Thinking Anglicans

civil partnerships: some follow-up items

First, the short version of the learned paper by Jacqueline Humphreys that first appeared in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal was published last week in the Church Times. The long version was published here previously.

The short version is Does this differ from marriage?

Second, the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly will be considering this in May, see General Assembly to examine civil partnership implications. Whatever they decide it is likely to annoy the Scottish Roman Catholic bishops. That article Ties that bind in the Tablet provoked some correspondence there.

Mario Conti the Archbishop of Glasgow wrote to defend himself against criticism of his “reductionist notion of family” by appealing to para 2202 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Aidan O’Neill’s response to him was not published by the journal, but is below the fold here.

However, The Tablet did publish O’Neill’s riposte to another clerical correspondent who queried his use of the words “fall in love with, body and soul” as he was “not sure it offers a way to truth in marriage…”. Aidan O’Neill replied as follows:

Your correspondent Fr. Cridland questions my use of the phrase “falling in love, body and soul” (“Ties that bind”, 11 February). Rather than referring to individuals seeking to justify breaching their vows, whether of celibacy or married fidelity, I was in fact alluding to the latest Papal encyclical Deus Caritas Est where Benedict XVI refers to the love called “eros by the Ancient Greeks … where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness”. Although the Pope states that this is to be seen in the “love between man and woman”, in fact the paradigmatic case in which eros was discussed and analysed by the Ancient Greeks – notably in the writings of Plato – was the passionate and all-consuming love between two persons of the same sex: see, in particular, the speeches in The Symposium and the description of erotic love in Phaedrus. In his encyclical the Pope explicitly uses the Platonic model of eros as leading the lovers toward the Divine on “a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing” in which love is not self-seeking but “becomes concern and care for the other” and “seeks the good of the beloved”. But to be true to his sources, he has to acknowledge that this love is not a purely heterosexual phenomenon. The proper fulfilment of eros may well, for many, be found in marriage; for others, it may be found in civil partnership.

Defining a family
Aidan O’Neill’s reply to Mario Conti

I note that Archbishop Conti now accepts (correspondence, 25 February 2006) that to use the term “family” to mean only “married couple with children” is to apply a normative rather than an empirical or comprehensive definition of the concept of family. But I wonder if it has ever occurred to him that that the Scottish bishops’ readiness to pronounce so confidently and definitively on matters of sexuality and the law may itself be damaging to Catholic family life ?

As the Vatican’s Instruction of November 2005 concerning the Admission of Persons with Homosexual Tendencies to Seminary and to Holy Orders recognizes, homosexuals exist (and flourish) within the Church, and spring from the bosom of even the most devout Catholic families. Gay Catholics are often other Catholics’ sons and daughters, brothers and sisters; sometimes, indeed, their parents; but, perhaps more commonly, their priests. And the Vatican’s 2005 instruction requests that gay Catholics be open about their sexuality, noting that the concealment of homosexuality “does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty and openness that must characterise the personality of him who believes he is called to serve Christ and his Church”. But the Scottish bishops claim that family life is threatened by homosexuality and undermined by the legal recognition of same sex relationships. They suggest that those who support – or who might avail themselves of – the civil partnership legislation are (albeit, perhaps unwittingly) furthering some covert, militant and immoral “homosexual agenda”, intent on destroying normal family life.

The story isn’t true, however. Like marriage, civil partnership is a public affirmation by two individuals proclaiming – with the law’s blessing – their mutual commitment to a shared life of honesty, trust, vulnerability and love. Those are values which ought to be central to Catholic life, and should be welcomed by our bishops. Instead, in setting up a false opposition between “the family” and “the homosexual”, the bishops are in grave danger of bearing false witness against their neighbour. In so doing they would sow discord and division in the heart of the family, where peace and unity should prevail.

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