I blogged this morning about the conference of Quest and about Quest's agenda. I likewise lamented the betrayal committed against those who suffer same-sex attraction by the Archdiocese of Westminster acting in such a way as to make Quest a dialogue partner in this field of pastoral care. By Friday evening the wait for a reponse from Westminster to my two questions on this issue came to an end. Neither question was answered. The message simply told me that Archbishop Nichols knew about Quest's conference at London Colney and that he has engaged members of Quest in dialogue. So what should we make of that?
Imagine for a moment you arrive at your friend's house and two of his teenage sons are sitting in the back garden smoking canabis with their friends and praising the virtues of free love and legalised drugs. Horrified, you go back inside and you say to your friend:
'Do you approve of your kids smoking pot in the back garden and praising free love and legalised drugs ?' And he answers:
'I know they're smoking pot in the back garden and praising free love and legalised drugs.'
Bewildered, you march into the kitchen where you find your friend's wife cooking up a storm and laying out bottles of beer and wine on the dining room table. 'Excuse me a minute,' she says, 'I'm just getting a special supper ready for the kids.'
'Your kids are out there smoking pot, praising free love and legalised drugs.'
'Yes,' she says, 'but we do talk to them about it.'
It seems to me that the answer from the Archbishop's private secretary - which is of course the mind of the Archbishop who appeared to have dictated the email - is a calculated albeit flimsy evasion. After all, if the diocese approves, what is the problem in admitting it? The problem arises only if the diocese approves something it should not in fact approve. Does Westminster know it should not approve this conference? The email's allusion to dialogue provides some semblance of distance between the diocese and Quest; after all, the vocabulary of 'dialogue' belongs to the language of external relations. The subtext is that 'we don't approve'.
But, the fact that the conference is happening on diocesan property is already a certain seal of approval de facto. The fact that there will be Sunday Mass at 2.30pm at the end of the conference - I have had this from two sources within Quest - is another indication that the diocese is effectively (not officially) sanctioning rather than merely tolerating this conference.
Let me make clear I am making no conclusions yet about the Archbishop's theology on these points. Some people are raising questions - there is a whole wesbite dedicated to his more suspect public comments - but I believe it is too early to tell. Rather, I return to my argument of this morning. Diocesan involvement in the Quest conference - and the diocese is involved, as sure as a parent who allows his children to smoke pot in the family back garden - is an affront to all Catholics who feel same-sex attraction and who want to live out the full Catholic teaching on human sexuality, cost what it may. The very fact that the Archbishop knew about the conference and did not prevent or stop it, or warn against it, or in any way voice his reservations concerning it, is ... well ... as irresponsible as a man who lets his kids smoke pot in the back garden because, well, "We know what they do and we have talked to them about it." The fact he might have other children going cold turkey up in their bedrooms isn't even mentioned.
... Unless, the argument that Trisagion made this week holds good: that the diocese is obliged under the Sexual Orientations Regulations not to turn down a booking at London Colney from this group. But in that case, what is the harm in admitting this? What is the harm in saying: 'Legally we were obliged and we did not think this was a battle we could win'? It might appear spineless but at least it would not appear to be an act of complicity with a group whose purpose - I repeat once again - is avowedly to deconstruct the Catholic teaching about homosexuality.
But why would the Archbishop not admit to that pressure from the law? For the same reason that he says he knows about Quest's conference but does not say whether he approves of Quest conference. I feel that in posing this question we begin to move into the modus operandi of the current Westminster diocesan administration. We cannot see inside their heads but we can look at what they do. And do they not show all the signs of being afraid of giving hostages to media fortune? Clearly, one should not give needless hostages to fortune, but don't we sometimes have to speak the truth, whatever the inconvenience? Arguably, this apparent policy, a kind of theological omerta if you will, is a sign that the Westminster curia, in particular the office of the Archbishop, does not want the media firestorm that a select but influential clique of the chattering classes could rain down on its head if Westminster provided them with the headline: 'Archbishop opposes gay conference'.
From the perspective of such a modus operandi, the fact that the Archbishop would probably be applauded by many people for a gentle but inexorable defence of Catholic moral teaching appears to be inconceivable. Yet if the pope's example of speaking the truth to power in Britain last year has not convinced the current hierarchy that they CAN raise their heads above the parapets, be villified and then a week later be feted like film stars, then when will they ever learn?
But there is another problem here too, and it is this: the Catholic Church in this country has long had a policy of saying nothing about the trickier areas of human sexuality. The same pragmatic silence which covers the area of homosexuality is deployed on the topic of contraception, IVF, cohabitation, etc. Most Catholics nowadays use contraception and would hardly know why the Church forbids it. Most Catholics have sexual partners long before they are married these days and would not know why the Church does not approve. The problem isn't sin; we will always sin. The problem is NEEDLESS IGNORANCE! As we know, this silence is so utterly poisonous and destructive - is anybody in a mitre listening, for crying out loud? - that it has left several generations of Catholics with few moral or intellectual resources to resist the ambient culture. Is it any wonder such groups as Quest exist? I would say that the desperation with which some Catholics welcome the Theology of the Body is a sign of the great thirst which exists for a plenary and authentic teaching on these issues.
I have received at least two communications in the course of these posts from individuals who have met the same theological omerta in Westminster. My experience has been rather limited in comparison to theirs. I have few other conclusions to offer you, other than to invite you all to pray for Archbishop Nichols, for Westminster, for Quest and its members and for all those suffering with same-sex attraction.
Somewhere, somehow, the Church in this country has to find a voice which is not afraid to be the voice of prophetic witness.
Somehow, it has to find a modus operandi which is not bogged down in the complicity which arises from its own purblind pragmatism and which does not look to flimsy evasion and theological omerta for its defence. Somehow ...