BY SIMON CALDWELL
ONE OF ENGLAND'S newest bishops has called on the nation's Catholics to learn how to defend the Church's traditional teaching on marriage in the face of massive family breakdown.
Auxiliary Bishop John Hine of Southwark described moves to treat all sexual lifestyles as equal to marriage as "illogical" and insisted that the Church could not compromise on any of its teaching on marriage and the family.
In his first major speech since last year becoming chairman of the Marriage and Family Life Committee of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the bishop said the time had come when "we who believe in marriage have to repeat very clearly and very articulately our rationale for marriage".
Bishop Hine said: "If we don't, then who will? If we don't, then marriage will go by the board."
Addressing a conference of natural family planning teachers in West Wickham, Kent, he noted Britain's historically unprecedented rates of divorce, illegitimacy, and cohabitation; and moves to equate marriage with alternative sexual lifestyles accompanied by a decline of "any general acceptance of any religious and moral values".
But he argued that it would be wrong for Christians to accept the increasingly prevalent view of marriage as a private and negotiable arrangement.
He said the Church embraced a public view of marriage as one which involved an exclusive, lifelong commitment between husband and wife which was recognised and supported by the state.
Bishop Hine, 63, said: "It is important to see marriage in its proper context. Marriage is a solemn union between man and woman publicly entered into — a free commitment that's legally recognised.
"It does involve society. It involves a whole new range of relationships and a new status. More than that, of course, it is a basic cell of society with the tremendous potential for creating a family, the very building block of a society for the future."
He added: "When spouses officially establish their relationships in society by making them public, they announce that the love in them will make a better place for all living in society generally."
He said that while there was "a huge amount of room for mercy and pastoral care" for those who suffered marital breakdown for no fault of their own, it was nevertheless vital that the young were taught that their best chance of fulfilling their desires to "live in love" would, in' most cases, be found only within marriage.
Bishop Hine, who was ordained last year after serving as a priest in Southwark for 40 years, said the Church would soon appoint a lay national marriage and family life coordinator, whose job it would be to advise the bishops on government policy; liaise with other agencies and support Church workers involved in the field of marriage and family life.
He said he would not envisage appointing anyone not "in total sympathy with the Church's total teaching on marriage and the family".
Veronica Pearson of the Billings Ovulation Method (BOM) Trust, which organised the four-day conference, welcomed the bishop's remarks.
She added: "We feel that our work is at the heart of marriage and family life and would like to be there to support and help Bishop Hine in his task of taking the Church forward in this area in whatever way we can."
Bishop Hine was the key guest speaker at the event, the overall purpose of which was to update and train existing BOM teachers in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic in the light of new scientific and practical research into the method.
The most recent trials, which took place in China in 2000, established that the method now had an effectiveness rate of 100 per cent in avoiding pregnancy.
Marian Corkhill and Marie Marshell, two Billings tutors from Melbourne, Australia. flew to Britain to teach at the sessions.