Gay marriage debate: aggressive posturing by Church serves no one

The Tablet Blog

Fr Martin Boland, Dean of Brentwood (Roman Catholic) Cathedral

18 January 2013, 9:00

Although I am opposed to the coalition Government’s plan to recognise same-sex marriage in law, I have, nevertheless, been left feeling uneasy about some aspects of the debate surrounding this subject, and in particular by the manner and terms in which the problem has been discussed.

It is true that respectful and thoughtful debate has taken place. I am grateful to those teachers in the Church who have tried ‘to speak the truth in love’. They have sought to present the Catholic position in a way that is reasonable and theologically compassionate while recognising the lived experience of those involved. On the Feast of the Holy Family, I read Archbishop Vincent Nichols‘ pastoral letter on this subject to the people of my parish. It was a model of moderation, pastoral sensitivity and clear reasoning.

However, there have been those within the Church who have chosen to employ intellectually blunt and confrontational arguments when discussing this matter. As the temperature of the debate rises, so there is a danger that their voices will become more strident. I wonder how helpful this is?

Although the polemical sound bite may capture the attention of the media, I wonder if it helps us address the complexity of the issues raised in a mature and informed way? Is an adversarial approach to those who disagree with us, the correct way to appeal to the reason and consciences of men and women? Whether this Government finally succeeds in introducing this legislation, what many people both within and outside the Church will remember is the language and demeanour which was used to present our arguments.

These questions are also of more general concern and are particularly pertinent to those who hold any teaching position or claim any theological competence within the Church. Responding to the issues of our age with a militant defensiveness, or a prescriptiveness that oversimplifies issues will not serve us well. The frustration the Church might feel in the face of liberal modernity should not be used as an excuse for a kind of latent ecclesiastical aggression. Sabre-rattling may make us feel manly, but it also deafens us both to the truth of people’s lives and God’s will for us. If those who teach in the Church choose to communicate in an idiom which alienates significant numbers of people then the liberating message of Christ risks being either treated with suspicion, received selectively or completely rejected. Seeking to patronise or infantilise the laity in this area can only serve to weaken the teaching authority of the Church.

Good teaching depends on a profound humility. None of us possesses a complete, final knowledge of all things. For example, our understanding, as many commentators have made clear, of the nature and meaning of the homosexual orientation is, at this point in time, incomplete. We may have a greater understanding of this sexual orientation than a century ago, but there is still more for us to know, to question and to understand. We should therefore hesitate to offer lapidary judgements about those who possess this orientation and humbly recognise that simplistic readings of natural law in this regard may not be entirely helpful.

People may have a very clear idea of what the Church’s teachers do not find acceptable. But can those same teachers articulate any viable and life-giving ways by which people might live? For example, what, if any, social, legal or moral respect should those with a homosexual orientation be afforded?

On Saturday a letter was published in The Telegraph. It was signed by over 1,000 priests. I was not one of those because I knew nothing about this letter. Our ecclesial unity and sacerdotal identity are jeopardised if responses to important issues are managed in such a way that they do not involve the whole presbyterate. We should resist the creation of a two-tier presbyterate – those with a voice, who appear to have influence and those who feel they have neither voice nor influence. Priests need to be sure that well-meaning groups who feel strongly about certain issues have the considered approval of our bishops. In all our arguments and campaigns, preserving our unity in faith must take priority. If that does not happen, then it may be that we do not only lose the argument of the day but we lose our very reason for being.

Fr Martin Boland is Dean of Brentwood Cathedral and parish priest of Holy Cross and All Saints’, Warley


Father Martin Boland admits in his blog that the stance of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales on the debate about Same-Sex Marriage has been lacking in both charity and compassion.

Indeed the speeches of some of the Roman Catholic hierarchy have been little less than incendiary – a problem that does little good for the non-Catholic population of England and Wales who already have little time for religious fulminations against the LGBT community both inside and outside the Church.

The level of debate has been based, mainly, on the traditional status of Marriage, which has long been thought the preserve of heterosexual couples, whose intention is to raise a family – forgetting that, in these modern times, many couples marry with little or no intention of having children – included among them are older couples whose capacity for procreation is limited if not non-existent.

