Someone really ought to point out to Pope Benedict XVI that cannibalism was an integral part of religious belief in many societies. However, this society deems it to be an unacceptable practice and it is outlawed in this and every country. And yet, in the societies in which it was prevalent, any such ban would have been attacked as, in the Pope's words, "running contrary to natural law" and restricting the freedom of religious communities. Religions, the pontiff must accept, have no right to insist on acting "in accordance with their beliefs" if such actions contravene the laws of the land. It's not asking an awful lot, after all, to expect religions to obey the same laws that apply to the rest of us, especially since the law in question relates to the equality of every person in the land, something that most of us non-religious people have been told is an integral part of the Christian canon.
If it had been a bearded and robed imam who had said that Muslims should not be subject to the laws of Britain but should fight for the implementation of sharia law in the Islamic community, there would be uproar in the red-top press. It is to be hoped that the Pope's comments will arouse similar indignation, but it's likely they won't. And it's not even as if the head of the Catholic faith has got it right. He hasn't. The Equality Bill, which he has encouraged Catholic bishops in England and Wales to fight, does not do what he seems to think. It won't prevent the churches from discriminating against gay and lesbian people in the selection of clerics, although there are many people who make a strong argument that it should. It will merely prevent the churches from extending that discrimination into the realms of manual and administrative jobs inside religious organisations. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who is head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has defended the Pope's intervention, saying that "I think he has every right to express the concerns of many."
The archbishop should perhaps exercise a little of that reason that he boasts of his church possessing. Benedict XVI is, after all, the head of state of the Vatican and, while comments on the propriety of other countries' human rights legislation seem to be acceptable these days for heads of state, active intervention and organisation within those states to overturn their laws is most certainly not - which leaves his exhortations to his bishops in a very grey area indeed.
Churches which insist in incorporating primitive and illogical prejudice into their canons are on very thin ice at the moment. But it isn't the first time in history that church and state have collided and it certainly won't be the last. Catholics, of course, have the right to consider homosexuality to be abhorrent, although there are many within that church with a more enlightened view. Law does not prescribe what people can think. But it does set boundaries on how far they can carry that prejudice into the organisation of their public bodies and it is quite proper that it should. And no-one can be exempted from that law. The Catholic church is shaping up for a confrontation with civil authority over its attitude to homosexuality and, as is usual, is claiming the moral high ground in that confrontation. It must be made clear to the Pope and his officers in this country that, far from occupying the moral high ground in this case, the official attitude of their church should be a cause for shame and embarrassment to them, as it is for many thousands of British Catholics who hold an opposing and more civilised view. And, although all religious communities claim divine authority for their views, they need reminding that this Earth is, after all, the province of mammon in which the will of humans, not divinities, is paramount.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.