John XXII and John Paul II, ‘twin bookends’ of Vatican II

Popes John XXIII and John Paul II are not linked only by their holiness, their popularity, and their emphasis on mercy, but by the Second Vatican Council. John Paul’s biographer George Weigel describes the two popes as the Council’s ‘twin bookends’.

The Council, which historian Eamon Duffy has described as ‘the most revolutionary Christian event since the Reformation’, took place over four sessions between October 1962 and December 1965 and was the largest gathering of any council in Church history. Unlike the Church’s previous 20 ecumenical councils, it defined no new teachings and condemned no new errors, but sought instead to translate the teachings of the Church so it could more effectively evangelize the contemporary world.

The idea of calling the Council came to John, he later said, “like a flash of heavenly light” while in prayer. John felt himself “under obedience” to the Holy Spirit, and “had noticed that disposition, in things great and small, gives me, unworthy as I am, a strength of daring simplicity.” He would need that strength, because the opposition to the council from within the Vatican bureaucracy was formidable.

It wasn’t just the idea to call the Council, but what it was for, that came to him. He had an intense desire to bring God’s love into the world, to bring Christ to every corner of it. What upset John was that the Church seemed no longer to be speaking to the world. In Pope Francis’s famous phrase, it had become “self-referential”, no longer living by the light of the Holy Spirit but too often by its own light. The Council was called to reform the Church in order that it better live by the light of Christ, and better communicate that light to the world.



In his opening address, Pope John explained that the greatest concern of the Council should be that ‘the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously,’  before distinguishing between what and how the Church teaches:

‘The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.’

The watchwords of the Council were ‘ressourcement’ and ‘aggiornamento’. Aggiornamento is an Italian word meaning ‘bringing up to date’; it required the Church to listen to the modern world — to discern the Holy Spirit at work in the modern world – in order to speak to it more effectively. Ressourcement, a French term meaning a return to the sources, offered the way in which this should be be done. In facing the challenges of modernity the Church had no need to limit itself to the methods and ideas of recent centuries when looking for answers: it had almost two thousand years of history, practice, thought, and prayer from which to draw.

John XXIII enters St Peter's on 11 October 1962, the first day of Vatican II.

John XXIII enters St Peter’s on 11 October 1962, the first day of Vatican II.

Although the Council produced 16 enormously important documents, notably ‘dogmatic constitutions’ on Divine Revelation and the Church, constitutions on liturgy and the Church in the modern world, declarations on Christian education, religious freedom, and the relations between the Church and non-Christian religions, and decrees on the laity, ecumenism, and more,  the meaning of these documents, and of the Council as a whole, was not always clear at the time.

Addressing the Clergy of Rome on 14 February last year in one of the final statements of his papacy, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who had participated in the Council as a peritus – a theological expert –attributed much of the confusion that followed the Council to a shallow popular understanding that was in many ways at odds with what the Council had agreed and decreed. Characterising the former as a ‘Council of the media’ and the latter as the true ‘Council of the Spirit’, he said:

We know that this Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy … and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself and taking shape; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surely, established itself more and more and became the true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force.

Bishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, during the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, during the Second Vatican Council.

That such understandings of Vatican II threatened to prevail was apparent even during the Council; in April 1965 the then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla wrote an open letter to the editors and staff of a Polish Catholic newspaper, in which he warned against superficial readings of the Council. Viewed from the outside, he cautioned, the Council could look like a battle between factions, but the real story of Vatican II was far more profound: the Council, he explained, was above all a transformative spiritual event in which the Holy Spirit was preparing the Church for a renewal of its mission in its third millennium.

Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, with the Dominican theologian Yves Congar during Vatican II.

Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, with the Dominican theologian Yves Congar during Vatican II.

In the years immediately following the Council this understanding was obscured. The future Pope Benedict XVI remarked in his 1985 The Ratzinger Report that Vatican II’s documents had been ‘quickly buried under a pile of superficial or frankly inexact publications’ and that these ‘misinterpretations’ had wrought catastrophic damage.  Nonetheless, he insisted, the remedy for this devastation was to be found in the Council itself.

I believe, rather, that the true time of Vatican II has not yet come, that its authentic reception has not yet begun… The reading of the letter of the documents will enable us to discover their true spirit. If rediscovered in their truth, those great texts will make it possible for us to understand just what happened and to react with a new vigour.

I repeat: the Catholic who clearly, and, consequently, painfully perceives the damage that has been wrought in his Church by the misinterpretations of Vatican II must find the possibility of revival in Vatican II itself. The Council is his, it does not belong to those who want to continue along a road whose results have been catastrophic.

The catastrophe the Pope was describing was indicated partly by the drop in priestly vocations. Although the global population rose by almost 30 per cent between 1970 and 1985, the number of priests worldwide dropped from 420,000 to 403,000 in the same period, reflecting increasing uncertainty about the role of priesthood.

