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We would disagree with Austen Ivereigh's statement (written in response to Peter Stanford’s column (The Tablet, 26 July) that the Church's opposition to gay marriage is not homophobic. The Church's stance needs to be put in its historical context.
We don't have to go too far back in time to find demeaning and offensive statements from church leaders. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has over the years made a number of statements. In "Persona Humana" (1975) it described homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered" and those born homosexual as "pathological".
"On The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" (1986) goes further. It described homosexuality as "self-indulgent" and "an objective disorder". Although the letter condemned violence against us, it also said that when we demand equality we shouldn't be surprised if there is an "increase in irrational and violent reactions". This comes close to making excuses for violence against us.
In 1992, the CDF added that in some circumstances it was okay to discriminate against gay people, including "when placing children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment."
In "Memory and Identity" (2005) Pope John Paul II called demands for the acceptance of gay unions evil, and compared such demands with Nazi and Marxist ideologies.
Although the Church in the UK supported decriminalisation in the 1960s, in much of the world bishops have opposed such measures, including New Zealand, India, Belize and Nigeria. In 2012 Ugandan bishops supported the introduction of anti homosexual legislation (though there has now been a marked change in the attitude of the Church in Uganda, probably in part due to the influence of Pope Francis).
Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Church opposed not just gay marriage, but also legally sanctioned civil partnerships. When, in 2005, we entered into a civil partnership, we followed the official ceremony with a religious service. Sadly, we felt unable to ask any Catholic priest to officiate, and the service was led by a Methodist preacher.
In the context of all this, it is justifiable to refer to the Church's opposition to gay marriage as homophobic.
However, there is hope for the future. Many of us take comfort from the words of Pope Francis: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"
Kevin Crowe and Simon Long, Durness, Sutherland
May I just strike an appreciative note for Austen Ivereigh's lucid exposition of the reasons why there was a valid answer for Peter Stanford in the dilemma he faced with the accusation that the Catholic Church was homophobic to oppose gay marriage.
But may I add two further points to assist Catholics/Christians faced with this kind of accusation. Firstly, in the Christian view, every person is a child of God and of absolute worth. The difficulty the church has surely is with homosexual practice, not the person. The elision nowadays between person and practice so to dispute the merits or not of the latter is to criticise the former disables public debate. This occurs in issues of faith as well – with Islam, for instance. English Law has always distinguished between person and ideas. It will defend the former and allow the latter. Christians have every right to Voltaire's attributed dictum being quoted in their defence: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".
Secondly, and more critically, this view is protected under the law as religion under the Equalities Act is a protected characteristic, and thus its official teaching such as is to be found in the catechism we have every right to hold, to teach and to proclaim. The disapproval and indeed, in recent employment cases, the sanctions visited on those holding and proclaiming Christian views, are a violation of the human rights of Christians. We should be more confident in claiming our "space in the public square" and engage in courteous but vigorous debate. In the spirit of the example – indeed injunction – given by Our Lord, we should not be afraid.
Edmund Matyjaszek, Ryde, Isle of Wight
Peter Stanford's enthusiasm for same-sex marriage leaves out truths that matter. God's plan for mankind is often hard to keep. The hardest commandment to keep, at least for most people, concerns the integrity and wholeness of our physical bodies with respect to our sexual identity. Two homosexual men that that I knew remained heroically celibate. It is surely best to respect the right order that God has made as far as we can.
Christopher David, Lanzarote, Las Palmas