Event exploring gay marriage organised by Catholic Voices Academy bans dissenting voices
Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 November 2011 19.13 GMT
Gay Catholics in partnerships have in effect been barred from an event about gay marriage, after organisers said it was aimed at developing “communication of church teaching” rather than debating it.
Catholic Voices, which was set up to train ordinary parishioners for media appearances, is holding an event next week called Gay Marriage and the Common Good. But it has informed those with diverging views they are not welcome.
In an email exchange, organiser Austen Ivereigh asks Martin Pendergast, a gay man who is in a civil partnership and wishes to attend: “What is your position on gay marriage? Are you in favour? I ask because CV [Catholic Voices] Academy is not a debating chamber but a means for developing the communication of the church’s settled positions; and both Rome and the bishops are firmly and publicly against gay marriage.
“Therefore, if your purpose is to put an opposing point of view, this is not the appropriate forum.”
Pendergast replies: “I, personally, am not in favour of same-sex marriage but I wish to respect the rights of those who wish to adopt a marital status as opposed to that of civil partnership.”
The to and fro continues until Ivereigh says: “There are plenty of forums for debating church teaching; this is not one. It is also for Catholics who want to do that on a range of issues, not just one. It is not a public forum. I hope you’ll understand therefore if we do not put you on the list.”
Ivereigh told the Guardian: “It’s nothing to do with being gay or not being gay. The event is not directly concerned with church teaching on sexuality or marriage. It is not a discussion; it’s looking at the arguments against gay marriage and its effect on society as a whole and children in particular. Martin has not shown any interest in Catholic Voices until now.”
Speakers at the event include David Quinn, from the conservative thinktank the Iona Institute, and Neil Addison, from the Thomas More Legal Centre.
Terry Weldon, who organises Soho Masses, a fortnightly mass for gay and lesbian Catholics that has the backing of senior clergy and the Vatican, said Catholic Voices was shooting itself in the foot: “I wanted to go and say: how are we going to promote the full teaching of the church? They are only interested in developing the communication of one part. There is another part that says gay people should be treated with respect, dignity and understanding. If you’re going to promote this narrow perspective, people will use it as a weapon against the church.”
Weldon said there was a disconnection between the church’s teaching and church practice regarding homosexuality, citing clerical support of Soho Masses as an example.
English and Welsh bishops came under fire from traditionalists in 2008 for authorising a pamphlet that looked at improving pastoral care for gay and lesbian Catholics.
Such practical, grassroots initiatives do not fit easily with the church’s outspoken attacks on gay marriage.
Earlier this year, the archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, attacked government plans to allow gay couples to register their weddings in places of worship even though the Catholic church will not be opting into the scheme, which starts on 5 December.
He said it was neither necessary nor desirable for such ceremonies to take place in religious premises and accused the government of “considering a fundamental change to the nature of marriage”.
At the launch of the CV Academy last September, the archbishop of Westminster suggested Catholics could “reframe” their opposition to gay marriage by taking their cue from the green movement’s call to respect the natural order of the world.
He said: “The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a further point that is still largely disregarded, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man.
“Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he listens to his nature, respects it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.
“And there, I suggest, is the beginning of a reframing of the issues, of an approach – that marriage first belongs of course to nature, not to the Church.”
He praised the work of Catholic Voices, saying “attractive young people” were more “marketable than crotchety old bishops”.