LONDON — More than 1,000 priests signed a letter to a British daily newspaper urging local lawmakers “not to be afraid to reject” a proposed measure that would allow for same-sex “marriage” in the country.
“Legislation for same-sex 'marriage,' should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences,” warned the letter, which was published Jan. 12.
The move would “severely restrict” Catholics’ ability to “teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship,” the priests said.
In December, the Conservative government announced plans to introduce legislation allowing for same-sex “marriage” before 2015. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said religious groups would be allowed, but not compelled, to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.
The 1,067 signatories represent a quarter of the priests of England and Wales. They include eight bishops, as well as the ordinary of the group for Anglican converts and four Benedictine abbots.
The letter, published by The Telegraph, opens by remembering that Catholics were persecuted for centuries in Britain and only in recent times have been able to “be members of the professions and participate fully in the life” of the country.
Until 1829, Catholics in Britain were prohibited from entering some professions, and the Church in England was left without bishops from the time of Elizabeth I until 1850. Professing Catholicism remains the only faith that would bar a member of the royal family from becoming the reigning monarch.
“It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time,” the letter’s signatories wrote.
Commenting on the letter, one of its signatories, Father Timothy Finigan, wrote that “the question of teaching something as true is at the heart of the debate over the freedom of the Church to teach.”
Lawyers have warned that, should the legislation pass, Catholic schools could lose funding, teachers could be disciplined or fired for refusing to promote same-sex 'marriage,' and chaplains at hospitals, prisons and military bases could face legal reprisal.
The priests’ letter pointed to the “natural complementarity” of the male and female sexes that leads to marriage as a “lifelong partnership” between a man and a woman.
This partnership is the “foundation and basic building block of our society,” they wrote, because of the “home, children and family life” to which it gives rise.
Bishop Philip Egan of the Portsmouth Diocese signed the letter, and told The Telegraph that, while the letter uses “strong language” in reference to the government’s plans, something “like this is totalitarian.”
“I am very anxious that when we are ... teaching in our Catholic schools or witnessing to the Christian faith of what marriage is that we are not going to be able to do it — that we could be arrested for being bigots or homophobes,” Bishop Egan said.
The more than 1,000 signatures were collected in mere weeks, and the effort was initiated not by the Church hierarchy, but was instead a “grassroots” effort, according to The Telegraph. The priests who signed the letter reportedly come from a wide array of viewpoints in the Church.
“Congratulations to the young and dynamic priests who organized this highly significant act of witness,” wrote Father Finigan.
“This issue, and the firm and dear witness of our bishops in the matter, has united the Catholic Church in our country.”