John Paul II’s priority was to supply the Church with an authoritative understanding of the Council around which Catholics could unite. He also sought to recover John XXIII’s original vision of an evangelically revitalized Church speaking in language the modern world could understand. The 1983 Code of Canon Law which sought to express the Council in law, the 1985 world synod of Bishops on the Council’s twentieth anniversary, the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Great Jubilee of 2000 that pointed the Church to its third millennium were all specific attempts to bring to light the promise of Vatican II. But John Paul II’s whole teaching was to this end.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

In clarifying the meaning of the Council, John Paul II showed how aggiornamento meant not spurning the past, but building on it; as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI explained at Christmas 2005, the Council, to be understood rightly, needed to be read in terms of a ‘hermeneutic of renewal’ rather than one of ‘rupture’. Pope Francis clearly shares this view, praising as ‘the best interpreter of Vatican Council II’, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, a leading critic of those who would see the Council as a break with the past, and agreeing with Benedict’s belief that the Council needs to be seen in terms of continuity and renewal, saying that it applies as much to the sixteenth-century Council of Trent as to the Second Vatican Council.

For John XXIII, John Paul II and Francis  – as well as Paul VI and Benedict XVI — the Second Vatican Council was always about the mission: renewing the Church for a third millennium of evangelical and apostolic action. The process of that renewal has not always been easy, and was thrown off course in the 1970s (Paul VI grew increasingly alarmed at what was happening): what John XXIII initiated, and Paul VI implemented, John Paul II — with Cardinal Ratzinger — rescued and deepened, and Francis is now taking forward.  The Council is still being interpreted, and still being implemented — currently in Francis’s reforms of the synod and church governance. The task than and now was what John XXII first intuited in prayer: rebuilding the Church to bring Christ’s mercy to every corner of the world.

[Greg Daly]

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The secret of what makes the two popes saints

Speaking yesterday at a Vatican press briefing entitled ‘Why Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are saints’,  Fr Giovangiuseppe Califano, the current postulator for John XXIII’s canonisation – the fourth since 1966 – said that the heart of John’s papal ministry lay in his identification as a pastor and a father.  Indeed, meeting with representatives of John XXIII’s home diocese of Bergamo on 3 June last, Pope Francis observed that the whole world had recognised in John XXIII a true shepherd and father.

Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII

Fr Califano explained that John XXIII’s diary, published as Journal of a Soul, shows how in his first year as a seminarian he was directed towards sainthood through unity with Jesus, regular prayer of the Rosary, and constant vigilance over his own actions. He succeeded in this through his years as student, priest, bishop, and pope. He never forgot how God calls each one of us to sanctity. When he was 21 he wrote, “God desires truly that I should be a saint, and therefore I should be a saint”, and many decades later as Pope he wrote, “They call me the holy father. I should be so: holy.”

John XXIII saw his episcopal model as being one of obedience and peace, and defined his own life in these terms.  He had to face the challenge of obedience many times in his life, and as nuncio was often called upon to uproot himself and move to face new realities, new lands without familiar Catholic faces. He was able to do this through his absolute trust in God. Pope Francis has described such obedience as the action of the Holy Spirit, leading us into a life of holiness.

The then Pope Benedict XVI following in the footsteps of Pope John XXIII by visiting the children at Rome's Bambino Gesu hospital.

The then Pope Benedict XVI following in the footsteps of Pope John XXIII by visiting the children at Rome’s Bambino Gesu hospital.

When we think of John XXIII, Fr Califano went on, the images that are evoked are those of humility, generosity, and authentic joy. He cited his 1958 visit to Rome’s Bambino Gesù children’s hospital, which started a tradition that continues to this day, his visits to obscure parishes on the periphery of Rome, and his determination to ‘open the windows of the Church’ through convening the Second Vatican Council.

It is hardly surprising that more than 50 years after his death people remain devoted to the memory of Pope John and continue to ask for his prayers; as his successor, Paul VI, observed, ‘John XXIII’ was a synonym for the word ‘love’.

Father Federico Lombardi and others at yesterday's press briefing.

Father Federico Lombardi and others at yesterday’s press briefing.

Following Fr Califano, Mgr Slavomir Oder, postulator for the case of Pope John Paul II, said that John Paul II had been formed by prayer, an incredible capacity for self-reflection, and above all a life of suffering.

He lost his mother at an early age, followed by his older brother and eventually his father; he had to face incredible suffering as a young man who was completely alone. Nonetheless, said Mgr Oder, this young man decided to face the mystery of life. He did not run away from it, but entered into its drama, holding that we should live our lives such that they would be expressions of God’s glory.

Pope John Paul II always said that his father taught him how to pray, and that his home was his first seminary; like John XXIII, he was formed by a simple, popular faith.

John Paul II’s second mentor was a layman called Jan Tyranowski through whom John Paul discovered the true meaning of the laity as later presented by the Second Vatican Council. He served as a reference point through John Paul’s youth, helped him as he discerned his path to priesthood, and encouraged in him the development of a Marian and Carmelite spirituality, heavily influenced by the writings of the Carmelite mystic St John of the Cross.

Stefan Cardinal Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow during World War Two.

Stefan Cardinal Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow during World War Two.

The development of John Paul’s spiritual life can therefore be traced through the guidance of his father, Jan Tyranowski, and finally Stefan Sapieha, the archbishop of Krakow in whose underground seminary John Paul trained as a priest during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Together they helped foster his simplicity, his mysticism, and his courage.

