Benedict XVI exemplified ‘total dedication, humility and service’ – Archbishop Clarke
The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Richard Clarke, paying tribute to Pope Benedict XVI who announced last Monday (11th February) that he would step down as Pope at the end of this month, expressed “a warm gratitude for the example of total dedication, humility and service that Pope Benedict displayed throughout his ministry”.
He described him as “a scholar of great intelligence and learning” as well as “a deeply self-effacing and spiritual human being”. Despite the surprise of the Pope’s departure, Dr Clarke said, all Christians must “wish him well and pray every blessing of God for him in the future that awaits him beyond his tenure of the See of Rome”.
On Tuesday 5th February – the day after the Most Revd Justin Welby officially took up office as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, telling the media after the ceremony that he stood by the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage – the House of Commons voted by as many as 400 to 175 votes in favour of, precisely, same-sex marriage. While the Bill faces further debate and a vote in the House of Lords, last week’s decision is unmistakably significant.
When one considers the rather straightforward argument set out by the proponents of the Westminster Bill, there does at first appear to be a certain logic. The basic argument runs that there should be no discrimination between homosexual and heterosexual couples if two people love each other and want to express that love in the lifelong commitment of marriage. Yet the problem with same-sex marriage is that there is much more to marriage than the lifelong mutual commitment of a loving couple. It is also about procreation and the couple’s nurturing of their children.
While men and women can marry at an age when there is no prospect of children, such marriages still witness to the distinctive complementarity of male and female that characterizes marriage and, of course, couples who marry earlier in life remain married into old age. Marriage, as it is traditionally understood, is one of the most foundational aspects of society. All this, of course, is before one even begins to consider the more specifically theological discussion and the witness of Scripture.
There are also difficulties with samesex marriage in terms of its consequences, intended or unintended. There is concern that, despite all attempts to ensure otherwise, a European legal ruling might in due course require clergy of Christian Churches and other religious traditions to officiate at same-sex marriages, against the doctrine of their religious institutions. There is concern about whether schoolteachers would have to instruct children in a meaning of marriage that the teachers simply could not conscientiously bring themselves to impart.
There is concern, however hotly debated, as to how appropriate it is for children to be brought up by a same-sex couple. Moreover, what is described as ‘equal marriage’ will in fact be unequal, not least because adultery, as it is traditionally understood, cannot apply to same-sex couples. It would seem that the only ways around this particular inequality would be, bizarrely, either to change the meaning of adultery or to abolish it altogether as grounds for legal divorce for any married couple.
Civil partnerships caused controversy in the Church because they were perceived as parallel to marriage and, indeed, unfortunately they often have been celebrated in that way. Yet, because, unlike marriage, they are not predicated on an actual sexual relationship, civil partnerships do provide an appropriate way in which people of the same sex can make provision for each other out of their mutual love and care.
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