Bill in House of Lords: would it make Catholic priesthood illegal?

Sure, there is little chance this will pass.  But that is not the point.  The point is what I call "creeping incrementalism". 

If this doesn’t have a chance of passing and becoming law now, it will have the effect of bringing some people on board with the vision behind the proposal.  Over time, after several attempts, the likelihood of it passing is greatly increased.

Single-minded ideologues endowed with very few gifts of mental flexibility but ample determination are often the people who get things done.

From The Telegraph

Catholic ban on women priests ‘illegal under Harriet Harman equality bill’

The Roman Catholic ban on women entering the priesthood will become illegal under Harriet Harman’s controversial Equality Bill, according to Christian charity, CARE.

By Patrick Hennessy, Political editor
Published: 8:00AM GMT 10 Jan 2010

A new report by the leading charity – backed by a legal opinion from a leading QC – says the Bill will make it impossible for all churches and faith-based charities to insist that their senior staff lead private lives in accordance with their religious beliefs.

CARE said that, under the Bill, which will be considered by the House of Lords on Monday, it would be illegal for a Christian charity to sack a senior manager for adultery or living an openly gay lifestyle.

The same rules would, it added, apply to Muslim and Jewish churches and charities.  [And if this actually gets passed, which group will actually be prosecuted?]

However, the biggest potential showdown is likely to be between the government and Britain’s 4.3 million Catholics over the church’s tradition of an all-male, celibate priesthood.

Previous legislation in 2007, also backed by Ms Harman, [Sounds like an obsession.] the Commons Leader and equality minister, forced the closure of two Catholic adoption agencies for refusing to comply with new laws requiring them to place children with gay couples[And everyone won that one, right?  That really helped children, didn’t it!]

CARE’s report – A Little Bit Against Discrimination? – warns that the proposals contained in the Bill are a serious threat to religious liberty in Britain.

John Bowers QC said in a legal opinion for CARE that the Bill could make it unlawful for a church to require a priest or minister to be male, celibate and unmarried, or not in a civil partnership[A 21st c. gloss on a 16th c. approach to the problem of living, breathing, believing Catholics.]

When the Bill, which aims to wrap up all existing equality legislation in one piece of law, was debated in the Commons, ministers MPs tabled more than 100 amendments to it – but ministers imposed a "guillotine" on the Bill and prevented most of them being discussed.  [Interesting image to introduce in this context.]

The report’s author, Dr Daniel Boucher, said: ”The Equality Bill is a direct assault on the freedom of all faith-based organisations, from churches to charities. This Bill will make it unlawful for those organisations to employ people who are committed to a particular set of religious beliefs.

"This Bill in its current form is a further blow to the faith-based voluntary sector and will leave many people unable to access services they always have. [Is this an attempt to "nationalize" what volunteers do?]

"This legislation must be revised to recognise our plural society. It must recognise that there are many people in our country who have deeply held religious views and convictions, rather than trying to impose some modern day Stalinistic version of society where there is only ever one view that is right, the Government’s."

Overall, the Bill is designed to deliver greater equality between people of different gender, race, religion and class.

However, it has attracted criticism, particularly from businesses. It paves the way for ‘gender pay audits‘ in large companies, obliging employers to disclose the average hourly pay they award male and female workers.

The planned legislation would also allow employers to give preference to female or non-white job applicants over equally qualified white men. [Reverse discrimination?]

Public bodies would have a legal duty to narrow the gap between the rich and poor in the provision of services. For example, local authorities would be expected to do more to help children from poorer backgrounds.  [So… nothing is based in any way on merit, work, performance.]

If passed, the Bill could also oblige public sector bodies to consider the "gender balance" among employees of companies bidding for all government contracts.

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  1. Magpie says:

    A better use of public funds would be for Harriet Harman to enter psychotherapy to uncover and heal her hatred for her father. This is absolute garbage.

  2. cirrus says:

    This really is a serious and worrying problem here in England. The Catholic adoption agencies have already been thrown into disarray here. This legislation must be stopped. Please pray for us all – Satan is certainly testing the doors!

  3. Melania says:

    Yes, determined, single-minded ideologues with little/no mental flexibility do tend to get things done. Harriett Harman and her ilk are definitely a threat to the religious liberty of us all (and every other kind of liberty).

    They should be further incentive for us to put our house in order liturgically, catechetically, … in every way.

    It’s also very important not to adopt just a defensive, reactive posture in the face of these threats. Think law suits, media campaigns … We need to get creative about this.

