The Letter was published on Monday with 27 signatories, some of whom are familiar contributors to the Tablet, others part of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council and others part of Catholics for a Changing Church (and related organisations.) You have to pay to read the Times online but the letter is published by Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry.
The principal argument of the letter hinges on a Note published by Cardinal Hume in 1997 which can be found at the website of the Archdiocese of Westminster as part of the justification for continuing with the provision of the Diocesan approved Mass for people with same-sex orientation at the Church of the Assumption, Warwick Street, Soho.
The letter in the Times refers to Cardinal Hume's affirmation that "love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected" and to his three criteria for considering issues of social policy:
- are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would, be undermined by a change in the law?
- would society's rejection of a proposed change in the law be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change?
- does a person's sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient and relevant reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens?
We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.Writers who wish to quote Cardinal Hume in their support would do well to read the whole of the document they are quoting. Although I would personally argue that Cardinal Hume's Note leaves much to be desired, it is worth observing that he does in fact affirm the teaching of the magisterium when he says:
First, the Church has always taught that the sexual (genital) expression of love is intended by God's plan of creation to find its place exclusively within marriage between a man and a woman. The Church therefore cannot in any way equate a homosexual partnership with a heterosexual marriage.Reading this, it is hard to see how the signatories of the letter to the Times could think it was honest to quote another section of the same Note by Cardinal Hume to back up their support of the legal extension of marriage to same-sex couples.
Cardinal Hume went on to say:
Secondly, the sexual (genital) expression of love must be open to the possible transmission of new life. For these two reasons the Church does not approve of homosexual genital acts. When the Church describes such acts as 'intrinsically disordered' (PC para.3), it means that these acts are not consistent with the two fundamental principles mentioned above. It is in this sense that the Church teaches that there can be no moral right to homosexual acts, even though they are no longer held to be criminal in many secular legal systems. No individual, bishop, priest or layperson, is in a position to change the teaching of the Church which she considers to be God-given.I wonder how the signatories would apply this teaching of Cardinal Hume to the living-out of same-sex marriages.
Since Cardinal Hume's 1997 Note, the Holy See has issued further clarification on the matter. In 2003 (on the feast of Saint Charles Lwanga and his Companions) the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the Instruction Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons. This document, which is worth reading in its entirety, says:
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection. (n.5)Note that the Congregation is referring to any legal recognition of same-sex civil unions. We are not to co-operate with civil partnerships, let alone same-sex "marriage."
As Fr Ray Blake reminds us, Pope Benedict, speaking to the Bishops of England and Wales at their ad limina visit in 2010, 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.