the Labour government’s bill. But Damian Thompson, the religion blogs editor for the Daily Telegraph and editor of the Catholic Herald, commented that the pope’s words should not be so narrowly interpreted. “In a way,” Thompson wrote, “it would be quite convenient for the Catholic bishops to present the speech as being all about the Equality Bill, since it hasn’t come into law and they can’t be accused of rolling over in front of it.

“But the Vatican also takes a dim view of bishops who allow their adoption agencies to reinvent themselves along gay-friendly lines.”

Thompson’s jab about the adoption agencies is a reference the fact that the U.K. bishops generally did little to stop the loss of their Catholic adoption agencies under existing “anti-discrimination” legislation in recent years. Of Britain’s once-impressive system of Catholic adoption agencies, few now remain. Many either closed or officially separated themselves from the Church in the wake of the Sexual Orientation Regulations that mandated adopting children to homosexual partners.

Other critics have interpreted the pope’s words as being aimed at a largely unchecked culture of theological dissent in the Catholic Church in Britain.

Reiterating his longstanding theme of opposing moral and cultural relativism, Pope Benedict said, “In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.”

“The Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice,” the pope said.

In reference to the question of doctrinal orthodoxy, the former bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donohue, told an interviewer in 2008 that the English Catholic bishops failed to respond effectively to the adoption agency crisis because they have “been inhibited about openly admitting the sickness” of “widespread dissent” in the English Catholic Church.

Speaking to Dominic Baster of Zenit news, Bishop O’Donohue said, “If we fail in our duty of presenting the truths of the faith, it is not only the Church that suffers, but also wider society.” Bishop O’Donohue was one of the very few bishops who strove to keep the adoption agency attached to his diocese Catholic, but was opposed by his own board. He later criticized his fellow English and Welsh bishops for failing to respond to the threat of the Sexual Orientation Regulations with a united voice.

Others have pointed to the collaboration of the English bishops with a scheme to impose explicit sex-education on all children in all schools, except independents, including faith schools, at all grade levels. John Smeaton, head of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has been heavily critical of the cooperation of the Catholic Church with the scheme that would prohibit parents from removing students from the classes after the children are 15 years old.

Smeaton wrote that he and his wife would be refusing to contribute to the bishops’ annual collection in churches to support the Catholic Education Service (CESEW). CESEW has welcomed into Catholic schools Connexions, a British government agency that is authorized by the government to tell school children that they have a “right of access” to abortion and contraception without parental knowledge or consent.

CESEW has also given broad support to the government’s sex-education plans for all grades, which the government has admitted is intended to entrench pro-abortion and pro-contraceptive sex education that also promotes homosexuality as a “normal lifestyle.”

Read LSN’s extensive coverage of the UK’s Catholic adoption agencies crisis here.

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