Sunday, 2 November 2008

What tradition?

I have been interested, though hardly suprised, at the results of Peter Tatchell's efforts to reveal UK Catholicism's rewriting of history with Westminster help.
Catholicism has two problems. It needs a new UK saint to keep the punters interested, but the best recent candidate seems to have been gay.
In brief, the favoured candidate is Cardinal Newman, who not only quite openly had a 30 year intimate friendship with a Father Ambrose St. John, but at his own request was buried with him a century ago.
After several enquiries under the Freedom of Information Act, Tatchell seems to have established that recent Catholic attempts to have Newman reburied in a more 'fitting' manner had a fair bit of behind-the-scenes help from the Ministry of Justice. This even seems to have included a 'media plan' to enable a whitewash should the facts ever come out.
For a good up to date summary of the story look at today's Pink Triangle Trust blog (
Now of course, on the Isle of Man church/state lovey-doveyness notoriously helps to perpetuate common prejudice.
We still have no Civil Partnership Act, despite 'public consultation' prior to a promised drawing up of a bill which was timetabled last year.
Faith-based schools and 'community facilities' are openly homophobic - even when getting public money to deal with issues motivated primarily by faith-based homophobia, such as teenage homelessness.
Unlike the UK, nothing in our legislation requires either charities or businesses to avoid discrimination, and to offer services fairly and (in the case of charities/voluntary sector bodies) to all who need them.
There's only been one 'unofficial' civil partnership ceremony here that I know of - between two women, held in a country hotel lounge and conducted by an off-island clergyman.
It was interesting that they were both Methodists, and that their church friends and relatives were 'advised' to stay away but didn't, despite attending one of the most hardline village churches on the island.
That the event involved quite down to earth country folk, who effectively told their lay preacher and other village worthies to sod off, is quite encouraging.
But has Manx church and community always been as unforgiving towards gays as we think?
There is some evidence that in simpler times they just didn't worry.
A few years ago I had to do a local history project for a Manx magazine which involved (amongst many other things) pottering around village graveyards. I was astonished to find several 18th and 19th century graves where 'lifelong companions' of the same gender were buried together. They weren't hidden away at the edge of graveyards with shipwrecked foreigners, criminals and other 'outsiders'. Presumably clergy and churchwardens were fully involved in the burial arrangements. They just seem to have worried less about what folk got up to with the human plumbing system.
Such a shame 'educated', office-working, financially secure 21st century Christians and church leaders aren't as wise as their illiterate, farmworking forefathers, who respected loving friendships for what they were and generally just minded their own business.

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