I will be at the EWTN Family Festival in August – details elsewhere on this website. This will be a grand opportunity meet some of the viewers from across America.
I think that, although there will be a festive feel because such events are always rather jolly, there will be an underlying seriousness this year. For the first time in our lives, Catholics in Britain and in America face the real possibility of serious restrictions on our freedom to teach and uphold our faith in public, and we are beginning to realise this and to recognise that things are going to be difficult for us all in the future.
This is all unfamiliar territory for us. Those of us over 40 spent years speaking and praying about the plight of Christians in the old USSR and Eastern Europe – we felt for them, we wanted to show solidarity with them, we knew of their plight and we wanted to help them in any way we could. Things are different now. It is not Poland and Hungary and Russia and East Germany banning religious debate or open discussion of major moral issues…it is the USA and Great Britain, nations that have championed freedom for generations.
As things are emerging in Britain, it will be extremely difficult for anyone with any sort of job funded from the public purse – a fireman, teacher, librarian, social worker – to state “Homosexual activity is gravely wrong”. To make this statement – which, even if you disagree with it, is a perfectly valid one, affirming something held by civilised people all over the world, and can be expressed with charity and goodwill – could mean dismissal, and a great public denouncing and insistence on recantation.
The Government’s plans to impose a redefinition of marriage – the Bill has been passed in the House of Commons and in the Lords and is set to become law later this year – will impose a number of difficulties, with the loss of our freedom of speech as the main one. The crucial issue is not that a priest might be told that he must officiate at the attempted marriage of two people of the same sex. It is easy to avoid this: the Church can simply cease to offer legal registration for marriages. All that will then be on offer will be the Church’s sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and for this a man and a woman are required. Legal registration will be something quite separate and done at a register office – this is a system already in place in much of Europe. (The Church should organise this in advance of being obliged to do so by law. It will have the added advantage of freeing clergy from paperwork and of re-emphasising the Church’s freedom from officialdom and state control).
The bigger issue is our freedom to teach and preach. In fact, the law will not officially prevent us: what will happen – is already happening – will be coercion and bullying, the threat of being dismissed from a job or of being publicly denounced as a bigot, with unforeseen consequences.
It is worth remembering that in the USSR, freedom of religious practice was announced as a right. But it didn’t exist in practice. The State imposed atheism, and posters, media campaigns, and officially-funded crusades in schools and youth groups sought to attack Christianity and insist that the Christian view was silenced. Christianity was announced to be old-fashioned, cruel, dangerous, and bigoted. But whenever the subject of religious freedom came up, it was always announced that churches were open and services were allowed…
This summer, as we gather to celebrate at EWTN, and as millions of young Christians across Britain and the USA take part in summer camps, retreats, and pilgrimages, we need to take seriously the threats to our freedom. We do not the face the grim horror of the Gulag, the torture of KGB thugs, the horrors that Communism imposed from 1917 onwards. We have a rich heritage of freedom, and the will to keep it. What is needed is a grasp of the dangers that threaten it, and determination to oppose them and to insist on the right of the Christian voice to be heard, now and into the future.