LONDON – (by Joanna Bogle, National Catholic Register, April 8 – 14) — Britain has a new law banning Catholic schools from teaching Catholic morals — and it was steered through Parliament by a Catholic.

Under the new Sexual-Orientation Regulations, it will be illegal for a teacher in any school, including a Catholic school, to state that homosexual activity is morally wrong, and that this is a teaching that should be accepted as true. A teacher could be prosecuted if a pupil were able to claim that, by teaching the sinfulness of homosexual activity, the teacher had discriminated against him and caused him to feel hurt or humiliated.

Ruth Kelly was the prime mover of this legislation. She is the Labour Government’s secretary of state for communities and local government and minister for women. She is also a Catholic who has been the target of public criticism due to her involvement with the personal prelature Opus Dei.

The legislation also affects a whole range of other activities, and will force Catholic adoption agencies to offer children for adoption by homosexual couples. A plea by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales that Catholic adoption societies be exempt from the new laws was rejected by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Also affected are all private businesses that offer goods and services of any kind. Thus, a photographer or wedding caterer who declined to do business with a lesbian or homosexual couple’s planned “wedding” could also be prosecuted, as could the owner of a bed-and-breakfast business who declined to offer a double bed to two homosexuals.

Despite a last-minute attempt in the House of Lords to get the government to reconsider, and a torchlight vigil by Christians outside Parliament, the legislation was passed and will take effect April 30. Catholic adoption agencies have been given two years in
which to make arrangements to comply with the new laws. It could mean that they are forced to close.

Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster, has accused the government of abusing Parliamentary democracy.

“During the House of Commons committee meeting, opportunity for serious debate was denied,” he said. He issued a statement after the House of Commons was not given an opportunity to have a full debate on the regulations, but only a single vote late one night when few members of Parliament were able to be present. “Profound public concern about aspects of these regulations has not been heard,” he said.

Attention has focused on the position of Ruth Kelly, who, as government minister, had the task of bringing the regulations into law. It had been assumed that, as a Catholic, she would have reservations about introducing so draconian a law, which will have
the effect of making it illegal for a Catholic teacher in a Catholic school to present the Catholic teaching as true, and of forcing businesses and organizations to accept a homosexual civil union as equivalent to a male/female marriage; but she has said that she is glad and proud about the new laws.

“This is a major step forward in ensuring dignity, respect and fairness for all,” she said after an effort to block the regulations failed in the House of Lords March 21. Debate in the upper chamber focused on how the law would curtail freedom of religion. “It cannot
be right in a decent, tolerant society that a shopkeeper or restaurant can refuse to serve a customer” because he is homosexual, Kelly said.

Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, published March 13, specifically deals with the position of Catholics in politics who support legislation of this type.

The Pope states in Sacramentum Caritatis that: “Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: It demands a public witness to our faith. Evidently, this is true for all the baptized, yet it is especially incumbent upon those who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense from
conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children, and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable. Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them.”

Andrew Soane, a spokesman for Opus Dei in London, confirmed that Kelly is a supernumerary of Opus Dei (most members are supernumaries, are celibate, and live in Opus Dei residences) He said the personal prelature was waiting for some guidance from the bishops of England and Wales with regard to her, and acknowledged that they had had several letters, e-mails and phone inquiries from Catholics on the subject.

“If the Bishops were to indicate that she had done something wrong, then Opus Dei would certainly be supportive of the bishops and of the Church,” he said.

Kelly could not be reached for comment.

The Catholic Education Office has not issued any formal statement on the way in which the new laws will be handled by schools. It affects both those schools that receive support from public funds, and those for which parents pay fees and are wholly independent.

A Catholic member of a pro-life group who regularly visits Catholic schools to speak on issues of faith and morals said, “I think people are just hoping that it will be like the laws banning hunting — which effectively have been ignored. You will see huntsmen in their
traditional costumes, and packs of hounds, regularly out and about, and it all seems to be just as popular as ever; but it would be foolish to imagine that the massive homosexual lobby — which is well- funded and enjoys influential support — will let this happen with
regard to the sexual orientation regulations.”

The person did not want her name used for fear that her being involved in this controversy might lead to her not being invited to speak in schools.

Joanna Bogle writes from London

© National Catholic Register,  2007