One of my favourite Catholics is Joe Devine, Catholic bishop of Motherwell. This is on more than the supposition that anyone described by Simon Callow as being a “profoundly ignorant and stupid man” who is also “profoundly unChristian” cannot be all bad.
Like most Glaswegians, Kirkintilloch is close enough, Joe tells it like it is. As a result to ask whether he attracts controversy is like questioning the existence of ursine subarboreal defecatory activity.
Joe is never slow to let you know what he thinks. This time he has David Cameron in his sights.
Last week he sent a letter to 10 Downing Street asking David Cameron to state that he does not believe Christian sexual morality is bigotry. He further asked that an inquiry be set up to examine “whether the new equality and sexual orientation legislation infringes the rights of others” especially those who attend church. Joe claimed that an inquiry was necessary as there were dozens of cases in which churchgoers “appear to be given less respect for their views than other religions”.
This latest broadside results from Cameron wading in to the Johns case where a Christian couple were denied the opportunity of continuing as foster parents because of their views on homosexuality.
When asked if he thought Christian views were incompatible with an acceptance of homosexuality Cameron said ‘I think Christians should be tolerant and welcoming and broad minded.’
Cameron seems to define tolerance as Christians not articulating opinions with which he disagrees, a strange understanding of tolerance but then he is a politician.
Claiming to be a churchgoer himself, he added: ‘This matter was decided by a court in the appropriate way and I think we should rest with the judgement that was made.’
If we take this at its face value, as Joe Devine did, the Prime Minister seems to believe that expressing the view that homosexual acts are immoral is now unacceptable, even for Christians. More frightening is the implication that we should automatically accept whatever the state defines as morality.
Joe argues that the rights of Christians who try to live “according to their consciences” were being “‘trumped’ by the rights of those belonging to other institutions and sexual minority pressure groups.”
Never one to mince his words he added, “In fact some might argue that what we have here is less to do with religion and more to do with mind control and thought crime.”
He elaborated: “I do believe that Britain, more than most other nations in Europe, has chosen to fast-track equality and sexual orientation legislation without due regard for the rights and consciences of many”.
Earlier this year Joe claimed that the present coalition government was continuing the practice of the previous Labour government of forcing people to act against their conscience or face punishment from the state.
Writing in the Scottish Sunday Times, Joe likened Britain to a country that has “passed into the grip of secularist militants”.
The good bishop (a strange conjunction of adjective and noun to my Presbyterian ears) has aroused antagonism and admiration in equal measure. Whether you love him or loath him, delight or despair at his pronouncements, it has to be acknowledged that Joe is one of the few churchmen who speak in a way that can be understood by friend and foe alike. Perhaps that is why he provokes a reaction when most of us don’t.