Fr. Matthew is a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and currently serves as Parish Priest in a rural parish in the English Midlands. He is also a school chaplain and is passionate about ministry with young people. Fr. Matthew is the author of Building the Kingdom in the Classroom, which details his experiences of ministry in schools.
It is a sadly rare occurrence that a public figure makes a stand for his faith and the teaching of the Church and so I was gladdened this week when a U.K. member of parliament did just that. Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative member of parliament for North East Somerset. He has recently risen in prominence following much speculation that he might succeed Theresa May as prime minister.
During an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain Mr. Rees-Mogg was asked firstly about same-sex marriage. He gently but firmly replied:
I am a Catholic and I take the teaching of the Catholic Church seriously in matters of faith and morals. Marriage is a sacrament and the decision of what is a sacrament lies with the Church, not with parliament. The teaching of the Church is completely clear. I don’t want to criticize people who lead lives that are different to mine but equally I don’t want to divert from the historic teaching of the Catholic Church.
Later on in the interview he was asked about his views on abortion, his response was:
I’m completely opposed to abortion. With same-sex marriage that is something that people are doing for themselves; with abortion it is something that is done to the unborn child… Life is sacrosanct and begins at the point of conception and I think it is wrong.
What followed can only be described as a media backlash. All the mainstream newspapers carried negative articles, some of which attacked personally Mr. Rees-Mogg’s integrity and questioned his position as an MP and possible future leader. This has led one bishop to comment:
It is a mark of the extremes to which the leaders of public opinion are moving that a politician who simply accepts Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life and the identity of marriage is considered exceptional.
The message that all sends to Catholics and people of faith is that traditional faith-based ethical views have no place in the political arena and should be excluded and even ridiculed.
We need to think hard about how we support and uphold faithful fellow members of the Church who stand up for the Church and ultimately defend us. So often, so-called Catholic politicians are more political than Catholic. They have become stuck in the political machine and do more damage to the Faith by their careerism and watered-down version of the truth.
We are facing an unprecedented crisis of humanity and Catholics must speak out more clearly and coherently than ever before. It is tempting to retreat and not face head on these battles for the soul of our nations. Over the summer I read some of the writing of Cathleen Kaveney, Professor of Theology at Boston College. She proposes a new ‘Culture of Engagement’. Her title plays on a phrase used frequently by Pope Francis: ‘Culture of Encounter.’
Kaveney articulates that now is the time for the Church to interact with the prevailing culture as well as the social, political, legal and economic spheres of society. To achieve this we need the faithful to be comfortable in their own skin and to be well catechized in the truths of Jesus and his Church. We can only hope to be transformative if the Church herself is transformed.
We may not have the platform that Jacob Rees-Mogg and other public figures have, but we can make a stand by being faithful and openly Catholic in our own lives, workplaces, schools and churches. Being Catholic without compromise is the answer. We can also try to hold to account ‘Catholic’ politicians who fail to uphold the Church’s teaching and offer our support and praise for those who put Jesus before personal gain and ambition.