Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, is suspending direct talks with the Scottish government
Britain’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, is now refusing to talk to Scottish ministers in protest about their plans for gay marriage equality.
According to the BBC, the cardinal made this decision following the Scottish government support for the introduction of same-sex marriage and ahead of the resumption of parliamentary session in September.
The BBC also reported that the cardinal refused to meet with government ministers to discuss the new marriage equality legislation.
A spokesman for the Scottish government said the cardinal and the first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, had ‘entirely amicable conversation on first name terms’ this Saturday (19 August).
However, in a letter to Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the cardinal asked for any future discussions between the church and government on the issue to take place between officials.
Speaking with BBC Scotland, Peter Kearney, the cardinal’s spokesman, said: ‘The situation we find ourselves in is one where we want to maintain a dialogue, and the cardinal wants to maintain a dialogue with the government, but that can be difficult when you feel all the things you have to say, to date at least, have been completely ignored.’
Previously the cardinal’s call for a referendum on gay marriage was rejected by the Scottish government.
Following a consultation and with polls showing overwhelming support for the introduction of full same-sex marriage, the Scottish government has pledged to put to a parliamentary vote a bill for marriage equality.
The earliest ceremonies could take place by the start of 2015.
Marriage equality is also supported by all the leaders of the five parties in the Scottish parliament, as well as by LGBT rights campaigners and many faith groups.
The Roman Catholic Church along with the evangelical churches in Scotland remain vehemently opposed declaring a ‘war’ against marriage equality.
A spokesman for the first minister told the BBC that ‘while this is an honest disagreement over policy, on a personal level relations between the first minister and the cardinal are extremely good, as they are with Scotland’s other faith leaders – Mr Salmond holds the cardinal in the highest regard and will always do so.
‘We have made clear that we will protect religious freedom and freedom of expression – we are currently undertaking a focused stakeholder consultation to make sure that this happens, and we are delighted that officials from the church and government are to meet in order to discuss these very important matters.
‘Faith groups and their celebrants will not be obliged to solemnise same-sex marriages, and we also intend to protect the current situation whereby the faith content of the curriculum in Catholic denominational schools is determined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.’
Speaking with GSN, Tim Hopkins, chair of Scotland’s Equality Network said: ‘The Cardinal and his colleagues have been wrongly claiming that Catholic priests will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages and will go to prison for speaking out against them.
‘If that is a genuine concern, it is surprising that he is refusing to discuss the Government’s legal provisions which will ensure the Church’s continued freedom to opt out and oppose.
‘We call on him to accept that the Government’s proposals guarantee freedom of religion both for religions that support same-sex marriage and those that oppose it.’
Gay and lesbian couples in Scotland can already have civil partnerships which offer similar rights to marriage but are seen by many as a ‘separate but equal’ system, making LGBT people into second-class citizens.