Chris Bryant on the ‘silliness’ of the Roman Catholic Church
According to Labour’s Chris Bryant, the Roman Catholic Church ‘has got its cassocks so firmly in a twist’ that it is no longer able to think or communicate rationally on the subject of homosexuality. And he surmises that this is perhaps because so many of its priests, bishops and cardinals are gay. He observes:
In the old days it was all very simple. Homosexuality was a deliberate choice, a perversion, a sin. Gay men were skipping along the rose-pink path to the everlasting bonfire and gay clergy who were caught in the act were dismissed, disgraced and defrocked.
“But nobody seriously believes that anymore,” he avers. “Most church leaders know your sexuality is not something you choose, but something you discover. So you could even argue that God has made some people gay, which is why the Roman Catholic Church no longer condemns anyone for just being gay. Indeed, it even teaches that homophobia is immoral.”
But in a classic twist of Roman logic, Mr Bryant points to the absurd hypocrisy of the Holy Mother Church, which, despite many of its priests and bishops being inclined towards homosexuality, considers it a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
Celibacy is the rule – for all clergy (except pre-married converting Orthodox and Anglicans) – and same-sex sex is definitely off-limits.
There are two problems with this, Mr Bryant observes: “For a start it is a great big lie. It ludicrously pretends that the Roman Catholic Church has no gay bishops.
“What is even worse,” he adds, “is that the Church's double-speak is so cruel. It condemns people to a life without the joy of sexual intimacy – and all to placate a theology that is as misplaced and out of date as Christianity's onetime advocacy of slavery.”
And he ends by asking: “Is it too much to hope that one day the Roman Catholic Church will get this silliness out of its system?”
O, hang on.
His Grace may have got this very slightly wrong. Silly him.
If Chris Bryant thinks the Church of England is being ‘silly’ over this issue, what on earth does he think about the Roman Catholic Church, which is rather more robust on the issue?
Or Islam, which he might find even more robust?
It is astonishing that an MP attacks the Established Church on this matter, not least because it is one of the few expressions of faith in this country which has bothered to commission and convene endless debates, committees and reports on the issue, tearing itself apart and driving it to schism and not-quite-schism over the last decade and more.
The Church of England has been adapting, compromising and perpetually 'modernising' along via media after via media since 1534. The genius of Anglicanism is that it seeks to reconcile opposed systems, rejecting them as exclusive systems, but showing that the principle for which each stands has its place within the total orbit of Christian truth.
The Church of England is not a political party that may be recreated in the image of man. It is no-one’s private fiefdom (though it may once have been). Her Majesty the Queen is the Supreme Governor, and Jesus Christ is the Head.
It is acutely concerned with many pressing prioritries: the persecution abroad of homosexuals; the adoption of children by suitable parents irrespective of sexuality; the provision of services for the poor and marginalised; the expression of compassion to the alienated, outcast, oppressed and persecuted, irrespective of their gender, skin colour, sexuality or religion. The doors of the Church of England are open to everyone in the land. For centuries before the Labour Party even existed, it has possessed the capacity for the via media which was never in its essence compromise or an intellectual expedient but a quality of thinking, an approach in which elements usually regarded as mutually exclusive were seen to be in fact complementary. These things were held in 'living tension', not in order to walk the tightrope of compromise, but because they were seen to be mutually illuminating and to fertilise each other.
This is the ‘living tension’ which was first advocated by Hooker (whom Mr Bryant has probably long forgotten since his Cuddesdon days). This finest of Anglicans (Hooker, that is; not Bryant) was opposed to absolutism in both church and state and an exponent of conciliar thought. This ensures that the laity, clergy and bishops all participate in guarding against autocracy in a system of checks and balances that in many ways apes the parliamentary process. If authority is dispersed, spiritual tyranny is prevented. The similarities between the synodical and parliamentary procedures are unsurprising when both expressions of representative government have a common root in mediaeval political thought.
Yet Chris Bryant appears to be intent on pursuing the Harman agenda and forging an absolutism in sexuality: dissent is ‘silliness’. The Archbishop of York once said of Labour that they were ‘in danger of sacrificing Liberty in favour of an abused form of equality – not a meaningful equality that enables the excluded to be brought into society, but rather an equality based on diktat and bureaucracy, which overreaches into the realm of personal conscience’.
While Mr Bryant’s grievance may have some vailidity, it only adds to the perception that the Church of England seeks to exclude or is out of sympathy with some distinct groups of people for whom it should have a pastoral concern. This would be less of a problem if the Church’s Supreme Governor were not also the Head of State, for by virtue of being so, she is obliged to exercise her public ‘outward government’ in a manner which accords with the private welfare of her subjects – of whatever creed, ethnicity, sexuality or political philosophy. The Royal Supremacy in regard to the Church is in its essence the right of supervision over the administration of the Church, vested in the Crown as the champion of the Church, in order that the ‘religious welfare’ of its subjects may be provided for.
While politicians may argue over the manner of this ‘religious welfare’ in a context of ‘equality’ and ‘rights’, by focusing on such issues they alienate and distance the Church from political engagement.
His Grace would very much like Chris Bryant to reflect on these matters, and to ask himself why he does not show equal contempt for the Roman Catholic Church or even greater contempt for Islam on this same issue.
Or would that run the risk of accusations of being ‘anti-Catholic’ or ‘Islamophobic’?
Ah, much easy to be anti-Anglican, isn’t it, Mr Bryant?