With many Roman Catholic couples now deciding not to comply with their Church’s decree against contraception, there is no guarantee that every Catholic couple will produce children – a reality that questions the objection against Same-Sex Marriage, on account of the absence of the procreative element that the R.C. Church believes should be present in order to make a valid marriage.

Another factor that the Church seems not to have taken into account, is that Gay Couples who seek to contract into a life-long, monogamous relationship, could to provide a living  example of committed faithfulness to a single partner, that might enhance, and not denigrate, the reputation of Marriage as the model for coupled relationship.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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8 Responses to Gay marriage debate: aggressive posturing by Church serves no one

  1. James Callender says:

    No sexual complementarity within sodomy, the absence of procreative potential is not debarred one iota by individual Catholics deviating from Church doctrine. Have a read of Humanae Vitae please. Catholic moral doctrine does not change when the wind blows like Anglican “theology”…

    • kiwianglo says:

      Maybe not, James. However, the fact that part of Roman Catholic doctrine and ‘theology’ is that artificial contraception is not allowed does not prevent the majority of married Roman Catholics taking no notice of it. This is not just ‘a wind blowing’, but, rather, a typhoon.

      Also, sodomy is not confined to homosexual relationships – not is it always a factor in such relationships. Another fact is that heterosexuals are not immune from engaging in such behaviour, maybe even to escape the moral persuasion of ‘no contraception’.


      • You are correct about Catholics not being at liberty to dispense with Humanae Vitae, however, failure on the laity (and sadly the clergy) to show obedience to the Church in these matters does not invalidate the moral teachings embodied in the said encyclical.

        The consistent teaching of the Church regarding sexual activity has been and continues to be that “it is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good,” as stated in the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Church’s teaching affirms both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexual activity. Any form of sexual activity which excludes either or both of these meanings is judged immoral: whether this is loveless sex between a husband and wife, which would deny the unitive meaning of sexual activity, or the genital relationship between two homosexual persons, which denies the procreative meaning, however profound their relationship and commitment to each other.


  2. kiwianglo says:

    Dear James, you may not have noticed (although I fear you might have because of derogatory marks you have made about us in a previous remark, here) but Ekklesia Anglicana is not bound by the Roman Catholic Magisterium for any of its pronouncements. We do what seems best for God’s children as we discern their real needs in today’s world – not the world of the 1st c. A.D.

  3. kiwianglo says:

    Another point, James, that you seem not to be aware of, is that the Roman Catholic Church does not deny the Sacrament of Marriage to couples who are either incapable or unwilling to procreate.- – one of your objection to Same-Sex relationships.

  4. James Callender says:

    Ah, Fr. Martin, that old chestnut…..
    This is a complicated subject, more clarification here :
    Yes I am familiar with the history and practice of the Anglican Church. They have no truck with Rome and this attitude is reciprocated in the other direction…….I’m just intrigued by the notion of “Anglo-Catholic”…. if an Anglican is “Catholic” enough (which I do dare to wonder how this is possible) then they would know about Apostolicae Curae and I dare guess would get swimming across the Tiber at lightning speed…
    “We do what seems best for God’s children as we discern their real needs in today’s world – not the world of the 1st c. A.D.”
    I thought that Christianity was based on eternal moral truths, not accommodation to today’s age?

  5. kiwianglo says:

    James, all Church doctrine is ‘complicated’. However, the Roman denjomination does not encapsulate the total wisdom of ‘catholicity’. there are iother Churches that claim to be part of the body of Christ – Anglican among them. However, we are not so brazen as to think we have ‘The Whole Truth’. We have no authoritarian Magisterium, that has the luxury of promoting – from a human standpoint – what they think may be that Truth. Christ is Head of The Church – not any human being. Thanks be to God!

  6. I think I’ll agree to disagree ..
    But I am confused because what you are advocating sounds more like low Church Anglicanism to me…..I thought that Anglo-Catholics had some notion of Apostolic Succession… and this succession had to start from a source… ie. Peter and the Apostles, of which Peter was the Queen of the Apostles, as I am sure you know, and Christ did not speak to Peter in a certain way for nothing…

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