  4. MargaretMN says:

    I know that religious liberty is the focus here but even our non-religious friends need to understand is that laws like this make the state the sole arbiter of all of our values, not just moral and ideological but even less controversial ones like what is talent, merit etc. What used to be personal and individual will be decided by the state for you. Silly me, I thought we WON the cold war.

  5. Here in New Jersey, our State Senate just voted down a same sex “marriage” bill. The alliance that came together to defeat this measure was comprised of Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews and the religious black community. Abp. Myers, The Roman Catholic Metropolitan of N.J., played a key role.
    I see a future where people who belong to a genuine faith will increasingly come together in a front agains the secular, atheistic world. I see Muslims also playing an increasing role.
    Remember, we have 5,670 years of Judaeo-Catholic teaching on our side. The other side’s ideas are completely man-made.

  6. asperges says:

    Fortunately this government hasn’t long to run and then it will be voted out. There isn’t enough parliamentary time for this sort of Bill. It will die the death either through guillotine or time or just events.

    Pure scaremongering.

  7. shane says:

    I disagree with the analysis that the Equality Bill will make a male-only priesthood illegal.

    Regarding the religious exemption given in Schedule 9(2)(1), the Explanatory Notes to the Bill state “This exception would apply to a requirement that a Catholic priest be a man”. Even if that weren’t the case, forcing bishops to ordain women would hardly qualify as a “proportionate means of complying with the doctrines of the religion” [(3)(b)].

  8. chcrix says:

    “equality minister” – sounds like something out of George Orwell, or perhaps Vonnegut’s “Diana Moon Glompers U.S. Handicapper General”

    Truth is (or becomes) stranger than fiction.

    “Overall, the Bill is designed to deliver greater equality between people of different gender, race, religion and class.”

    A load of succotash. The bill is designed to put yet more power into the hands of state functionaries. The cult of statism is the true heretical religion of the last 100 years.

  9. Fr. A.M. says:

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but is MS. Harman a Catholic ?

  10. chcrix says:

    She does not appear to be a Catholic.

    “She was born in London to the Harley Street physician John Bishop Harman FRCP and his wife Anna, a solicitor. Her parents both came from non conformist backgrounds — her grandfather Nathaniel Bishop Harman was a prominent Unitarian and the Spicer family were well known congregationalists.” – from Wikipedia

  11. shane says:

    “Forgive me if I am wrong, but is MS. Harman a Catholic ?”

    No, but her husband is – which is why she (controversially) sent one her sons to the London Oratory school. Her uncle, the Earl of Longford, was a prominent gay rights opponent, and Catholic convert.

  12. Prof. Basto says:

    It is perhaps important to point out – especially given that not all readers of this blog are watchers of British politics – how senior is Harriet Harman within the British Government.

    Asside from being a member of Parliament since 1987 and having held several Ministerial posts since the Labour Party came to power in 1997, Ms. Harman is currently:

    – a member of the Cabinet holding the offices of (a) Minister for Women and Equality; (b) Leader of the House of Commons and (c) Lord Keeper of Privy Seal (aka Lord Privy Seal).

    – the deputy leader of the ruling Labour Party (the Prime Minister is the Leader);

    – the Labour Party chair.

    In addition, it is important to highlight that the hideous Equality Bill – a Govermnent Bill – is a major part of the Government’s legislative programme for the current session of Parliament and was included by the Prime Minister in the Queen’s Speech. The announcement of the bill in the 2009 Speech from the Throne was as follows:

    “My Government is committed to ensuring everyone has a fair chance in life and will continue to take forward legislation to promote equality, narrow the gap between rich and poor and tackle discrimination. The Bill would also introduce transparency in the workplace to help address the differences in pay between men and women.”

    Thankfully, the present Parliament will expire midnight on May 10th, 2010 if not sooner dissolved, as it will then reach its five year limit of existance. So perhaps, although Labour currently 208 out of the 587 members of the House of Peers (and the Liberal Democrats, likely to support the bill, have 66), the bill could be stalled until the dissolution of Parliament, avoiding the worst.

  13. Supertradmom says:

    What is amazing to me is the hubris of politicians who think they know more and are more moral than the Church founded by Christ,the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity.

    This has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with power…

  14. Oneros says:

    Well, it could force the hierarchy to reconsider the model of the priest as “staff”. As a full-time salaried position. From what I can tell, if the priesthood were a volunteer part-time service (as exists in various forms in the East)…the bill couldn’t touch them.

