The Pope was meeting the bishops for the first time since the English and Welsh Church lost control of its adoption agencies. The Sexual Orientation Regulations, passed in 2007, compelled agencies to place children with same-sex couples, forcing Catholic adoption agencies to close down or break ties with the Church.
His comments also came a week after the House of Lords rejected parts of the Equality Bill that could have forced the Church to ordain women, sexually active gay people and transsexuals.
Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others -- on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth.The reaction to the Pope's criticism has been varied and widespread, but with support from many sides of the socio-political spectrum -- here is a sampling:
Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?
If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers -- in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel -- to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.
- Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth: "The Pope is right about the threat to freedom":
... using the ideology of human rights to assault religion risks undermining the very foundation of human rights themselves. When a Christian airport worker is banned from wearing a cross, when a nurse is sacked after a role-play exercise in which he suggested that patients pray, when Roman Catholic adoption agencies are forced to close because they do not place children for adoption with same-sex couples and when a Jewish school is told that its religious admissions policy is, not in intent but in effect, racist, we are in dangerous territory indeed. My argument has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with liberty.
- Andrew Pierce (London Daily Mail) on "Why I, as a gay man, agree with the Pope":
Quite simply, I believe that the Government's decision to force the Church to abide by its equality legislation could hurt some of the most vulnerable members of our society - those whom I thought ministers had a duty to protect.
Indeed, children such as me, raised for two years in a Catholic orphanage, could be the real losers of Harman's obsessive drive to force the Church to embrace her doctrine of legalised social engineering.
In any given year, the 12 Catholic adoption agencies in England used to place a minimum of 200 children with adoptive parents. They have, by tradition, also handled a third of the boys and girls who have been judged 'most difficult to place'. Some of those children have to wait years before they are found a home.
But the effect of the legislation from Harman is that those Catholic adoption agencies now have to consider placing children with gay couples, even though it goes against their spiritual teachings, or inevitably close down.
- Brendan O’Neill (Spiked Online): "It shouldn't take a Pope" "[to say that] Harriet Harman’s Equality bill is profoundly intolerant." (Index on Censorship)
- Christopher House (Telegraph) asserts Pope Benedict can hardly be said to be "meddling" in England's affairs by stating moral principles.
- Labor MP Martin Salter snipes: "[the] comments by the Pope on Britain’s lawmaking could possibly be the first time that a bloke in a dress has complained about equality legislation."
Here is the address of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the president of the bishops' conference of England and Wales, upon being received in audience by Benedict XVI.