There are tough times ahead for Christians in Britain. The Government is forging ahead with plans to redefine marriage, and this not only means further destruction of family bonds and the chances of a secure childhood for the next generation, but also a challenge to freedom of speech and freedom for the Church’s mission.
The Church has a network of Catholic schools across Britain, and these schools receive public funds and so are free for all pupils, on the same basis as all other schools in the national system. Will we be free to teach about Christian marriage in these schools? Will we be free to explain to the pupils that the Government has imposed a cruel and unjust law which claims that two people of the same sex can marry, and that this attempt to impose nonsense on us all will bring enormous problems for years to come?
In Religious Education lessons, teenagers need to be able to discuss all sorts of moral issues – war and peace, capital punishment, international finance, the role of governments…and of course marriage and family, care of the unborn, care of the frail and ill…but will we be free to teach on these subjects, and conduct wide-ranging discussions, in the future?
What happens if a teacher explains the Church’s teaching on marriage, and is criticised by a pupil who announces herself offended by what is said? What about a head teacher who speaks on marriage, warmly supporting the Church’s teaching, at a school assembly, or a prizeday speaker who affirms Christian marriage in a speech? Suppose some one denounces this as promoting bigotry? Will teachers and other public officials be warned to avoid such subjects in the future? Will pupils feel free to affirm the Church’s teaching unequivocally, in their essays and project work?
Already, books for children, with pictures and propaganda messages teaching that two men can marry, or two women can marry, or that it’s normal to have two mums, and so on, have been published and are being promoted for use in schools. Will we be allowed to promote books that explain that marriage is for a man and a woman, a lifelong union? If not, why not? Will such books be deemed to be “promoting hatred”?
In a frightening way, Catholics in Britain are beginning to talk about the long-ago days when the Catholic faith was banned. We also have the recent example of Eastern Europe, when Catholics in countries with Communist governments found the Church restricted in all sorts of ways – unable to obtain Catholic literature, prevented from instructing children in the Faith, blocked from building or repairing churches, silenced in the public sphere with insults routinely hurled at the Church on TV and radio and no reply allowed…
The great John Paul taught us, quoting the words of Christ: “Do not be afraid!” Back in the 1980s, as a Catholic in a Western country, I had no particular reason to be afraid. We belonged to pro-life and pro-family groups and campaigned openly. We denounced media bias and produced our books and posters and pamphlets without fear. We sent speakers into schools and enjoyed the debates and discussions.
We now face a new situation in a different Britain. The Church holds up heroes and martyrs precisely so that we can be inspired by their example, and beg for their intercession in our prayers. Blessed John Paul, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, pray for us….