Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

a return to penal times?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 12, 2009

The CNS reports that an antidiscrimination statute under consideration in Britain could make it unlawful for the Catholic Church to require that her priests be male and celibate.

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales said they could be at risk of prosecution under a proposed law unless they accept women, sexually active gays and transsexuals as candidates to the priesthood. They made their claims in a briefing for Catholic members of the House of Lords, Britain's upper political chamber, ahead of a scheduled Dec. 15 debate on the Equality Bill, which aims to stamp out discrimination in the workplace.


According to the briefing, a copy of which was obtained by Catholic News Service Dec. 8, the government definition will, in effect, make it "unlawful to require a Catholic priest to be male, unmarried or not in a civil partnership, etc., since no priest would be able to demonstrate that their time was wholly or mainly spent either leading liturgy or promoting and explaining doctrine."

It's tough to know what degree of alarm is justified here. The text of the proposal is troubling, but much depends on the concrete circumstances of enforcement, whether the law could or would in fact be used against the Church -- to return faithful Catholics to penal times, in effect. On the one hand we don't want to scream that the sky is falling when it isn't, on the other hand we'd be fools to deny that not only militant secularists but many of our co-religionists earnestly want the heavens to tumble and would press for the law's strictest possible enforcement so as to force the Church to capitulate.

Yet the real battle is not over a "clerical exemption" for Catholics but over the justice of discrimination full stop. The Church teaches that there are cases in which it is permissible and cases in which it is obligatory to discriminate. The CDF sounded the call to arms seventeen years ago: "Where a matter of the common good is concerned, it is inappropriate for Church authorities to endorse or remain neutral toward adverse legislation even if it grants exceptions to Church organizations and institutions." By and large the bishops -- not only in Britain -- failed to rally and fight for this ground. Having ceded the main pass to the Church's adversaries, they can hardly be shocked to learn that the war has moved beneath their own windows.

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