On March 24, 2015, 515 British priests published in the British newspaper Catholic Herald an open letter asking that “the Church conserve her doctrine” on marriage. “We wish as Catholic priests, to reaffirm our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia,” wrote these members of the British clergy.
This publication was criticized by certain bishops, in particular Cardinal Vincent Nichols (on the picture with Pope Francis). According to Catholic Herald’s website, the prelate considered that such a debate should not be “conducted through the press”. The cardinal, who is to represent the Church in England and Wales at the next synod on the family in October, declared in a press release published the next day that “the pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.”
Bishop Peter Doyle, bishop of Northampton, in central England – who will accompany Cardinal Nichols next October, adopted a similar position published by The Tablet on April 1, 2015: “This is the puzzle facing the synod: it’s about upholding the constant teaching of the Church while at the same time trying to find ways of meeting painful situations with the compassion of the Lord.”
In the same edition of the English newspaper, Bishop Crispian Hollis, bishop emeritus of Portsmouth, in the south of England, was less diplomatic and stated that if the letter had been addressed to him, he would have “binned it”, adding that he did not agree “with either the content of the letter or the way it was publicized.”
His point of view is not shared by Edward Peters, who was also quoted by The Tablet. The canon lawyer from the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit (United States) wrote on his blog on March 26 that the British bishops would have done better to say nothing, since this letter merely “defended church teaching on marriage and the sacraments” and “amounted to a statement of what every Catholic should be proud to proclaim.” The priests’ letter, he wrote, is “a model of accuracy, balance, brevity, and pastoral respect for persons. It fortifies the soul to know it exists. It gladdens the heart to actually read it.”
This must also have been the opinion of the 500 laymen of the United Kingdom who published a letter of support for the priests in the weekly Catholic Herald. “We wish to endorse and support the (…) priests’ letter published in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald. (…), and we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels,” they wrote on April 8, 2015.
(sources: apic/catholicherald/thetablet/canonlawblog – DICI no.314 April 24, 2015)