In Krakow Archbishop Karol Woytla spoke of living within a Eucharistic space, and from there governing the Church. John Paul II to the end lived in this space right to the end, noted Mgr Oder, alluding to how Pope emeritus Benedict had described the last Mass by the bedside of his dying predecessor.

John Paul’s desire to be close to people revealed the essence of his spirituality; this was not something manufactured when he became pope but was integral to him through his whole life. Deep connections with the lives of people of faith nurtured who he was, and being close to people kept him in tune with the heart of the Church, enabling him to share the Gospel, thus helping to bring others to holiness. He lived to bring the Good News into people’s lives, so that they in turn could become holy.

Karol Wojtyla, the young Pope John Paul II.

Karol Wojtyla, the young Pope John Paul II.

Although John Paul lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland and decades of Communist oppression, it was not merely his strength and tenacity that enabled him to survive. He persisted in his devotion to God’s divine mercy, which recognised our common equality. This devotion to God’s mercy had been dear to him since Cardinal Sapieha had introduced him to the writings of Sr Faustina Kowalska, the visionary nun who died in Krakow in 1938 and whom John Paul II canonised in 2000, officially designating the first Sunday after Easter to be celebrated as the feast of Divine Mercy.

John Paul’s holiness, explained Monsignor Oder, was marked by a profound sense of gift; he knew his life was a gift from God, and believed that each step in the path of his life had been paved by the love and suffering of others. Having been so blessed, it was his duty to live his life in love; so lived, it became an expression of God’s glory.

[Greg Daly]

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When the faithful put saints on the fast track

Sunday’s historic double-canonisation has involved modifying or suspending the normal legal processes the Church uses to verify sanctity. But that’s not because John XXIII and John Paul II are popes but because the fame and devotion they inspire are all the evidence that is needed. From the earliest days of the Church such men and women have been declared saints without the need for research into their heroic virtues or the proof of miracles.

John XXIII's coffin during solemn procession in St Peter's Square in 2001.

John XXIII’s coffin during solemn procession in St Peter’s Square in 2001.

Canonisation is a declaration by the Church that people can be confident in praying to this or that person. It is a kind of certificate of authenticity. And it has a teaching function. It reminds people that there is such a thing as holiness, that it is possible, and that it comes in all shapes and sizes. John XXIII and John Paul II were both popes, but they could hardly have been more different.  As Father Robert Barron explains in his series Catholicism, ‘The Church revels in the variety of its saints because it needs such diversity in order to represent the infinite intensity of God’s goodness.’

The typical modern process of canonisation has four stages:

  • At diocesan level, a local bishop gives permission for an investigation to begin into the life and writings of a Catholic who has died; if, following this investigation, the local bishop is satisfied that there is a case for canonisation, the candidate saint is recognised as ‘Servant of God’, and his or her case is sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for further investigation.
  • The Congregation appoints a postulator who examines whether the candidate saint lived a life of ‘heroic virtue’ and addresses objections and doubts that might raised; eventually the Congregation may ask the Pope to declare the candidate saint ‘Venerable’.
  • Evidence is then gathered to determine if a miracle has occurred through the intercession of a candidate saint; a miracle, for the purposes of canonisation, is regarded as being ‘the immediate, complete, and spontaneous cure of a serious and pathological disease or condition which medical science cannot explain or refute’. After this, the candidates may be beatified – that is, the Church teaches that it is worthy of belief that they are ‘Blessed’, and are in the presence of God.
  • After a second miracle has been authenticated, the blessed may then be recognised as saints and honoured as such by the whole Church; a canonisation Mass is held, and a Feast Day is established.

The procedures exist to aid the Pope, not to constrain him, and he can suspend them when they are considered unnecessary. In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI, barely three weeks into his papacy and in no doubt of the sanctity of his predecessor, waived the traditional five-year waiting period before beginning the process that led to the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Equally Pope Francis has decided that there is no need to wait for a second authenticated miracle before declaring Pope John XXIII a saint.

This isn’t favouritism towards popes. In 2012, for instance, Pope Benedict XVI put aside the regular processes and declared the twelfth-century nun Hildegard of Bingen a saint, and Pope Francis has similarly canonised the sixteenth-century Jesuit priest Peter Faber as well as the thirteenth-century Franciscan mystic Angela da Foligno. In these cases, the process is known as an “equivalent canonisation” and involves merely a declaration by the Pope.

Crowds calling for Pope John Paul's immediate canonisation during his funeral in 2005.

Crowds calling for Pope John Paul’s immediate canonisation during his funeral in 2005.

Given the massive popular devotion to John XXIII – widely known as il papa buono, ‘the good pope’ – and John Paul II – at whose funeral Rome echoed to the cry of ‘Santo subito!’, meaning ‘sainthood now!’ – it is unsurprising that Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI felt the Church would best be served by speedy canonisations.

By doing so, Francis has reached back into the early history of the Church. The canonisation process was only centralised in 1588, and before 1234, when Pope Gregory IX introduced procedures to investigate the life and miracles of candidates for sainthood, there was no formal process of canonisation at all. Saints used to be declared by popular acclamation.

