Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Not very much Christianity in Cardinal's rant

I can't decide whether I should stand back and admire Cardinal Keith O'Brien or gently guide him to the nearest psychiatrist.

If we set aside what he actually said (often an advisable course where these vertiginously high ranking religious johnnies are concerned), it's always refreshing to hear a celebrity stick his neck out and voice his heartfelt opinion, especially when that opinion flows in the opposite direction to the mass-fuelled torrent.

Taken in this light O'Brien's ferocity - referring to gay marriage as 'grotesque' and 'an aberration' - could be seen as brave and heroic, a refusal to be cowed by the oppressive niceties (tolerance, equality, acceptance) of dull, increasingly PC institutions such as civilised society. So from that point of view, bravo!

On the other hand, a deeper investigation of the content of his comments - not just the fire and brimstone stuff, but his view that legalising gay marriage would 'shame' the UK - does reveal a rather regrettable penchant for spouting out of touch, bigoted and verging on unhinged, balderdash.

The issue isn't his commitment to the notion that marriage must be between a man and a woman (no surprise there), nor his insistence that the Catholic church must never be forced to bless a same-sex union (the proposed law doesn't suggest it should).

The really worrying thing is that a chap with superior man-given authority within a global power house like the Catholic church should be so full of devilish bile for huge swathes of perfectly decent, unthreatening fellow men.

Not having been brought up in a religious house - one parent a long-lapsed Catholic, the other an unengaged non-denominate - I've always found the decidedly un-Jesus like attitudes of prominent Christians baffling.

Why is it the more zealous these men are, the less likely they are to practise the values Jesus preached - love, compassion and forgiveness.

I'm sure these bravehearts of the pulpit believe their championing of institutional rejection of harmless humans is backed up by some higher authority somewhere, but I can't for the life of me think who that might be.

I'm no theologian but I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't wander the streets of Jerusalem pointing at people and shouting 'You disgust me!' Are they perhaps mixing up Jeremy Kyle and Jesus Christ? It's possible, Jeremy probably shouts louder.

One thing I do know however is that not every priest is inclined to look unkindly upon gay members of their flock.

The priest who married me, a relatively high profile figure in Northern Ireland church life, is a genuinely open-minded and caring man.

I was initially reluctant to entertain the idea of a priest visiting me to discuss the realities of marriage. Bearing in mind his own enforced celibacy, I found the idea faintly ridiculous.

In the end though, our conversations bore food for thought, mainly because he'd spent so much time pondering the qualities which allowed human beings to contentedly co-habit.

He was also happy to talk for hours about more controversial issues, and he told me that gay Catholics often came to talk to him and he welcomed them without judgment.

And he began our wedding service with a quote from Johnny Cash. So, one of the good guys.

There will always be colleagues willing to stand behind the Keith O'Briens of the world brandishing placards saying 'Down with this sort of thing!' but they're a slowly dying breed. So we should thank the kerrr-azy Cardinal - the onslaught which met his outburst shows just how far the rest of us have come.

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