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Democracy December 27, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I’m not posting anything substantive this week because it’s nice to have a break, and as you’ll notice we’ve a heap of Christmas themed stuff. But reading the Guardian yesterday morning I was entertained by the news that:

The leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales has described the government’s plans for gay marriage as undemocratic and a “shambles”.


“There was no announcement in any party manifesto, no green paper, no statement in the Queen’s speech.
“And yet here we are on the verge of primary legislation. From a democratic point of view, it’s a shambles.
“George Orwell would be proud of that manoeuvre. I think the process is shambolic.”

To which the thought immediately came to mind that one line we’ve heard many times is that the Catholic Church is not a democracy. Indeed the National Catholic Reporter only a few short days ago had the following:

When the Catholic church affirms the importance of how all the faithful understand matters of faith and morals, it is not saying Catholic beliefs are open to a popular vote, Pope Benedict XVI said.


An authentic sensus fidei, which literally means “sense of faith,” can come only when Catholics actively participate in the life of the church and follow the teaching of the pope and bishops, he said Dec. 7 during a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that “the whole body of the faithful … cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.”

Which makes appeals to ‘democracy’ (even putting aside the thought that we live in representative rather than direct democracies) from that quarter somewhat beside the point. As to broader societal trends…


1. sonofstan - December 27, 2012

Likewise with any Catholic appeal to a notion of ‘rights’ – including the ‘right’ to life.


WorldbyStorm - December 28, 2012

That’s very true. Tbh it seems desperately cynical of him to use that language of democratic validation.


2. Forbolg - December 28, 2012

I think it’s widely accepted that the RCC does not operate as a democratic institution . This should hardly debar it from contributing to public discourse .It is unfortunate that they seem they seem to be somewhat obsessed with an issue that is hardly central to what most of its own members would regard as its core message ie building the kingdom of God on earth.Maybe they need to issue a Mission Statement ……


3. Tomboktu - December 28, 2012

Not just here. In England, a High Court judge has criticised the attention given to the issue of lifting the ban on same-sex marriage by the government because the British government is not giving attention to marriage break-ups.


4. Hank Tree - December 28, 2012

We’re talking about democracy in two very different ways here. I’m not sure using the two meanings interchangeably is particularly instructive. It’s a bit trivial.


WorldbyStorm - December 28, 2012

Not sure I’d entirely agree with that analysis. I already pointed out that even if we restrict his criticism to ‘democratic processes’ the reality is the UK is a representative democracy, not a direct one. But that’s still not the fundamental point which is that given the organisation he’s a member of doesn’t actually utilise democratic processes in terms of its own representation or decision making it’s pointless for them to try to use that as a bench mark for others. As to whether it’s a bit trivial, I’m not so sure. This is a defining annual public statement from a key Catholic in a neighbouring state. He clearly doesn’t consider it trivial.


Hank Tree - December 28, 2012

WBS, let me explain. There’s democracy with a capital “D” and a small d. The former refers to democracy applied to political power in society. The latter refers to whatever, like a club, trade union, etc. All organisations are subordinate to the state because of the state’s claim to be Democratic. This confers on the state a moral authority. Thus, when the state is perceived to have bypassed Democracy, the organisations may see this as a breach of trust. The catholic church may not be democratic, but it does not claim a monopoly on violence or law making power. Big fan of blog btw 🙂


WorldbyStorm - December 28, 2012

Appreciate that Hank Tree, and not in any sense criticising you but just teasing the thoughts out.

That’s a very persuasive point you make re breaches of trust. It is interesting how rapidly the Tories are moving on this, though I think they’re moving with the tide of history so that may impell them faster than otherwise. And yet, it still sits particularly oddly with the Church which is intrinsically ademocratic in its own workings (and by the way, I’m no Catholic basher – as far as I’m concerned as an autonomous entity it has every right to express an opinion, though how warmly that opinion may be received on certain issues is a different matter). I guess if his complaint was coming from a union, or a representative body of some sort it would probably sit better with me.

And the state itself in its representational aspect is sort of messy – in the UK at times it appears likely that there would be popular support for capital punishment and yet there’s no legislative support for same. That sort of goes in the opposite direction, at least up until recently, as that of the same sex marriage issue, but it seems to me to point to how represenational democracy isn’t entirely clear cut in the way direct democracy might be.


5. FergusD - December 29, 2012

I think the RCC can be very cynical about using the “democratic” argument, for its own ends, while being so resolutely undemocratic itself.

At the same time this issue, gay marriage in church, is a bit messy is it not? Gay people should have the same rights as heterosexuals. So the state provides civil marriage in the UK (as all states should!) so it should for gay people.

Church marriage is up to the church though surely? My wife and I didn’t marry in a church, and neither of us would have expected a priest to marry us as we are not believers, they would have been within their rights to refuse if we had asked. I can see that gay believers would be upset to be refused a church marriage but is this something the state should force on a church? I don’t know.

Presumably the only way the UK state can legislate on this is because the CoE is a state religion and is legally controlled by parliament? So in this case the state does have a “right” to legislate.

I suppose the argument I would accept would be that equality legislation requires churches to provide for gay marriage. But if that were the case then it should apply to the RCC, Islam, Judaism etc, which AFAIK is not being argued, or am I wrong?. I am uncomfortable with using the state religion status of the CoE to force this through, the CoE should be disestablished and if this is a principle (the right to gay marriage in church/mosque etc) that should be applied then it should be applied to all religions in the UK.

(You kind of think that the hostility of major religions to gay people over many hundreds of years would make gay people question the very basis of religion though.)

I’m conflicted on this one!


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