Francis speaks often of ‘God’s holy faithful people’, using a vision of the Church that comes from its earliest days and which was recovered at the Second Vatican Council. As he told Fr Antonio Spadaro in his famous Jesuit interview last year, God’s holy faithful people is ‘infallible in credendo” — that is, the body of faithful is a vehicle also of Christ’s revelation.

From the earliest days of the Church martyrs and others seen as holy were normally declared as saints at the time of their deaths by local churches. The last of Rome’s pagan emperors, for instance, when attacking the early Church, claimed that Rome’s Christians had honoured Peter and Paul and worshipped at their tombs even within the lifetime of the apostle John, and the second-century Martyrdom of Polycarp described Christians in what is now modern-day Turkey gathering and treasuring the burned bones of their martyred bishop.

In bypassing the normal legal processes for canonisation, in other words, Pope Francis is following the practice not just of his immediate predecessors, but of the earliest traditions of the Church. One of the main tasks of a bishop, and especially the Bishop of Rome, is to listen to the people. And God’s holy faithful people are good at spotting saints.

[Greg Daly]

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A healing historic moment for a Church of continuity

J23 Time 2The double canonizations this Sunday of two great popes of the modern era will allow the Church to ponder essential continuities and help heal some of the divisions over the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that followed. The short pontificate (1958-63) of John XXII — known as the ‘Good Pope’ — launched the Council, while the long papacy of John Paul II (1978-2005) consolidated an understanding of it that gave the Church a new sense of direction and unity. Because both papacies are icons of ‘progressive’ versus ‘conservative’, experienced church commentators (John Allen here, Francis X Rocca here) see the double canonizations as a call for unity between the two sides.

Even the date — 27 April, Divine Mercy Sunday — links not just the two popes with each other but with Francis too. John XXIII’s famous observation in his opening address to the Second Vatican Council that the modern Church favours ‘the medicine of mercy rather than of severity’, was echoed in John Paul II’s second encyclical, Dives in Misericordiae, a plea for mercy in the modern world; and it was John Paul II who instituted Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope Francis in one of his first interviews announced a “kairos of mercy”, and ‘mercy’ is the watchword of his papacy.

J23 TimeNineteen heads of state and 24 prime ministers are expected to attend the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square. But it will be a more sober affair than the three-day extravaganza that marked John Paul’s beatification, the last step before sainthood, in 2011. That two popes should be canonised together is a truly remarkable event: although 78 of the 265 popes who have preceded Pope Francis are recognised as saints, all bar five of are from the Church’s first millennium. Since the Church’s canonisation process was centralised in 1588, the only Pope to have been canonised was Pius X, who died in 1914 and was recognised as a saint in 1954.

What makes Sunday’s event unique is also the strong likelihood of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI attending — the first time two popes have been present at a canonisation. (Paul Elie at The Atlantic has a long article pondering the often surprising relationship between the two.) In July last year Francis described his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, largely composed by his predecessor, as “the work of four hands”. 

The cover of Time magazine's Person of the Year issue, featuring Pope Francis is pictured in this handout photoVast numbers are expected to visit Rome for the canonisation — at least a million pilgrims, with wilder predictions of 5m. Most will watch the ceremony on large screens distributed throughout the city, with many millions more around the world watching on television, or through websites such as Salt and Light and Aleteia, and even in the cinema. The Vatican Television Centre will be working with the likes of Sky and Sony, using up to 33 cameras and 9 satellites – more than were used for the 2014 Sochi Olympics – to broadcast the event, which will be shown in about 500 cinemas around the world, 47 of them in the UK alone.

[Greg Daly]

Catholic Voices will be commenting on Sunday’s historic event both from Rome and in studios in the UK, while giving background in posts on this blog. Follow us on Twitter (@CatholicVoices) for updates. 

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Francis hosts trafficking conference organised by Church in England and Wales

traffick3Last Thursday the Vatican hosted an international conference on the scandal of human trafficking, deplored by Pope Francis as a “crime against humanity”. The two-day conference, organized by the Church in England and Wales and chaired by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, brought together international police chiefs and religious leaders who pledged to work together to fight modern-day slavery. At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis met privately with four women who had been victims of trafficking.

The Church and Law Enforcement in Partnership conference brought together 120 politicians, religious leaders, police chiefs and trafficking survivors to discuss the ways in which the Church can help combat human trafficking. It was intended to build on the work of a previous 2012 conference organised by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales with the Vatican.

With an estimated 2.4 million victims per year, human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal enterprise in the world after the arms trade. The covert and exploitative nature of trafficking means that identifying trafficked individuals is an immensely difficult task, and one that requires collaborative effort from governments, the police, businesses, and voluntary groups embedded in local communities.

traffick2Cardinal Nichols, who chaired the conference, expressed his hope that anti-trafficking initiatives in the UK and especially London would become a ‘model of co-operation’ for combating human trafficking worldwide. 

The Cardinal spoke of the collaboration between the Metropolitan Police and London’s anti-slavery charities, as well as of the Coalition government’s draft Modern Slavery Bill, which aims to give greater protection to trafficking victims and increase the number of convictions for trafficking. He also spoke of plans to establish a Church-run recovery centre for trafficking survivors which will be funded through Caritas. 

