The Catholic Union’s Uphill Battle For Religious Freedom

For over a hundred years, the Catholic Union has been a voice for Catholics seeking to uphold Christian values in the public sphere in Britain.

It was founded in the reign of Queen Victoria, when there was still considerable prejudice against Catholics among many British people. Catholic emancipation had only come in 1829, just a few years before Queen Victoria came to the throne – before that, there had been many restrictions on Catholics and they were unable to play any active role in public life.

Throughout the 19th Century, the steady revival of the Catholic Faith in Britain – what John Henry Newman described as the “Second Spring” – brought about dramatic changes.

Today, the Catholic Union flourishes, and on a cold wintry night in London, it gathered a good crowd for its annual meeting, held at Vaughan House, part of the complex of buildings connected to Westminster Cathedral. The Chairman of the Catholic Union happens to be the husband of the author of this Blog – and I was glad to be there at the meeting.

Among the major issues that the Union – working, of course, with a range of other groups and organisations, Catholic and non-Catholic – has to tackle is that of the various attempts to legalise euthanasia. It is a battle that has to be fought steadily – no one sudden sweeping victory will do the trick, as the campaigners for euthanasia are committed and determined. The Catholic Union’s annual Craigmyle Lecture – named in honour of Lord Craigmyle, a leading member of the Union who played an active role in the House of Lords for many years – was this year dedicated to the subject of the sanctity of life, and was given by Dr Philip Howard, consultant physician and senior lecturer at St George’s Hospital in London.

Another crucial subject is that of religious freedom. During the year, a number of court rulings brought grave concern. Lillian Ladelle, a registrar of marriages, had a conscientious objection to presiding over same-sex partnerships and sought to swap these with colleagues. The Court of Appeal ruled this unlawful, and the judge even suggested that her view of marriage was “not a core part of her religion” thereby, as the Chairman of the Catholic Union noted, setting himself up as a judge of her belief.

In another case, a counsellor had a conscientious objection to giving sex counselling to same-sex couples. This was declared illegal.

In discussing all this, the Catholic Union is by no means a lone voice – there is general increasing concern about the restrictions on freedom of conscience in Britain, and about the campaigns being promoted by dedicated secularists.

Jamie Bogle, the CU chairman, said: “An increasing minority seem blithely unaware that British society arose out of, and all its major institutions derive from, our Judeo-Christian history and culture…The job of the Catholic Union and its members is to alert public decision-makers to the enormous cost to society of jettisoning our Judeo-Christian heritage of culture, industry, justice and compassion.”