LONDON – A British cardinal has said that by sponsoring legislation for gay rights, the government is “legislating for intolerance.”
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster also questioned “whether the threads holding together democracy have begun to unravel.”
“My fear is that, under the guise of legislating for what is said to be tolerance, we are legislating for intolerance,” he said during a March 28 lecture in London a week after the government forced through new gay rights legislation with minimal debate in the House of Commons.
“Once this begins, it is hard to see where it ends,” said the cardinal. “My fear is that in an attempt to clear the public square of what are seen as unacceptable intrusions, we weaken the pillars on which that public square is erected, and we will discover that the pillars of pluralism may not survive … that is why I have sounded this note of alarm.”
He said “what looks like liberality is, in reality, a radical exclusion of religion from the public sphere.”
The cardinal said that aggressive secularism was accompanied by a cynicism of Christianity “so when Christians stand by their beliefs, they are intolerant dogmatists. When they sin, they are hypocrites.
“When they take the side of the poor, they are soft-headed liberals,” he said.
“When they seek to defend the family, they are right-wing reactionaries.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that more attacks on the place of religion in public life could be expected in the names of tolerance, equality and diversity.
“For my own part, I have no difficulty in being a proud British Catholic citizen,” said Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. “But now it seems to me we are being asked to accept a different version of our democracy, one in which diversity and equality are held to be at odds with religion.
“We Catholics, and here I am sure I speak, too, for other Christians and all people of faith, do not demand special privileges, but we do demand our rights,” the cardinal said.
The new laws are aimed at stopping businesses from discriminating against gays, but Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders say the laws will force religious believers to act against their consciences.
The gay rights laws will compel 13 Catholic adoption agencies in the United Kingdom to place children in the care of same-sex couples, a move the bishops have said would lead to the agencies’ demise.
The bishops also have expressed concern about the recent series of attacks on the curriculum of state-funded Catholic schools.
After the lecture, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said he would be holding a meeting with Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to explore how they can together respond to the new threats.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor told Catholic News Service that the meeting was likely to be early this summer.
“We hope to meet to talk about religion in the public sphere, to see how we could cooperate,” he said. “We are often asked to speak on matters of public morality, and it would be interesting to see how we can speak together.”