The extensive work of female religious congregations, who offer support, refuge, and rehabilitation to trafficked women, was also highlighted.

traffick4Because trafficked individuals are very often unwilling or unable to come forward to the police themselves, whether due to trauma, fear of retribution, or concerns that their immigration status may be revoked, building compassionate personal relationships is of prime importance in successfully identifying and rehabilitating trafficked individuals. Previous large-scale anti-trafficking raids in the UK were often deeply distressing for the women involved and tended to yield poor results.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland of the Metropolitan Police explained how officers who conduct raids on brothels and suspected crime scenes in London ask religious sisters from a local congregation to speak to suspected victims on the raided premises, as women find themselves able to trust and confide in the sisters far more easily than with the police.

The conference also launched the Santa Marta Commitment, through which representatives from the police forces from over 20 countries pledged to “eradicate the scourge of this serious criminal activity, which abuses vulnerable people.” The Santa Marta group — so-called because they were housed in the Vatican guesthouse where Francis lives, the Casa Santa Marta — will next meet again in London in November to share expertise, do training, and organise practical initiatives to combat human trafficking both across borders and within their own countries.

Prayerful as well as practical efforts were up for discussion, such as the Day of Prayer for victims of human trafficking inaugurated on 8th January 2014. This is the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian Sister sold into slavery as a child, who is being promoted as a possible patron saint for human trafficking victims.

Addressing the conference, Pope Francis described human trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ”. The ITV News presenter Julie Etchingham, who was seated next to the Pope, said she could see his speech in his hands as he read it, and that “even by the end of the first paragraph he departed from his text”: “Basta, basta,” he exhorted. “When it comes to human trafficking, enough! Enough!” (See her account, with video clips, here. Interview with Cardinal Nichols here.)

trafficking1Francis stressed the importance of having anti-trafficking strategies that are “accompanied and reinforced by the mercy of the Gospel, by closeness to the men and women who are victims of this crime,’ and praised those who give trafficking victims ‘welcome, human warmth and the possibility of building a new life.”

Etchingham later interviewed Francis, asking him if he had a message for the traffickers and the victims.

His answer came slowly, he weighed every word. A pause between each phrase to allow the translation to come. Here is a master communicator, uncontrolled by a press officer – seizing another opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless.

“It’s an absolute shame. It’s a crime against humanity. It’s a form of slavery and as Christians, those who suffer are the body of Christ, the flesh of Christ,” he said

He paused, and added:

“Humanity still hasn’t learned how to cry, how to lament. We need many tears in order to understand the dimension of this drama.”

[Megan Hodder]

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Senior UK judge opens door to better protection of religious belief

baroness-haleBaroness Hale, one of the UK’s most senior judges, and the first woman appointed to the highest court in the land, recently set out in a speech to Yale Law School criteria for accommodating religious beliefs when these appear to clash with the rights of particular groups in society. In the light of same-sex marriage becoming law, and the demands of groups for the ‘eradication’ of views unsympathetic to theirs,  the speech is timely and could be the start of a long-overdue restoration of the law’s balancing act on discrimination and religious freedom.

She has form in this area. As deputy president of the UK’s Supreme Court, Brenda Hale has sat on judicial panels which have heard the most vexing and important cases concerning religious freedom in Britain in modern times. As she says in her speech at Yale Law School, the anti-discrimination measures adopted in the UK as a result of EU law are blunt tools. There is a conflict between, on the one hand, measures prohibiting discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation, and on the other, measures prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief when people act in accordance with that religion or belief.

Two sets of regulations were passed, in 2003 and 2007 (and now found together in the paradoxical Equality Act 2010), which stand in practical opposition to one another. The workings of these measures are often in the context of alleged discrimination by Christians against gay or lesbian people, e.g. in cases where hoteliers or bed-and-breakfast owners have denied rooms with double beds to same-sex couples (Preddy v Bull) or where, citing their Christian beliefs, employees have refused to take part in same-sex civil partnerships or sex counselling sessions (Ladele and McFarlane).

In these cases there is a tendency for courts to find the actions of the Christians to be ‘directly discriminatory’ and therefore without legal justification. This has been the case even when the policy of refusing double beds to unmarried couples has been applied to the opposite-sex unwed as to the same-sex unwed. When there is a case that the action is only indirectly discriminatory — in which case the law allows potential justifications for discrimination — English jurisprudence has been severely against any possible arguments, finding, for instance, that the lack of express exemptions and the capability of a Christian simply to resign from their job rather than compromise their beliefs, gives ample protection. Constant rulings to this effect are leading to the freezing-out of Christians from jobs and public life.

Baroness Hale does not engage with this problem (although Parliament has: consider, for example, the specific protections for faith schools, who can defend their ethos from secular dilution, or for medical professions faced with complicity in abortion) but instead contrasts EU law with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The ECHR posits positive protections for religious beliefs and practices (Article 9) and private life (Article 8), whereas EU law prohibits discrimination under both heads of sexual orientation and religion. EU law arises from the current Treaty of European Union between some 28 states; the Convention, on the other hand, has some 47 states party to it. There are some key differences between the two corpuses: the Convention usually protects a person or entity against the state and is rarely useable against another person (legal or natural) although its application is wide, whereas EU law covers employment, occupation and training in both the private and public sector for the purpose of establishing a common market in labour.

