This weekend a Pastoral letter from the Bishops’ Conference will be read at all parishes. The full text of this letter is contained below.
The Bishops’ Conference ask us to sign Lord Carey’s petition which can be found at: http://c4m.org.uk/
By John Stevens
Churchgoers are to be urged to take a stand against gay marriage by the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales.
In a letter to be read from 2,500 pulpits during mass this Sunday, the Archbishop of Westminster will warn that David Cameron’s pledge to legalise homosexual marriage would threaten the true meaning of a sacred union.
In a significant intervention in the gay marriage debate, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols will urge the country’s five million Roman Catholics to sign petitions and lobby their MPs about the changes.
Controversy: The letter by Reverend Nichols (left) argues marriage between a man and a woman is at the ‘foundation of our society’. Lord Carey (right) said no one had the right to redefine the institution
The letter warns that plans to extend marriage to same-sex couples would be a ‘profoundly radical step’ that reduces it to a vague commitment between two people.
The text, which is co-signed by the RC Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Reverend Peter Smith, argues that marriage between a man and a woman is at the ‘foundation of our society’.
In an article for the Daily Mail last month, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote: ‘Marriage precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way.’
The last time the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church used a pastoral letter to intervene on a political issue, during attempts to inflict quotas on faith schools in 2007, the government climbed down within days.
The letter is expected to have a more moderate tone than comments made at the weekend by Keith O’Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, who described gay marriage proposals as grotesque.
Cardinal O’Brien insisted that the reforms would shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.
Backing: The Prime Minister is a strong supporter of plans to legalise same-sex marriage
He said: ‘Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear this proposal is not about rights but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage at the behest of a small minority of activists.
‘If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men, or a woman and two men, to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another?’
The Prime Minister is a strong supporter of plans to legalise same-sex marriage, which are also supported by the Lib Dems, and are set to be formally unveiled later this month.
But the proposal has divided the Conservative Party and put Mr Cameron on a collision course with religious leaders.
Civil partnerships were introduced for gay couples in 2005 but by law they cannot be referred to as marriages.
Full Text of Pastoral Letter:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.
Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.
The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself.
Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion. Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.
There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.
The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (para.1601)
These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.
This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.
In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.
In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.
The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.
Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.
We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.
Most Reverend V. Nichols
Most Reverend P. Smith
The clergymen are the latest to denounce the Government’s backing for marriage to include gay couples. In January, the Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, insisted governments did not have the moral authority to redefine marriage.
If the law is changed, Britain will become the seventh European country to recognise same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Norway.
The Catholic archbishops’ letter also appears to challenge Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone’s remarks last week that the church does not ‘own’ marriage and that the state was entitled to make changes to the institution.
‘The reasons given by our Government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination,’ the letter says.
‘But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.
‘Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now.
‘There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.
‘The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. This pattern is affirmed by many other religious traditions – understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.’