  15. Supertradmom says:

    Priests part-time? Not possible in a country where there is a priest shortage. In 2001, in England and Wales, there were almost 4.5 million Catholics out of a population of slightly over 52 million. The number of priests at that time was 5600, which means a ratio of 1 priest for almost 900 people. Someone can check my math. The ratio is probably worse now.

  16. Mark M says:


    a) I’m not sure anyone would actually attempt prosecution under this legislation. Secondly, my understanding was that it primarily applied to public bodies, which the non-‘established’ Catholic Church isn’t.

    b) even if someone attempted prosecution, no Judge worth his salt would allow an action to be lodged. It would be thrown out. It’s daft…

    c) in terms of Catholic charities, though; that’s where the real issue is. To talk about clerics is a red-herring.

  17. Gail F says:

    What is the matter with England??? Equality is not the same thing as sameness. And it is not a government’s job to make everyone the same.

  18. An American Mother says:

    “You have sate too long for any good you have been doing …. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

    Where is Old Nod to dissolve Parliament when you really need him?

    ( . . . even a stopped clock is right twice a day, etc. etc. . . )

  19. JonM says:

    For those who don’t think such bills are of grave concern, I suggest a homework assignment. Read some of the history of the Missouri Test Oath.

    We can’t just look at the raw text of a law. We must understand its germ to realize what the tree is all about.

  20. Clinton says:

    If I were an evil overlord, this bill would be just the ticket. Of course I wouldn’t want social services to be offered by any groups
    outside the state. I would not want people to be able to look to an organization other than the state. I would want all of their
    gratitude and loyalty directed to the state. All benefits must be seen to flow from my hands alone. And, of course, groups such as
    churches that might presume to criticize the state must be taught their place.

    As Mussolini described fascism, “nothing outside the state, nothing above the state…”.

    As Asperges and Prof. Basto pointed out above, this bill probably cannot make it out of Parliament. However, one has to ask what
    possible reason would the government have to introduce legislation it knows it cannot pass in time? Obviously, it is to desensitize the
    public, to make those groups objecting look like the boy who cried wolf, and prepare the ground for a later attempt in earnest. Friends
    and enemies will show their faces. Notes will be taken, scores kept. I think this is what Fr. Z. meant by “creeping incrementalism”.

    Prof. Basto’s observation about the seniority and ‘connectedness’ of MP Harman is troubling. If this were some back bench MP
    bringing their own personal crazy the story would be sad and nothing more. But Harman is an key figure in the current government.
    She is important enough to be warned off if the party felt her bill would only embarrass everyone concerned to no purpose. Clearly,
    there is a purpose…

  21. Jayna says:

    “The planned legislation would also allow employers to give preference to female or non-white job applicants over equally qualified white men.”

    This is exactly what France does. And isn’t it pretty much what Affirmative Action does here in the US? Not to mention colleges. I recently applied to a fair few universities for doctoral programs and every single one of them had a section for an optional “Diversity Statement.”

    Like others said, I highly doubt anyone’s going to be crazy enough to try to apply this to the clergy, but the charities are definitely a target. If the bill is passed, that is.

  22. Can everyone in the US say this with me: “Thank God for the 1st Amendment!” I wonder what we’d do without it sometimes, you know?

    Which reminds me, if the premises of that Telegraph are true, I think this bill is going to affect another group of people in terms of the all-male priesthood.

    That is, what about the Orthodox population there? It’s pretty small, but wouldn’t it do the same thing to their priesthood too? So, it’s not only discriminatory to Catholics but other male-priest religions as well.

    Finally, I found a Wikipedia article on how the Catholics are reacting on this bill (if you were wondering about that):

  23. Felicitas says:

    The bill would also affect Britain’s sizable Muslim population, would it not?

  24. Andy Lucy says:

    Back to the days of pursuivants and priest holes.

  25. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    Yes, yes it would. In other words, the only people who would not be terribly affected are the non-religious and the Protestants.

  26. Penguins Fan says:

    None of this surprises me. The only surprise is that it hasn’t been tried before.

    Great Britain has a long history of its government shoving it’s nose in the affairs of the Church and this is another example. I would like to see Mrs. Harman walk into one of the Polish churches in England and tell them what she intends with her bill. The Poles would throw here out on her #$%.

    I expect this same nonsense to be tried in the USA. Likely, the “womynpriest” bunch will claims discrimination and all they need is a sympathetic judge. Look at what the homosexuals got in Massachusetts. The same type of laws could conceivably allow claims for sex or disability discrimination against a National Football League team for not allowing a woman or a disable person to play football. Of course, people who would file such a claim would only be looking for money, but that’s what the law in the US is about anymore.