Although she does not quite put it this way, Lady Hale notes that the Convention allows more flexibility in its interpretation. Discrimination may be justified in the context of human rights when it is a proportionate response to a legitimate aim, although some areas require stronger justifications than others. “Sexual orientation falls into the category requiring ‘’weighty reasons” to justify a difference in treatment” she notes, yet:

 How much more satisfactory it would be, I have suggested, if there were to be a general defence of justification in discrimination law, so that courts and tribunals could get down to addressing the real issues – legitimate aim, rational connection, proportionality – rather than looking for distinctions which mean that they hold there was no discrimination at all. The problem has become more acute now that we have so many more protected characteristics which may well conflict with one another, in particular religious belief and sexual orientation.

What legal tools can be applied to carve out a less rigid understanding of the relationship between anti-discrimination measures? Lady Hale’s conclusion is that, “instead of all the technicalities which EU law has produced”, it would be

 [a] great deal simpler if we required the providers of employment, goods and services to make reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of others. We can get this out of the ECHR approach but not out of our anti-discrimination law (although it is well established there in relation to disability).

What would this legal test look like? Adopting the “powerful minority” of dissenting judges in a recent ECtHR decision, Francesco Sess v Italy (concerning a Jewish lawyer refused adjournment of his case to a decide which did not coincide with Jewish holy days), Lady Hale agreed that when deciding the proportionality of a restriction on the freedom to manifest religion, the “means which is least restrictive of rights and freedoms” must be adopted, so “seeking a reasonable accommodation may, in some circumstances, constitute a less restrictive means of achieving the aim pursued”.

This means “employers might have to make reasonable accommodation for the right of their employees to manifest their religious beliefs and suppliers of services might have to make reasonable accommodation for the right of their would-be customers to use them.”

Whilst a reasonable accommodation test would be better than the status quo, where measures prohibiting discrimination against Christians will almost always lose as a matter of law, the main objection is that it is far from certain whether it would be sufficient in practice to alter the balance as it currently stands. Lady Hale cites two cases before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal which were discussed in one of the B&B cases, Preddy v Bull, in arguments before the UK Supreme Court.

The BCHRT cases concerned, firstly, the Catholic Knights of Columbus, who hired their hall to a lesbian couple for a reception after their marriage. The letting was cancelled when the Knights found out about the purpose of the rental. The tribunal “accepted that the Knights could not be compelled to act in a manner contrary to their core belief that same-sex marriages were wrong” but because “they did not consider the effect their actions would have on the couple, did not think of meeting them to explain the situation and apologize, or offer to reimburse them for any expenses they had incurred or to help find another solution”, the Knights “failed in their duty of reasonable accommodation… In effect, they did not appreciate the affront to the couple’s human dignity and do their best to soften the blow.” In the other case, Christians who cancelled the booking of a gay couple failed in their duty of reasonable accommodation “in the offensive manner of the cancellation and the failure to explore alternatives”.

Do we really want to see Christians lose their rights to manifest their deeply-held beliefs just because they failed to apologise correctly? Whilst the cancellations might have been rude, surely that rudeness in and of itself cannot trump the otherwise reasonable right they have to act in accord with their formed conscience, in ways recognised and supported by millions of people around the world? The precise interpretation of facts in a broader balance lies at the heart of legal activity. Baroness Hale herself sees this problem:

I wonder whether that is something of a relief or whether we would be better off with a more nuanced approach. I find it hard to believe that the hard-line EU law approach to direct discrimination can be sustainable in the long run. But I am not sure how comfortable I would be with the sort of balancing exercise required by the Canadian approach. At all events, it is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without.

 And make no mistake: if there were to be a reasonable accommodation test, it would be used in more and more situations. As the UK Supreme Court showed in its recognition of Scientology as a religion, English law reduces protections for conventional and orthodox religious belief while at the same time widening the category of beliefs which fall to be protected as religious.

Lady Hale’s speech should be welcomed for its recognition that Christians in Britain are often in tricky legal positions. She doesn’t accept that religious belief is worthy of any special protection just because it is religious (hence the snarky aside about “a country with an established church”, above) and she echoes Lord Justice Laws’ famous retort to George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, when Carey criticised the courts for failing to recognise the privileges of established Christianity (“there is an important distinction to be drawn between the law’s protection of the right to hold and express a belief and the law’s protection of that belief’s substance or content,” said Laws. “The general law may of course protect a particular social or moral position which is espoused by Christianity, not because of its religious imprimatur, but on the footing that in reason its merits commend themselves.”) But her logic, subtle and incremental as it is, may help tip the scales back towards protecting Christians living and working in the secular world.

[Peter Smith is a barrister]

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The state has eviscerated marriage. Society must rebuild it.

When the first gay weddings are celebrated this weekend in the UK, those who feel  discomfort at the state’s redefinition of marriage will be made to feel even worse by being jeered at from some quarters as homophobes and bigots. The brilliantly successful attempt to frame the redefinition of marriage as the final stage of a civil rights campaign for gay equality has had its effect; and many Christians, rightly appalled at finding themselves cast in the role prepared for them, want desperately that the Church now “demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being”, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has put it.

