Pope Benedict XVI has again shown just how necessary and effective it can be to speak out in the face of unjust legislation against the Church.
The British government today backed down from pursuing parts of its Equality Bill, legislation which would have removed the Church’s right to refuse employing certain lay staff including, for instance, the right of a Catholic school to employ a Catholic as a head teacher. The government’s decision came after a furore in Britain following the Holy Father’s remarks to the bishops of England and Wales over such legislation.
According to The Times newspaper: “Ministers were astonished on Monday when the Pope said that the Bill violated “natural justice” and urged bishops to fight it. But that attack, along with the strength of opposition in the Lords and the limited time left to get Bills passed before the election, has sapped the Government’s enthusiasm to continue the fight.”
The Times also reports that although Harriet Harman, the minister responsible for the legislation, made no mention of the Pope’s visit to Britain this year, “it is understood that the Government did not want the dispute to overshadow preparations.”
On Monday, the Pope told the bishops that the Bill and other types of similar legislation would “impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.” The Pope added: “I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended.”
The Holy Father’s words caused outrage in sections of the media, with some arguing that the Pope shouldn’t meddle in British politics. Others have drawn up a petition to protest against his visit which is expected to take place in September. A senior official told me the reaction took many by surprise as the words of the Pope were to be expected.
Yet the strength of the protests reveals just how anti-Christian much of Britain has sadly become, and that the Church has a real battle on its hands to ensure its voice continues to be heard in the public square in the face of similar ongoing legislation. Further concerns include the closure of Catholic adoption agencies because of rules forcing them not to discriminate against same-sex couples, and what appears to be increasing public support for a law permitting assisted suicide.
On Saturday, the Holy Father will address the bishops of Scotland, in Rome for their ad limina visit. According to one senior source, the Pope will tell the bishops much the same as he told their English and Welsh counterparts.
Whether his comments will spark another storm of protest remains to be seen, but what is clear is that all this controversy will ensure the Holy Father receives plenty of attention come September.