  27. Penta says:

    What are the chances this will be forced through via the Parliament Acts?

    I didn’t think they’d be used re the Hunting Act, so…Could it be used here?

  28. Harman has published for the Fabian Society. The Fabians were founding members of the Labour Party, and they favored delaying, incremental tactics to spread Socialism. Obviously it has been successful.

    This strategy was put forth as an alternative to violent revolution. They’ll try to do it one way or the other.

  29. wanda says:

    These same sorts of things are already afoot here in the good ol’ USA. (That’s what I thought the article was about until I saw otherwise.) These things are already happening here, perhaps not attacks on the Male Priesthood, yet, but look at all the persecutions that have or are taking place. The same sex marriage crowd keeps trying, Catholic Adoption Agencies have shut down (at least one in New England has)so as not to place a child in a gay couples home. Government threatens the Church with the IRS, if they speak out. Crisis Pregnancy Centers are persecuted, threatened with fines (Balto.) if they do not display a sign that says ‘We don’t do abortions or give out contraceptives here.’ Fake Catholics in politics., etc. ‘Creeping’ is a good description for this culture of death.

    There are lots more, so we needn’t think it couldn’t happen here. So, pray especially for Priests, be watchful and help the organizations who are fighting off these things. Speak up for your Faith – your CATHOLIC Identity!

  30. shane says:

    MYTH: The Equality Bill will force churches to hire gay priests.

    RESPONSE: Everyone should be protected from discrimination and should have the right to be treated fairly in employment and in other areas of life. The Equality Bill recognises and protects people’s rights to hold and manifest religious belief. It also protects gay men, lesbians and bisexual people from being discriminated against. Where such rights have the potential to come into conflict, the Bill strikes an appropriate balance between them.
    The Equality Bill will not change the existing legal position regarding churches and employment. It clarifies the existing law to ensure a balance is maintained between the rights of people to manifest their religion and the right of employees not to be discriminated against because of a protected characteristic such as sexual orientation.

    In the case of Ministers of Religion and other jobs which exist to promote and represent religion, the Bill recognises that a church may need to impose requirements regarding sexual orientation, sex, marriage and civil partnership or gender reassignment if it is necessary to comply with its teachings or the strongly held beliefs of followers. However, it would not be right to permit such requirements across all jobs within organised religions, such as administrators and accountants, and the Equality Bill makes this clear.

  31. RichardT says:

    Read the law, Shane (or perhaps here – What Does The Law Really Say?). The Explanatory Notes carry no legal force whatsoever, and will be ignored as soon as this is passed into law.

    The exemption for religion from sex etc. discrimination ONLY applies to jobs where:
    “the employment wholly or mainly involves—
    (a) leading or assisting in the observance of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion, or
    (b) promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to
    followers of the religion or to others).”

    It is doubtful whether that even covers most Catholic parish priests (“mainly” means “more than 50% of their working hours”)

    It certainly wouldn’t cover a priest teaching non-religious subjects in a school, or working as a hospital chaplain (they are banned from “promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion”, and don’t do much liturgy). It probably wouldn’t cover a priest working for a Catholic charity, if his main job was the relief of suffering rather than spreading the Gospel. Enclosed orders would have to check whether they are spending more than 50% of their time in “liturgical practices” (which I suspect would be held to only include formal communal liturgy, not private prayer).

    Otherwise for other religious jobs the only “discrimination” allowed is that you can require employees to belong to a particular religion. Unfortunately as we have seen in many reports on this blog, there are Catholics who lead, and “celebrate”, all sorts of lifestyles that are contrary to the Church’s teaching. Unless the Bishops are prepared to excommunicate them, they may be forced to employ and even ordain them.

  32. Gail F says:


    You are being disingenuous. As you say, “it would not be right to permit such requirements across all jobs within organised religions, such as administrators and accountants, and the Equality Bill makes this clear.” Therefore, for instance, a church could not require its employees to uphold its teachings, which is just ridiculous.

    All your talk about “conflicting rights” and “jobs which exist to promote and represent religion” are smokescreens. Religions are about all of life — not simply about where and how one worships for an hour or so every week. A Catholic hospital is not just a hospital that happens to be run by Catholics — it is an institution built and operated because of the Catholic Church’s teachings to take care of all people. Yet by the terms of this bill, only the priests and nuns (and possibly teachers) could be required to be Catholic and/or uphold Catholic teachings in their work and lives.

    If you think that’s a good idea, then so in plain English. You want church teachings out of schools, hospitals, volunteer organizations, and anything else they run. That’s what this law would mean.

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