The LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council has marked the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act today with the following statement:
RECLAIMING & HONOURING OUR HISTORY - historic responses of the Catholic Church in England & Wales to sexual orientation and diversity.
In order to respond to "the perennial questions which people ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other," the 2nd Vatican Council stated that "the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel." (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 7 December 1965).
Discerning how it responds to developing issues around sexual orientation and gender identity, the Catholic Church in England & Wales has an important and pragmatic history. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and its partial de-criminalisation of male homosexuality, the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council wishes to remember the approaches adopted by the Church, both in 1957 and 1967. These offer us vital lessons as we face the challenges of inclusive LGBT pastoral care, theological development, and expressions of official Church teaching on matters of sexual diversity and gender identity. Issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are as much a matter of social justice as they are of personal sexual ethics.
In 1958, as reported in Hansard, the then Roman Catholic Advisory Committee on Prostitution & Homosexual Offences, appointed by Cardinal Griffin, said: It should accordingly be clearly stated that penal sanctions are not justified for the purpose of attempting to restrain sins against sexual morality committed in private by responsible adults. They are, as later appears, at present employed for this purpose in this country and should be discontinued because: 1. (a) they are ineffectual; 2. (b) they are inequitable in their incidence; 3. (c) they involved severities disproportionate to the offence committed; 4. (d) they undoubtedly give scope for blackmail and other forms of corruption. It is accordingly recommended that the Criminal Law should be amended in order to restrict penal sanctions for homosexual offences as follows, namely, to prevent: 1. (a) the corruption of youth; 2. (b) offences against public decency; 3. (c) the exploitation of vice for the purpose of gain." The Cardinal left the decision to Church members as to whether any amendment of the law would seem to be condoning sin.
This approach, maintaining a distinction between legality and personal morality, was continued when, in 1967, the Sexual Offences Act became law. Similar, more discerned and developed criteria were proposed by Cardinal Hume in 1997 when considering recent advances in LGBT-related legislation. Such a scrutiny of 'the signs of the times' in the secular realities of our time also provides the context to appreciate the often prophetic significance of the 1979 lntroduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, published by the Social Welfare Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales. Such pragmatism relating to these matters may also be found in various policy and guidance documents to Catholic agencies and schools from the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales.
These historic approaches by the Catholic community are consistent with the pastoral outreach to LGBT people practised by Pope Francis and Westminster Diocese. A fully inclusive pastoral ministry with and for LGBT Catholics, parents and families, inevitably leads to understanding Church teaching on sexuality and gender identity as a developing area of magisterial teaching and not something fixed once and for all in previous documents from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
On this important secular anniversary we therefore call upon the Church's hierarchy, globally and locally, to undertake a serious listening process, involving LGBT Catholics, parents, theologians and pastoral workers, bishops and priests, in order to bring about the vision expressed by Pope Francis in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia): “The unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a “unity in diversity”, or 'reconciled diversity'. Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good."
For more information on the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council see: www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org