The Pope told a gathering of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales in Rome: "Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet, as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed."
If you look more deeply into what His Holiness is saying, it appears that he is concerned that the Bill may interfere with the rights of the Roman Catholic Church to discriminate in favour of marriage for its adherents and against marriage for its priest, monks and nuns; he does not agree with the law to demand equal rights for women, nor that of a law to demand equal rights for homosexuals and transgender people. Further, it is thought Sexual Orientation Regulations could force Catholic adoption agencies to consider gay couples as potential adoptive parents, and he doesn’t agree with that either.
I am not a religious person, but as I have said before, I respect the right of people to choose a life as close as they can to their idea of perfection, as long as it does not interfere with the next man’s right to do the same thing.
I think that that probably means that we must accept certain ground rules, as we have done for centuries. Many of these rules will be in accordance with at least some holy teachings: thou shalt not commit murder, is a good example, as is charity to the less well off, and acceptance of equality of people of different races. Others have come upon us since the scriptures were written. So although rules that say women and men must be treated equally in employment law, and that we must not discriminate against someone because they are disabled or gay are not in the scriptures, many would say that they are in the spirit of the scriptures.
Pope Benedict is encouraging his English and Welsh bishops to work against the parliament of the UK to undermine their proposals for law, and that brings several thoughts to my mind:
1. Were this another head of state with a state visit planned, would the government be considering whether he was still welcome here? If it were Sarkozy, for example, who had made it clear that he wanted to overturn UK law, would the government remain quiet?
2. Would the Pope be happy to see his teachings turned back upon himself and his adherents? Would he, for example, be happy if a woman refused to serve a Roman Catholic in her shop, or a gay hotelier refused to have a catholic in his or her establishement?
3. If His Holiness wishes to interfere with the laws of the UK, would it not be a good idea to put his efforts and time and that of his bishops into the appalling poverty and deprivation on one hand, and massive bonuses and greed on the other, that exists in the country which he intends to visit. Inequality of another sort.
Religion most certainly has a place in many people's lives, and therefore in legisation. Where to draw the line in its influence is a very difficult and divisive question.
One thing is for sure; the churches seem to have an unhealthy, and rather unsavoury interest in matters of gender or sex.