Religious belief has been the well-spring of many of the world’s charities. It can rightly be credited with being a driving force for good and for improving the lives of many millions of people suffering from poverty and disease.
The recent outrage in the media focusing on child abuse among Catholic clergy was made more intense by the gulf between the expectations people have of one of the world’s major religious institutions and the reality of its behaviour in admitting to and dealing with this problem and its apparent reluctance to compensate and heal its victims.
An editorial on this entitled 'Once a Catholic?; published in April’s Charity Finance provoked a number of strong responses. Extracts from these below make the point that considerable progress has been made in child protection by the Catholic Church in the UK the last decade.
Alongside this, the direction of travel in secular legislatures in developed economies is towards ever-increasing equality between citizens regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation and other differences. This will inevitably bring clashes between religious beliefs and secular law as anti-discrimination legislation begins to bite. The recent Catholic Care case in the High Court illustrates this and is discussed in more detail in the responses below...
From Ms Leona Roche
I am a solicitor and a regular reader of Charity Finance. The views expressed below are personal.
I share your abhorrence for the child abuse that has taken place within the Catholic Church and for the cover-ups which took place. Both are simply inexcusable. The Church has too often been very slow to properly confront and deal with these issues. In the interests of fairness, however, I must point out that over the past decade the Catholic Church has been actively addressing the issue of child protection and taking action to eradicate both child abuse and any attempts to cover it up.
In relation to the Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) case, you rightly point out that this has focused attention on a very important but difficult area of law, namely where the rights of the individual to hold and act on a belief need to be balanced with the rights of individuals not to be discriminated against. In the Catholic Care case, we are in essence seeking to balance two goods: on the one hand, the right of faith organisationsto witness to the values they hold around marriage and the family and, on the other hand, the eradication of discrimination and/or homophobia. It is in the interests of no-one that tricky points of law are only resolved in the courts and all the interested parties need to work together to continue to evolve the law in this area.
However, there are a number of factual errors in your recent article which need to be addressed as all the parties impacted by this legislation can only work together effectively to evolve it to the extent that there is accurate understanding of the position of each party. With this in mind, it is important to make the following points:
The Catholic Church utterly condemns all forms of unjust discrimination and bigotry against people who are homosexual. It promotes acceptance of, and respect for, all men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation. This is based on the Church’s fundamental conviction that each human being is created in the likeness of God and has an equality of dignity before God. The fact that some members of the Church have not always lived out this teaching is a tragedy (particularly with reference to the sex abuse scandals) but it does not render the belief invalid and neither do the actions of some Catholics remove the right of the remainder to hold this belief.
Equally, the Catholic Church believes in the sanctity of marriage and that the sexual act belongs within marriage between a man and a woman who are open to new life. The Church’s focus here is not on homosexuals but on where sex rightly belongs. The Church teaches that all sex outside of marriage is wrong, and therefore it is not being homophobic in saying that sex outside of marriage between two people of the same sex is wrong because it also teaches that sex between a man and a woman outside of marriage is wrong.
Following on from this teaching, marriage is the cornerstone of the family. Therefore Catholic Care’s view is that it is in the best interests of children to be adopted and brought up by married couples. For this reason Catholic Care does not place children with same-sex couples or unmarried couples, even if of the opposite sex. This is an indication of integrity on the part of Catholic Care in seeking to uphold the Church’s teaching.
The question that arises, therefore, is how to balance these two freedoms (namely the right to profess and live in accordance with religious belief, and the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation) so that undue emphasis is not placed on one at the expense of the other with unjust results. It is clear from the Sexual Orientation Regulations that the right against discrimination is not an absolute right and that there will be circumstances where treating people differently is justified. The Catholic Church and its charitable organisations are in no sense attempting to “circumvent the law”.
I would suggest that the proper balance of these freedoms in the Catholic Care case is for the adoption agency to be able to refuse to provide services to same-sex couples. This is especially the case given that it cannot be said to materially restrict the capacity of gay couples to adopt when there are more than 465 non-Catholic adoption agencies which provide services to gay couples and to which Catholic adoption agencies actively refer gay couples.
Faith-based organisations have an important role to play in society and public life, and both charitable and state funding are appropriate in light of the good which such organisations bring to so many, irrespective of their background, race or creed. To simply exclude faith-based organisations from public life is to society’s ultimate detriment, whatever sexual orientation one may have.
From Fr Marcus Stock
The Bishops of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have acknowledged repeatedly, and with sorrow, the abusive actions of some priests and the failures to deal with them effectively in the past. The Bishops have also done much to address the subject of the abuse of children and vulnerable adults; it has implemented the recommendations of the independent Nolan Review in full. That is why every parish now has a Safeguarding Representative post, and why in 2009 17,000 CRB checks were carried out and 5,500 people attended 450 events dealing with the protection of children and vulnerable adults.
Furthermore, because the Catholic Church’s child protection procedures have now been in place for nearly ten years, it is possibly one of the few institutions in this country that is best prepared to comply with the new vetting and barring scheme. Under these procedures, the personal records of all volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults will come under rigorous scrutiny.
From Mr Hal Broadbent
When someone donates to a Catholic charity they legitimately expect their donation to resource activities that advance the Catholic faith. Trustees are bound under the strict requirements of trust law to ensure that this is the case. Currently, the Catholic Church does not sanction, through its public ceremonies and rituals, same-sex unions and marriages. Complex theological arguments are advanced to justify its position. Statutory authorities may take a different view on same-sex relationships and the suitability of these for structuring an environment within which an adopted child can learn, develop and grow to adult maturity. They are entitled to their point of view just as Catholics are to theirs. However, they have no legal powers to override the long-standing principles of trust law that exist to ensure donors’ intentions are protected and honoured. To claim otherwise would be to dismantle four centuries of carefully crafted legislation and in the process to destroy donors’ trust and confidence in the capabilities of trustees to programme and oversee charitable activities that advance their declared objects.
The High Court’s ruling compelling the Charity Commission to review its decision to coerce Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) to place adoptees with gay couples has everything to do with protecting public trust and confidence in charities to do the things they are legally constituted to do. To insist that the trustees of Catholic Care spend donations made expressly for activities to advance the Catholic faith instead of activities that advance a liberal secular agenda represents a significant breach of trust. It is like grabbing a pound given for the protection of cats and forcefully applying it instead for the preservation of an ancient and historic monument. Trust law absolutely forbids such a misapplication of funds.
It is ironic that a public body like the Charity Commission, priding itself on protecting public trust and confidence in charities, needed to be reminded of this fundamental and inviolable principle of trust law by the High Court albeit by a technical legal argument.
From Mr Jim Mirabal
Perhaps we do need to have a debate as to whether the UK’s exemptions and privileges granted to faith-based charities (historically Christian or Jewish) should be extended to Muslim, Hindu...and secularist not-for-profit organisations. This should be a courteous democratic debate for citizens all of whom will have their “religious” dimension.
From Mr William Cooper Bailey
I am not personally a member of the Catholic Church, but I believe that they are fully entitled to their views – which are of course shared by Jews (for around 3,000 years), Islam and others.
From Mr John Woodruff
The Church – usually those up near the top of the hierarchy – progresses from “what the Church has always taught” to “this truth” to “wanting the right” to put this truth into practice. There are few cases of black and white in this world and if the Church hierarchy were a little more flexible, a lot more humble and gave Christianity back to decent, ordinary people it might be able to make a more effective contribution to society.