'Keep focus on marriage': Archbishop Nichols spells out position on civil partnerships

Following a lecture organised by the Thomas More Institute on Wednesday 7 December, the Archbishop of Westminster responded to recent criticism of his remarks on civil partnerships.

Dr Andrew Hegarty asked the archbishop to clarify his and the Church’s position on civil partnerships, noting a Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith document from 2003 which notes: ‘In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.’

Archbishop Nichols replied:

“There has been a bit of mischievous talk in newspapers, or Catholic newspapers I should say, and subsequently on websites I understand -- I don’t spend a lot of time looking at them.

The press conference I gave is online if anybody wants to actually go and listen to what I actually said rather than what people construe out of things that I say. The press conference was very clear; it was actually about defending marriage and putting forward the arguments as to why the particular nature of marriage is unique to a man and a woman and should not be confused or conflated with any partnership between two people.

I think what’s terribly important at this present stage of the debate is to keep the focus on marriage, and is to say, as I have said twice now already, this is the nature of marriage, it is written into our nature, it’s not the possession of the Church nor of the State to change, and it is absolutely important that that is the focus of what we do and what we say.

I think what I have done is recognise the existence of legal arrangements for same-sex partners who wish to avail themselves of protection to do with rights and property, inheritance and access to each other. You should, I think, pay attention to the fact that when that legislation was put in place, to which we objected, there was a very very clear undertaking given by the government that this should not be confused with marriage.

The actual scope of the same-sex union regulation is not the same as marriage because when it comes to the same-sex partnerships there is absolutely no reference to the sexual relationship or sexual activity which is obviously essential to marriage, so there is a profound difference in law in this country at present.

Now what we have to do -- and we have to keep clear that the argument now is about the nature of marriage, and that’s why that will always be the focus of my comments at this stage -- we have to be able to see and say and persuade people that marriage is the crucial foundation of the family and that is what we do not want changed.

The Prime Minister, if you remember, at the Tory party conference said that because he was in favour of commitment and because he was in favour of equality therefore he proposed to change the definition of marriage. My response has been: we too are in favour of commitment, and commitment actually is very essential to the stability of society. If a workman gives a word -- if somebody promises to do something, if parents are committed to their children and keep to that commitment, all of those things add great stability. We too are opposed to any unjust discrimination, but we have to keep saying commitment plus equality does not equal marriage, and the Prime Minister’s argument is flawed because the absolute essential of marriage, is as I say, that it’s a relationship between a man and woman ordered for the procreation of children to their education and to their upbringing, and that’s the point we have to keep making.”

Archbishop Nichols also praised the work of Catholic Voices, which he said “not only made such a good contribution at the time of the Papal Visit, but also has been followed and assisted in different countries, in different parts of the world. And I think what the Catholic Voices initiative did was absolutely right: it helped people to understand their faith, it helped people to understand the public square, and it helped them to deepen their own spiritual life. Each of those is absolutely essential. What we can’t have is simply talking heads who have learnt lines but don’t really understand and what we can’t have is people for whom when the voice appears it doesn’t seem to have a personal resonance. As Pope Paul VI said: “people are impressed more by witnesses than by teachers”, and it’s that element of personal witness that is very important”.


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