It is indeed a confusing world. The nuns at Tyburn are faced with a bill for £400,000 to provide disabled facilities for those who want to visit. The House of Lords appears to have made potential criminals of almost every well-ordered family by its decision on smacking. A cathedral of the Church in Wales is being threatened with prosecution because it was not willing to appoint a head verger who intended to bring his live-in boyfriend to the house provided in the Cathedral Close. At the same time, there was the decision of a tourist authority to refuse to promote the bed and breakfast business whose owner refused to allow two men to share a double bed. All these have excited the ire of the tabloids and cannot have been popular with most of us Catholics.
The interesting thing is what they have in common. Each of the incidents arose from the attempt by Government to do something worthy. It has been very galling for the physically disabled that they have been excluded from many forms of transport and a large number of attractions. In principle, making it easier for them to be included is a fine and proper aim. The unintended consequence is that St John’s, Smith Square — a successful charity that provides a valuable concert venue — will have to find a million pounds to meet the requirements of the Disablement Act — a million pounds that would otherwise have gone on their charitable purpose. If they can’t raise it then they will go bust.
So too with the anti-discrimination laws. The intention was to ensure that we did not have a country that penalised people for their race or their religion and, latterly, for their sexual orientation. We Catholics know enough of our own history to realise how damaging prejudice can be. The ostracising and the exclusion that has continued even after the end of persecution is still a reality in parts of the United Kingdom. In our community we have black and brown people who feel the issue even more keenly. Many of them have experienced being turned away from accommodation and jobs simply on the grounds of their colour. You don’t have to put up a notice saying “No Blacks/Catholics need apply” to discriminate in recruitment.
Today, all of us would understand why people need protection from these indignities. Most would accept that colour, religion or sexual orientation is not an issue that should dictate whether you get a job or not, where you should live, or what leisure opportunities are open to you. Our problem is not, there fore, with the principle but with the application. When a Students’ Union threatens with closure a Christian organisation that insists that its officers are Christians, it is manifestly absurd. Telling a Catholic school that it cannot discriminate in favour of the very community that it is set up to nourish is patently ridiculous. Allowing Church employees to occupy Church accommodation in a manner which affronts Church teaching is clearly unacceptable. In each case laughter ought to be the remedy. Sadly the law is an ass because there are too many for whom antidiscrimination is the only issue and discrimination the only sin. We shan’t convince those who have embraced this exclusive morality but most people would agree that we need to recover a sense of proportion and upon that Catholics should insist.