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English bishop warns on same-sex marriage law
Two weeks ago (17 July 2013), Royal Assent was given to the controversial Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which attempts to redefine the institution of marriage and to extend marriage to same-sex couples (gay and lesbian). Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Smith expressed their alarm and that of my brother bishops at the grave social consequences this will bring.
The passing of this Bill is the inevitable outcome of a process that has been gathering pace since the sexual revolutions of the 1960s.
Until then, the traditional (that is, the natural and Christian) understanding of marriage, sexual intercourse and family life prevailed. Sexual intercourse was seen as located exclusively within married family life and having a double end or purpose: the expression of love and the procreation of children.
Since the 1960s, however, artificial contraceptives have been widely available, which split these two ends of sexual intercourse, separating the unitive and suppressing the procreative aspect.
Lifted from its natural context within married love and commitment, and coupled to pleasure without responsibility, sexual intercourse could now be experienced outside marriage, and thus, in time, take on a new meaning in human relationships.
This has led to the 'contraceptive mentality' Pope Paul VI spoke of so prophetically in his 1968 encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae and to the decline of marriage and now to its redefinition.
For in the revised understanding of sexual intercourse and family life, powerful lobby groups have enabled homosexual relationships to become socially acceptable, and so the Government's attempt to extend marriage to same-sex couples - and in time, presumably, to other combinations and partnerships - is an inevitable development.
As Catholics, like Israel in Egypt, we now find ourselves in an alien land that speaks a foreign language with unfamiliar customs.
For what we mean by the matrimony, sexual intercourse and family life is no longer what today's world, the government, the NHS [National Health Service] and policy-makers understand by marriage, sex and the family.
Parliament's Orwellian attempt to redefine marriage radically changes the social context and this presents a massive challenge to the Church in England and Wales: to those who wish to marry in our churches, to Catholic parents bringing up children, to teachers in our schools, and to the clergy engaged in pastoral ministry.
It may also be a legal minefield, although we will have to wait before the full implications of the new legislation take effect. We will certainly need to review our preaching, teaching and school curricula, which henceforth must recognise that our Catholic system of meanings and values is strikingly different from what secular culture now deems normal or acceptable.
It is important to reiterate that the Church loves homosexual persons, even if we hold firm to our Christian conviction that sexual relations find their true place within marriage. It goes without saying that special support needs to be offered to those of same-sex attraction to help them find that inner freedom, chastity and perfection which Christ offers.
Living up to the ideal of Christian chastity has always been demanding, even when the cultural context was supportive of Christian values and the pursuit of holiness.
Christians are committed to the natural way of life, but thanks to original sin, that natural way of life has always needed the supernatural means Christ offers us, if we are to achieve it. Even so, however demanding, the Way of Christ is truly the way to happiness, and as disciples of the Lord, we have to give witness to this.
Pastors have always been ready and willing, in Christ's name, to offer mercy, forgiveness and support to those who are struggling and striving to live up to the ideals to which Christ calls us.
As Catholics, let us be on our guard, and continue compassionately to warn our society of the wrong turns it is taking.
Despite the wrong turn of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, it remains my hope and prayer that in time, by God's grace and by our gentle love and witness, we will recall society to the path of authentic humanism and thus help everyone hear the call of the Spirit within their hearts to true happiness.
This is the abridged text of Bishop Egan's statement to his Portsmouth Diocese on 30 July 2013.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 26 No 10 (November 2013), p. 13
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