Feelings run high, because many gay people have been persuaded that those who oppose gay marriage object to them, or their love, or their desire for equality. They have been told that not just by campaigning organizations such as Stonewall, but by the Government itself, which has sought to capitalize on gay peoples’ feelings of anger and exclusion by offering them gay marriage in sympathy. In this trading of self-interest — gay groups needing to deliver victories, governments needing to feel good about civil rights — opponents of SSM have been scapegoated. They have been painted as irrational people driven by phobia — or in the case of religious people, by atavistic theological impulses —  which will make it will be harder for them, over time, to be teachers or public servants. The state has introduced a new, official definition of marriage which is wholly out of keeping with that of society, and those who dare to say so will pay the price.

Catholic Voices, which has been a prominent advocate of retaining the conjugal understanding of marriage since the move was first announced out of the blue in the party conferences of 2011, has had a fair share of abuse hurled at it, its arguments for conjugal marriage dismissed as rationalizations for homophobia. It has often got personal. Just last night one of the CV speakers, Caroline Farrow, was spat at and told she was ‘disgusting’ as she left the BBC Question Time studio at Brighton University after she opposed same-sex marriage (SSM) from the audience. Her Twitter feed afterwards filled up with the kinds of insults and language that at one time, ironically, gay people used to suffer.

“Love is love,” the deputy prime minister declared today, as if that’s what this was always about — the opponents of SSM believing, presumably, that love is never, or sometimes not, love. It is part of a frame that casts opponents of SSM as grim reactionaries fuming from the sidelines while the champagne flutes sparkle and the wedding cakes are cut and love is declared.

But it’s not gay people, or love, or equality that we oppose, but the evisceration of marriage. And that is why we find it hard to stay silent.

What is at stake

What is at stake is that, in order to accommodate one group’s desire to have their love legitimated by the state — a dubious idea in itself — the state has emptied marriage of its essential meaning. It has changed marriage from an understandable, recognizable, conjugal institution, one hallowed by faith and civil society, to an ersatz, hollowed-out arrangement that cannot be called an institution at all. That matters because it makes marriage less interesting, less attractive and less important. People — gay or straight — will increasingly come to ask: why do I need a piece of paper from the state to prove I love someone? If marriage is simply “about” the love between any two people, what has the state got to do with it anyway?

In the past, that question has been simple to answer. The state recognises, protects and supports the pre-existing social and cultural understanding of marriage as an institution linked to, but not conditional on, reproduction, at the heart of which is a sexual relationship between a man and a woman. That relationship is apt for, even if it does not always produce, children; and because the rearing of children by their biological parents matters, the conditions of marriage — permanence and fidelity — are designed to support that end.  That is the only reason the state has ever wished to single it out and promote it: not to recognize, or endorse, the love between two people, which is no business of the state, but to regulate and protect an institution whose elements are designed to benefit children, even when no children issue.

Were it not for reproduction, marriage would not exist. The fact that some marriages are childless, or do not last (because of death and divorce), or involve adopting children, does not detract from this understanding. Marriage has a meaning. It offers a model, an understanding — what the Greeks call a telos — which makes it what it is. You may not want it, and you may not qualify for it, but you know — you used to know — what it stands for. 

Although much is made of the fact that gay couples will now be admitted to this hallowed, timeless social institution, the uncomfortable fact — and Stonewall and the Government, who drafted the legislation know this all too well — is that they are being admitted to another institution altogether: an ersatz, eviscerated, parody of the real thing.

An ersatz ‘institution’

For a start, their sexual activity is irrelevant; consummation, in the new definition, is not required (at least for gay people; part of the anomaly of this law designed to bring about equality is that it creates two categories of marriage): thus an institution linked to reproduction is now a desexualised institution. (The Church, which has long insisted that sex is for marriage, must now insist, counter-culturally, that marriage is for sex.)

Second, marriage has always been understood as the bringing together of man and woman; it is a gendered, gender-specific, gender-complementary institution. Yet the new version of marriage “means the union of two people”, according to Hackney Council’s new script. Any two people.

Third, marriage has been understood to be about fidelity. Yet sexual exclusivity is no longer a requirement for a gay marriage: adultery has been stripped from it as grounds for divorce.

The new version of marriage, then, is not about sex, not about a man and woman, and not about permanence and fidelity. What, then, is left? The answer is Clegg’s: it is sentiment — the feeling (but not the sexual act) of love — between two people.

Love is not the condition

Many would agree that love is what the institution of marriage is “about”. But love has never been the sole condition of marriage. What makes marriage are all these elements: one man plus one woman, brought together through love and affection, sexually bonded for life, faithful to each other, in order to provide the best environment for the creation and rearing of children.

The government edition is a vague, sentimental partnership, parasitic on the richer, deeper meaning of marriage — would gay people want it if it weren’t? — yet at the same time destructive of that meaning. It cannot last.

The impact

What will the effect be? It is too early to say conclusively. The UK is one of just 15 nations to have dethroned conjugal marriage, and the first was one to do so was barely a decade ago. But we can make some predictions based on the experiences of those other countries, as well as common sense, all of which point to the progressive weakening of the significance and meaning of marriage in society. Here are three.

