No response from the Bishops of England & Wales. It wasn't just that I didn't notice anything - Fr. Ray Blake also noted the deafening silence.
So I was very pleased to hear rumours that, once again, a Bishop from Scotland had stepped into the breach, and was stating, in no uncertain terms, that David Cameron's reassurances on the one hand and attacks on the other really wouldn't do. Unfortunately, Scotland on Sunday didn't seem to like the fact that a Catholic Bishop should want to defend Catholic teaching, and so took the Bishop to task for his "intemperate" letter with its "sarcastic" tirade. Scottish bishops do have a bit of a reputation for directness of approach, but, given the mainstream media's enchantment with the idea of same-sex marriage, I was a little dubious as to the truthfulness of the account of the epistolary exchange.
Nowhere did the original letters appear, and so I contacted the Bishop himself.
The full correspondence made for very interesting reading. It wasn't my idea of an intemperate and sarcastic tirade. A little forthright, perhaps, not written in the usual diplomatic-ese, but only in so far as it called a spade a shovel. The Bishop showed great restraint, in my humble opinion, in not calling the spade a shovel and battering the Prime Minister over the head with it. Instead he merely handed the shovel over and invited the Prime Minister to recommence his digging...
To begin with, Bishop Devine's first letter was asking the Prime Minister for an explanation of the conflict between his statement that Christians should have the right to wear a cross at work (and that the law should be changed to allow this, if necessary) and the Government's petitioning of the European Court of Human Rights to judge that Christians should accept that personal expressions of faith at work might cost them their jobs. The letter ended by asking for an assurance that Christians' freedom of thought, conscience and religion would be respected.
The reply from Mr. Cameron was abrupt and rather dismissive. He stated that the Government's position was that people should be allowed to wear a cross at work, but that the Government wanted to fight against this at the European Court of Human Rights because the cases being examined had been lost at tribunals and courts in the UK and the Government didn't want UK law to be overturned in Europe.
Oh, right. That's ok then. Injustice towards a minority group is allowed, and actually to be encouraged, just so long as it is British injustice. None of that European injustice for us Christians, thank you very much!
Bishop Devine, not unnaturally, appeared to feel that this really needed a reply. He reiterated his point that the first letter had actually asked for assurances about freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and went on to state that no such reassurances had been given. The Bishop also pointed out that, with the conflicting positions of what Mr. Cameron said and what he actually did, it was hardly surprising that people would be wary of trusting him in the future.
The Bishop also pointed out that Catholics were the one faith group not provided for in law, and stated that he suspected it was only a matter of time "...before you go one step further and outlaw the teaching of Christian doctrine on sexual morality on the grounds of discrimination."
The Bishop then warned Mr. Cameron against rushing through legislation on same-sex marriage:
"Counsel from respected legal experts warn of the damage that redefining marriage will do to Christian religious freedom and the protection of family life, all of which will further undermine Christians freedom of conscience. We face the prospect of teachers being forced to teach against their religious beliefs or face dismissal... the likelihood that parents would have no right to withdraw their child from lessons endorsing gay marriage; the probability of public sector workers losing their jobs for not promoting the government's new vision of marriage and carers being rejected for fostering because of their Christian beliefs. This amounts to a serious threat to civil liberties even to the extent of preventing people doing things which are manifestly good for society."
Bishop Devine quotes the Holy Father, and then continues:
"In a recent report the UN special rapporteur said "The state has to respect everyone's freedom of religion or belief as an inalienable - and thus non-negotiable - entitlement of human beings." Sadly, under your premiership, this most basic of human rights is no longer being respected in the UK."
The Bishop of Motherwell has called the Prime Minister to account for his inconsistencies. No doubt he will take an awful lot of flak from the mainstream media for daring to speak out. It is important, I think, for ordinary Catholics to assure the Bishop of our prayers and support - it is possible to email messages for the Bishop care of the Chancellor of the Diocese (Bishop Devine doesn't appear to have a personal email address on the Diocesan site.)
And finally today, one of the English bishops, Philip Egan, has published a statement on the Portsmouth Diocese website, warning Mr. Cameron against pushing through legislation of same-sex "marriage". We need to pray for him, and for the other Bishops who have not yet had the courage to stand up publicly in defence of Church teaching.