British Churchmen Close Ranks on Family Values

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

London ( - As a row over promoting homosexuality deepened, Catholic and Anglican leaders in Britain closed ranks over the weekend, sending unambiguous signals in favor of family values.

Politicians and church officials clashed over plans by lawmakers in Scotland and England to repeal a 11-year-old law (Section 28) outlawing the promotion of homosexuality and "the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" in schools.

In line with a Labor manifesto commitment from the 1997 election, the devolved Scottish Executive wants to scrap Section 28 by June, while ministers in London are preparing to do the same for England and Wales.

The leader of Scotland's 750,000 Catholics, Cardinal Thomas Winning, came under fire for a speech he made in Malta Saturday. Some reports quoted him as comparing the threat to the Christian family from the homosexual lobby in Europe to that posed by the Nazis.

Winning strenuously denied making the association, pointing to the text of his speech to show he had at one point made reference to the militant homosexual advocacy lobby in Europe, and later had warned that Malta was being bombarded with European television programs promoting "images, values and ideas which are utterly alien." It was this moral assault that he likened to the bombing of the Mediterranean island during the Second World War, he said in a statement.

"The word 'Nazi' does not appear at any point in my address, and I believe it would be inappropriate, offensive and fatuous to compare the current debate to what happened in Germany in the war years," Winning said.

"In presenting the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on this issue, I constantly return to the principle of loving the sinner while rejecting the sin. Unfortunately, this distinction is rarely reported, with certain sections of the press preferring lurid headlines."

Even before the speech to a Malta Catholic family association, Winning was publicly attacked by a leading Catholic lawmaker, who took offense at an earlier remark by Winning that the homosexual act was a "perversion."

George Galloway, Labor member of parliament for Glasgow, told a weekend television show that despite being a long-time admirer of the cardinal, he was "disgusted" by the statement. Winning's language, he said, could have "dripped from the lips of any raving bigot."

But while losing the support of Galloway, Winning points to opinion polls, which continue to show the majority of Scottish parents are in favor of retaining Section 28.

The outspoken cardinal also won the backing of a senior Anglican bishop from south of the Scottish border, where the debate up to now has been relatively muted.

In an article published in a national newspaper Monday, Bishop James Jones of Liverpool dismissed accusations of "homophobia" being leveled against Winning and called for a debate on the ethics of sexuality and whether there is any moral difference between homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

"If homosexual practice were to become [universal], the species would not be in a position to recreate itself," Jones writes. "Furthermore, physiologically, the genitalia are manifestly designed for the opposite, and not the same, gender.

"Although it is uncomfortable to hear it, the debate needs to acknowledge that in the act of gay sex, there are serious health issues. It is one of the major differences between practicing homosexuality and practicing heterosexuality. And the fact that one can lead to the procreation of children and the other cannot emphasizes the difference between the two."

Jones predicted that a "silent majority" in England could also emerge in favor of keeping Section 28.

The leader of the Anglican Church, Archbishop George Carey, also joined the debate, albeit more cautiously.

He told church leaders at a London meeting Sunday that while he condemned prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, "I also resist placing homosexual relationships on an equal footing with marriage as the proper context for sexual intimacy."

Whether Section 28 was retained or scrapped, Carey said, there needed to be "adequate safeguards" in place for school pupils.

The wealthy owner of a Scottish bus transport company has financed a "Keep the Clause" campaign to have Section 28 retained in Scotland.

The campaigners, who have won the backing of a major school association, will this week launch an advertising campaign.

Wendy Alexander, the Scottish Communities Minister spearheading the move to abolish Section 28, said Sunday: "We are not doing this to fulfill a politically-correct agenda. We are doing it to help tackle a real problem in our schools. We are doing it because teachers are constrained in tackling anti-gay bullying and because section 28 has served only to legitimize intolerance and prejudice."

The opposition Scottish National Party called for the publication of revised guidelines that would be in place instead of the ban, to allow for maximum consultation before lawmakers voted on the future of Section 28.