1. Civil marriage will over time come to be seen as insignificant and incoherent. People will ask, “why bother? What is it? Why do I need it?” Fewer will marry. And the main victims will be the children of poor families, who are the ones who most benefit from being raised by their biological parents in a stable environment. (See the studies cited here pp 257-8).

2. Despite the claims of lobbies and the Government’s own wishful thinking, gay marriage will not strengthen marriage. The take-up in other countries, and the expected take-up in the UK, has been far too low to make any impact on marriage as a whole — even if gay marriages were strong, which they are not: the divorce rate among those few same-sex couples who do enter marriage is far higher than among straight couples — and in lesbian couples is above 70 per cent.

3. Marriage will be further weakened by future claims from sexual groups also seeking legitimacy from the state. The lesson from other countries is not that gay marriage leads to the legalisation of polyamorous and other kinds of unions — although it has in some places — but that the state is urged to consider them, and must oppose them from a unstable, even incoherent, juridical basis. If marriage has been redefined in one particular (man plus woman) why not in other particulars (fidelity, permanence, restricting numbers to two)? The arguments are incoherent, and further weaken the idea of marriage.

The equality chimera

Does the desire for equality have any part in these discussions? When she was making up her mind about the law which she bravely — to the horror of her parliamentary colleagues – voted against, Sarah Teather, the Lib-Dem MP and former minister, a passionate advocate of equality and gay rights, came to the conclusion that the rights involved counted for very little. She told the House:

The argument in favour of same-sex marriage has mostly centred on rights. But this isn’t the only liberal philosophical perspective on the legislation. The more I considered this bill the more I was unsure about the state’s role. If an important reason for marriage is that it is a space for having and raising children, I can see the relevance for the state being involved in regulating it and encouraging stability for the good of society and for children’s welfare. Similarly, if there is a need for protection of rights to property and rights to make decisions, there are good reasons for the state to provide regulation. But neither of these things is what this legislation is trying to do. In this case, the state is regulating love and commitment alone, between consenting adults, without purpose to anything else. That feels curious to me, as I would normally consider that very much a private matter.

And there is the rub. The campaign for gay marriage — inviting our politicians to be part of an intoxicating, historic civil rights campaign opposed only by dinosaurs and bigots — was never about securing legal rights or ending the exclusion from the benefits of the law. If being unable to marry was a symptom of discrimination against gay people, why was it never mentioned on the marches? Why was it never part of the gay rights battle against discrimination? (In countries where same-sex marriage has been legalized, the take-up has been small, and dwindles over time.)

This was always a symbolic, political move by a lobby seeking from the state an endorsement — a secular blessing — for gay relationships. The price for that political victory has been paid in the destruction of marriage’s core meaning.

Stonewall’s strategy throughout has been to frame the opposition to gay marriage as a kind of homophobic spluttering from suburban old people in cardigans. “Same-sex couples are living in committed, loving relationships and people have realised that the sky has not fallen in,” says its spokesman today. But that is wholly to deflect the point. It is not homosexuality or gay people that opponents have a problem with but the evisceration of marriage.

That is why we must continue to speak up, and refuse to be labelled as anti-gay. As Catholic Voices showed in the only ever UK survey of attitudes to SSM among gay people, there are many, many gay people deeply opposed to this move — and even more who believe it has been wrong to press for it.

A time to rebuild

We must continue to speak, too, against the other tactic of SSM advocates —  to paint religious opponents as driven by some kind of theocratic urge to impose its theological understanding on society. That is a gross misreading. Not only does the Church respect the secular autonomy of civil marriage, it also believes the state should continue to defend and uphold the meaning of marriage which neither Church nor state has the power to change. Church and state have traditionally provided two avenues to the same institution, an arrangement that serves the common good. That partnership will now be under severe strain.

The sky will not fall in. But now that the state has destroyed marriage’s intrinsic meaning, the gap between the true understanding of it and the ersatz version confected by the state will grow over time. On the plus side, that makes evangelization easier.

The passage of the UK’s gay marriage law was a shocking display of naked state power: there was no real debate, no authentic consultation, no proper time given to the issue. Unannounced in any campaign manifesto, it was driven by the collusion of all three parties, driven at speed through Parliament in order not to give time for civil society to organize in response.

That is why the mobilization of energies and resources in support of marriage called for by Pope Francis in the Catholic bishops’ synods of 2014 and 2015 could not come at a better time. The recovery of the key institution of human society needs to begin from below. That is the task to which the Church must now turn.

The battle was lost; but now is not the time for growling or sulking. Opponents of SSM will not celebrate this weekend, but nor should they stand grim-faced at the sidelines. While the state hollows out marriage, others must begin rebuilding it from below. Manif-pour-tous

[Austen Ivereigh]

Catholic Voices speakers are today appearing in many media. Fr Edmund Montgomery is quoted here, Fiona O’Reilly here. Fr Edmund has been on Sky and BBC R5 Live. O’Reilly has been on BBC News. Ivereigh has been on BBC ‘Today’ (at 52 mins here) BBC Radio London (Vanessa Feltz show), and on Radio 2 ‘Jeremy Vine’ show. Laura Keynes has been on BBC Radio Cambridge. Many of these, and other clips, will be available later on our website here

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