One of the problems with Catholic morality is that it is perpetually situated at the top of a slippery slope, and every moral change or progress in morality immediately leads Catholics to a sense that the ground is shifting beneath their feet, when the truth is that they are simply sliding down a slippery slope prepared well in advance for the precise reason to hold the world at ransom lest moral change bring about a diminution of their power.Every time society goes through a period of moral change, hyperbolic language emanates from celibate men in red hats, from the Vatican or from a thousand Catholic pulpits, as the Church attempts desperately to stop the slide towards what it conceives of as inevitable ruin. Security is to be found only behind the walls of the Vatican, we are to understand — anything else is madness, immorality, relativism, and goodness knows what else besides!
Here’s the man with the pointy hat who says so. Imagine, says this man in the Telegraph, in an article entitled, “We cannot afford to indulge this madness,” a man who, it must be said, could scarcely be more out of step with contemporary society — apparently a requirement for cardinals and other high church officials in the Roman Catholic Church — “imagine for a moment”, says this man in the pointy hat,
… that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave’.
Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?
The rhetoric is uncontrolled, excessive, more than hyperbolic. He even goes so far as to call the proposal to legalise same-sex marriage
a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.
According to O’Brien this claim is based on Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
- (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
- (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
And then he goes on to say that:
As an institution, marriage long predates the existence of any state or government. It was not created by governments and should not be changed by them. Instead, recognising the innumerable benefits which marriage brings to society, they should act to protect and uphold marriage, not attack or dismantle it.
Well, yes, that’s true. But recall that this is said by a man who is not married, and who believes that in fact the state of marriage is a lesser state than the state of celibacy, and belongs to an institution that anathematises those who say that celibacy is not a state to be preferred to marriage.
However, Cardinal O’Brien should limit himself to just the article on marriage. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also states:
- All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
But there are other articles that cannot be simply ignored. For example:
- Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
The Roman Catholic Church, however, is on record, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), of holding that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” a claim which does not help when it comes to recognition of homosexuals as persons.
It would be helpful, I think, to have the entire section on homosexuality from the CCC before us:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deepseated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their tradition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Nothing could be more absurd than this concatenation of words! What this nonsense simply does not recognise is that it is simply absurd to say that people are called to something to which they are obviously not called. A call, in the religious sense, like a call to ministry, consists in a subjective sense that God is addressing that person in particular to some particular vocation. Consider how the idea of vocation is dealt with elsewhere in the catechism. Regarding the call of Christ, the CCC says:
By his word, through signs that manifest the reign of God, and by sending out his disciples, Jesus calls all people to come together around him. 
Or, regarding the call of the individual Christian to sanctity, the catechism says, quoting from a Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium:
Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful … are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect. 
Notice that call is always attended by signs, by some clear indication that a person is actually called. It is not just that this is an expectation laid upon a person by the church, but it is something that, through definite signs, such as the sacramental signs of initiation and belonging, or subjective experiences or convictions of having been addressed by God, manifests itself to the individual as a call. The claim that homosexuals are called to chastity does not fulfil any of these conditions, and is not, then, in the normative theological sense, a call.
Some homosexual, just as some heterosexual, persons, may decide not to express their sexuality openly in relationship with others, but the suggestion that some are actually called to chastity, without more evidence than the words themselves, is simply absurd. The only reason the catechism is as generous to homosexuals and homosexuality as it is, is simply that homosexuality has come to be understood differently today than in the past. In the past the question of accepting homosexuals with respect, compassion and sensitivity would never have arisen. Indeed, one famous gay man, who contributed as much to Allied victory in Europe during the Second World War as any other, Alan Turing, was arrested and charged with gross indecency under the Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendments Act (1885). He was given the choice of imprisonment or probation with chemical castration; he chose the latter, but, in the end, chose instead to die by suicide. Homosexuals were vilified, criminalised, and marginalised, until it was realised that being homosexual, far from being disordered, is a particular expression of human sexuality, may have been beneficial in evolutionary terms, and is something which, if it is not demonised, can be thought of by those who have same-sex attraction as a gift in terms of which to shape their lives and relationships. The Roman Catholic Church got stalled at a particular point in the shifting understanding and acceptance of homosexuality, and now pretends that this position — really only a halfway house from the past to the present — is based on “sacred” scripture, and has been the constant teaching of the church.
But, back to slippery slopes. Everytime a traditional moral view is breached and broken the Catholic hierarchy starts to go out of control, and predicts a breakdown of society. They speak in hysterical, hyperbolic terms, almost without any moral restraint, because, according to them, something that is crucial to the stability of society is being compromised. The pope, when he visited Britain last year, immediately began speaking of the growing disbelief of the British as something which he had himself experience in Nazi Germany, and his opening speech at Holyrood House in Scotland was essentially, like Cardinal O’Brien’s incontinent outburst, a warning that the sky is falling.
Here’s an example I’ve used before, but it stands repetition. The purpose of choiceindying.com is simply to support the right to choice in dying, and to oppose the religious obstruction of this right. Whenever the issue of assisted dying comes up, the Roman Catholic Church and its representatives, lay or clerical, immediately begin warning of end-of-the-world scenarios should such a right be legalised. It’s all nonsense, of course, since, pace Rick Santorum and his Catholic hyperbole, there is simply no evidence that these end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it consequences will follow the legalisation of assisted dying. However, this is an example of how you get to widespread slaughter, not from the legalisation of assisted dying, but from the legalisation of contraception! (Notice that almost the same kinds of things are being said by Cardinal O’Brien as were said by Cardinal Daly in a very different connexion: it runs in the family!)
A sexual revolution involves a new philosophy of man and the world, of time and of human destiny, of sickness and health, of life and death. … The works of the scientific humanists are there to prove that man’s attitude to contraception determines whether he will think it wrong or right for a mother to kill her defective child, or for a doctor “gently and humanely to extinguish his patient’s life.” [Cahal B. Daly, Morals, Law and Life, 45]
The men with pointy hats have a tendency, as you can see, to jump off the deep end, even though they cannot swim. Tim Minchin’s song still seems relevant whenever Roman Catholic incontinence is so much in evidence. Poor Cardinal O’Brien. Like the newly minted Cardinal Collins of Toronto, the only register they seem to know is screaming and screeching, for ungoverned hyperbole, no matter how mildly expressed, comes out as an unintelligible screech from the past, insisting on being heard in the present. When will these guys every grow up? With apologies to Tim Minchin for borrowing his song — which is so apt when you have to make yourself heard over the din of pointy-headed men: