A non-Christian friend of mine recently announced that she is thinking of getting married.  I would usually greet such news with joy, but, in this case, I was aware that my friend had married before.  As I had no reason to doubt the validity of her previously contracted “natural” (i.e., nonsacramental) marriage, and, as there was no question of my friend getting her marriage dissolved by the Church, I was left in an uncomfortable situation.  My friend was, as far as I could tell, about to commit herself to a state of adultery.  With some trepidation, I explained my position.

My friend had been happy with the idea that Catholics would take seriously Christ’s words about divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12); however, she was less than happy with the thought that these words apply to all people, including her.  The Church teaches that Christian marriage is the perfection of a union natural to man and woman; Church law is designed to protect what is reasonable according to nature as well as God’s positive ordinances.  Unless the natural law of marriage is understood, the significance of the Church’s teaching is lost.

The First Vatican Council, following Saint Paul (Romans 1: 20), defined that God can be known with certitude through “the natural light of reason from created things.”  In doing so, the Council made clear that human reason can discover both the existence of God and His authorship of natural law (which is a particular effect of His universal providence).  It also implicitly made clear that even those who have not grasped the fact of God’s existence through natural-law reasoning may still grasp other truths of the natural moral law.

Since all people, believer and nonbeliever alike, have access to reality, they have access to the natural moral law.  To see reality is to see it as suffused by, and held in being by, God.  Thus, the Church’s views on sex, marriage, and family are not merely an afterthought or some arbitrary perception tacked on to what most people recognize.

Talk of reality, truth, order, and moral laws is offensive to modern ears.  It is especially offensive to ears accustomed to the soothing, if ultimately vacuous, tones of liberalism.  In the end, my friend found such talk offensive.  The liberal state finds it so offensive that it ensures such talk remain just that.  As Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr., has pointed out in his book The American Myth of Religious Freedom, the genius of such a state is

precisely its ability to afford a rather wide range of individual religious liberty, while denying the most fundamental and authentic freedom—that of a church which would presume to judge and, when necessary, condemn the regime as immoral.

When such a liberal state clashed with the Catholic bishops of England and Wales over the issue of homosexual adoption, the results were both instructive and depressing.  In view of media reports of the cardinal-archbishop of Westminster and various bishops “standing up to” the Blair regime, it is important to recall what was and was not said.  Most notably absent was any reference by the bishops to the natural moral law.  This is not a new problem: For example, soon after his elevation, Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor told the London Evening Standard that, when it comes to the Church’s teaching on contraception, “people have to make up their own minds about it.”  Such a statement reveals a startling lack of attention to the natural moral law.  Imagine the public outcry that would have ensued, had he made the same statement with regard to the Church’s teaching on murder.

The Church, which the cardinal and the bishops are supposed to represent, holds that sodomy, like murder, is a sin that “cries out to Heaven for vengeance.”  The mark of such sins is that, unlike other mortal sins, they involve the violent perversion of certain natural instincts and frustration of their rightful ends and objects.  In other words, they are paradigmatic violations of the natural moral law accessible to all and, thus, are seriously scandalous, no matter how reduced the culpability of those who make such moral choices in our highly secularized culture may be.

In this context, it is more than disappointing that the cardinal and bishops failed to provide any effective opposition to the British government’s same-sex Civil Partnership Act, which allows “gay marriage” in all but name.  The Blair regime, having endorsed and secured the act, decided to implement its own interpretation of E.U. General Directive 2000/78 regarding “equal treatment” in “employment and education,” which outlaws “discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.”  In drafting the directive, Brussels (for once) showed itself cognizant of problems that could arise in the application and interpretation of such language, adding a clause that the European Union “respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations.”

In its interpretation of the directive, the British government chose to include the work of adoption agencies and specifically did not exempt Catholic adoption agencies from having to allocate children to same-sex partners for adoption.  They did not publish the regulations but merely announced them in the media, claiming that no exceptions could be made—ignoring the fact that Section 81 of Britain’s 2006 Equality Act states that there is no limit to possible exceptions.  The mendacity of the Blair regime and the anti-Catholic bigotry of many of his party were on display as one of his ministers was quoted in the London Times as saying, “I’m not going to have some bloody reactionary German Pope dictate the law of our land.”  Another, sounding like a secular Rod Dreher, cried, “Where’s all the child abuse and paedophilia?  In the Catholic Church.  They should get their own bloody house in order and sort out the way paedophilia lies hidden.”

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has, since 1997, aimed to please the Blair regime at every turn, even to the point of having government advisors at No. 10 Downing Street employed as principal advisors to the cardinal.  (One such advisor, Sir Stephen Wall, an E.U. enthusiast and friend of Tony Blair, recently told the Tablet, “I do not share the Church’s view that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.”)  And pro-government sympathies can be found in the Bishops’ Conference—for example, in the person of Charles Wookey, the influential assistant general secretary to the conference, in charge of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship.  The consequence of these appointments has been an elimination of the healthy distance the Church should keep from this or any regime—particularly from one so anti-Catholic as the Labour Party is under Blair.

With the government determined to push through its scheme of forcing Catholic adoption agencies to place children with homosexual couples, the cardinal eventually protested in the form of an official letter.  The situation required a robust restatement of the natural moral law and a firm restatement of the best interests of vulnerable children in light of that law.  What we got was this statement:

Catholic adoption agencies welcome adoptive applicants from any or no religious background.  Homosexual couples are referred to other agencies where their adoption application may be considered.  This “sign-posting” responsibility is taken very seriously by all Catholic adoption agencies.

In other words, the adoption agencies had already been referring same-sex couples to other adoption agencies—a practice which the cardinal apparently approves.  Presumably he was not listening when Cardinal Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, recently asked, “Does it not do psychological violence when the model offered is abnormal, but is nonetheless deemed acceptable for imitation by the adopted child?”  Or perhaps he was listening, but failed to understand the Church’s age-old ban on formal cooperation in wrongdoing—including deliberately assisting, through referral, a homosexual couple in adopting a child.  Or perhaps he did not realize that exposing children to ways of living that structurally involve sins “crying vengeance to Heaven” is actually wrong.  As the debate was becoming more and more heated, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor wrote in the Daily Telegraph (January 31) that

what is happening with the imposition of the regulations is that a proper desire to remove hurtful homophobia and permit adoption by same-sex couples becomes the establishment of norms that everyone must accept.

Is it a “proper desire” for homosexual couples to want to adopt children?  Perhaps homosexual adoption is not wrong after all.  If so, however, why does the cardinal want an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies?  And if it is wrong (even though one can have a “proper desire” for it), why is it the “responsibility” of Catholic agencies to give referrals for such a practice?  And while we are asking such questions, why has the Cardinal now authorized “Gay Masses” in his diocese, in cooperation with the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, which publishes bidding prayers celebrating same-sex civil unions?  Predictably, the first “Gay Mass” saw praise from the pulpit for the pro-sodomy theology of ex-priest James Alison.  To ram home the message, a sheet listing future “Gay Masses” referred to a summer Mass as “Sunday after Pride”—Pride being a reference to the obscene “Gay Pride” march through London.

The cardinal clearly had far less concern for the natural moral law than for “freedom of conscience.”  But a conscience pleaded for without reference to the natural moral law sounds suspiciously like the kind of counterfeit conscience, condemned by Cardinal Newman, of irrational self-will, which ignores the Lawgiver and Judge, and claims rights without recognizing duties.  At any rate, secular people will ask, with some reason, why the seemingly arbitrary dictates of the “Catholic conscience” should override what they see as a mandate to stamp out all discrimination, root and branch.

Lest anyone think the cardinal is singled out unfairly here, some of his brother bishops and advisors certainly spelled out their position in similar terms.  Charles Wookey, representing the Catholic Church, told radio audiences,

We’re not arguing that homosexuals shouldn’t be able to adopt.  They clearly have a legal right to do so and nobody is saying that they shouldn’t.  We are not denying homosexual couples a right to adopt.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, whom many regard as a future cardinal, has, according to the Birmingham Mail, “reiterated the position that all same-sex couples applying to Catholic adoption agencies are referred elsewhere.”  He compared the situation to the way in which Catholic family physicians are able to work in the National Health Service—thereby giving the impression that formal cooperation with the abortion process might be acceptable.  Others, such as Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, continually failed to refer to the natural moral law, telling readers of the Sun that

If a gay couple comes to one of our agencies we refer them to another who can help . . . If a compromise is reached, nobody suffers—a gay couple can still adopt, and the excellent work of our agencies can continue.

And so the Church lost.  There is no shame in losing, but there is shame in doing what amounts to abandoning the Faith and your flock publicly.

Sadly, such mistakes are common in recent Church history.  The former archbishop of San Francisco is, according to his private secretary, happy with a “partnership” arrangement whereby Catholic adoption agencies in California, under his successor and friend Archbishop Niederauer, struck an agreement to pay workers who would labor for California Kids Connection, a web-referral service for the pro-homosexual-adoption Family Builders.  There is no recognition here of the gravity of “psychological violence” and sins crying vengeance to Heaven.

Let us hope and pray that churchmen, lay Catholics, Christians, and all people of good will take heed of Pope Benedict’s recent statement:

In this situation, it is well to recall that all legal systems, both internal and international, ultimately draw their legitimacy from their rooting in natural law, in the ethical message inscribed in human beings themselves. . . . Knowledge of this law . . . increases with the development of moral conscience.  The primary concern for everyone, and especially for those charged with public responsibilities, must then be that of promoting the maturation of moral conscience.

Recalling the natural-law tradition is, indeed, vital for our civilization.  Talk of conscience without reference to that tradition is a hallmark of this age.  When we adopt the language of our enemies, in areas about which we ought to know better, we risk losing not only the culture wars but our own souls as well.