Cameron takes on the Pope
Not content with rebuking the Church of England and publicly rowing with the Archbishop of Canterbury, David Cameron has now decided to take on the Bishop of Rome, successor of St Peter the Apostle, the King of the Vatican City State and worldwide leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
This is nothing new, of course. English monarchs and British prime ministers have throughout the centuries felt obliged to tell various successors of St Peter where they can go. But the great battles of ages past tended to be concerned with issues of sovereignty: now it is all about sexuality.
Tony Blair challenged Pope Benedict XVI on homosexuality; David Cameron has chosen contraception. In each case, they appear to believe that centuries of Roman Catholic orthodoxy can be overturned by 'the strength of our arguments'. They mistake Rome's Magisterium for the Church of England's General Synod. The motto of the Church of Rome is 'Semper Eadem'; that of the Church of England is 'Argumentum ad Nauseam'.
His Grace, being Anglican, happens to believe that condoms save lives, especially in Africa. And he would much rather a child not be conceived than aborted. For these reasons, in this incontinent age of unrestraint, he believes that contraception should be accessible across the globe. The Church of England accepted birth control in the 1930 Lambeth Conference. In the 1958 Lambeth Conference it stated that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents 'in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife'.
Not so with the Church of Rome, which specifies that all sex acts must be both unitive and procreative. Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae of 1968 decreed that all artificial contraception is intrinsically evil. According to the new Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, this is 'infallible teaching'.
That's a shame, because it means it was declared ex cathedra, and so is immutable, semper eadem (take this understanding up with the Bishop-elect Mgr Philip Egan, not His Grace).
And that leaves millions of Roman Catholics all over the world somewhat at variance with their church on this matter. Everyone knows that the papal ban on artificial birth control is largely ignored, and many millions of otherwise sincere and obedient Roman Catholics long for a change of policy. The women in particular (including a few American nuns) might rather like the Pope to listen the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (and the President of the United States) on this matter.
The thing is, of course, that those Roman Catholics who speak out against their church hierarchy are manifesting that very same spirit of protest which ushered in the Protestant Reformation. One either submits to the infallible teachings of one's church, or one disputes and disobeys them. Roman Catholicism is not like à la carte Anglicanism: one may not choose one dimension of the Magisterium and pour scorn upon the rest; one may not prefer one ecumenical council over another; one may not be ‘a pro-abortion Catholic’ or a 'pro-condom Catholic' any more than one may be a paedophile priest. And for Pope Benedict, flooding Africa with condoms is tantamount to murder. This is not a battle the Prime Minister can win.