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By Jason Michael
Jacob Rees-Mogg might become Britain’s first out-of-the-closet Catholic Prime Minister. This doesn’t bode well for gay people and women, but it’s unfair to blame this on the Catholic Church. Rees-Mogg is making it up as he goes along.
Contrary to popular opinion there is no law against a Catholic becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain. Constitutionally, according to the Act of Settlement (1701), only a Protestant can be monarch, but nothing is said explicitly of the religious affiliation of the Prime Minister. It would, however, be awkward considering the Prime Ministerial role in advising the reigning monarch in ecclesiastical concerns pertaining to the established church and the prohibition on Catholics advising the head of state on matters religious.
One would think that this is all a bit of a moot point in 2017. We’re well past the Reformation, aren’t we? Not quite. Strangely enough anti-Catholic bigotry still lingers about the British establishment. In early March this year the SNP MP for Glasgow North West, Carol Monaghan, got a few Westminster politicians excited when she attended a Commons select committee wearing ashes on her forehead marking Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
But that all ended, surely, with the advent of Theresa May? She’s Britain’s first Catholic Prime Minister according to Michael Gove. But that’s nonsense. Her father was an Anglo-Catholic priest in the Church of England. As lovely as the high church tradition of the Anglican Church can be, it’s not Catholic. Not according to the Catholic Church. Anglicanism shares a special relationship with the Church of Rome, but – according to the teaching of the Catholic Church – it is not Catholic. Without – from the perspective of Rome – validly ordained priests, the apostolic succession of the episcopacy, the papacy, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the English high church is “catholic” in name only. So no, Michael Gove is wrong. Theresa May is not a Catholic.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, on the other hand, is the real McCoy. He is full fat, and he might well be Britain’s first Catholic Prime Minister. In the main this is to be welcomed. In 2017 there should be no religious bar of any kind on any elected position. I would still argue that a Catholic should not be monarch, but that’s because I am of the opinion no one should be monarch.
I'd never heard of Jacob Rees-Mogg until every Catholic I follow adopted the Rees-Mogg Naming System.—
Grace (@grace_march) July 23, 2017
What irks me about Rees-Mogg’s Catholicism is that he has weaponised it to suit the purposes of his selfish political ambitions. He hides behind an idiosyncratic and self-serving interpretation of Church teaching in order to defend his own prejudices on same-sex marriage and abortion, but the problem he has is that the Catholic Church does not teach – and never has taught – what he pretends it does. Two thousand years of moral theological development is more nuanced than his particular brand of modern religiously conservative bigotry.
Rees-Mogg is a fund manager. He’s not a theologian. He’s not even a particularly good Christian. So we can forgive him his economy with Truth. So let’s spell this out.
He, like the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, is opposed to same-sex marriage, and yes, the official teaching of the Church is that the sacrament of marriage is enacted only between one woman and one man. That is official teaching, but it is not infallible teaching – an important facet of Catholic theology. At the heart of this is the belief that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, guides the Church into Truth qua unerring moral objectivity. The problem the Catholic Church has here – as a hierarchy of cardinals and bishops – is that they are not the Church. The Church is every Catholic, and the Truth is determined by the sensus fidelium; the consensus of all the faithful.
So in Ireland when the electorate, the vast majority of which is Catholic, voted in favour of marriage equality the Church can do nothing but accept that this is an expression of the Truth through the informed decision of Catholic people. Oops! While this is not considered an infallible statement of the Church either, as the sensus fidelium it trumps every other source of authority in the Catholic Church other than an infallible statement from the Pope – which will never happen.
What about abortion? Okay, bear with me. This might lose me some friends. I am with the Church on abortion, but I am not with Jacob Rees-Mogg. I, following the teaching of the Church, hold human life, from conception to the grave, to be sacred – made in the image and likeness of God – and therefore imbued with certain inalienable rights and dignity. Abortion, like euthanasia, the death penalty, and austerity, from my religious point of view, is an intrinsic moral wrong.
Where I part company with Rees-Mogg is on his insistence that abortion is to be refused in every circumstance. The Catholic Church does not quite hold this position. It teaches that the intentional ending of human life in the termination of a pregnancy is wrong, but Catholic bioethics accepts the important ethical principal of double effect. When the intention of a therapeutic intervention is to save life – a moral good – and the consequence of this life saving procedure is the death of the unborn, then there is no moral wrong. Thus, so long as the intention is not kill the child, it is perfectly acceptable in Catholic teaching to medically intervene to save the life of a woman even when the inadvertent result is the death of the unborn. When Jacob Rees-Mogg insists otherwise he is not following the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Yet in focusing on these two social issues Rees-Mogg is engaging in a form of à la carte Catholicism. Christianity is not about being down on the gays and abortion clinics. It is about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and comforting the heartbroken. It is – in its absolute essence – about indiscriminately loving every man, woman, and child upon whom are the indelible fingerprints of God their maker. This includes gay people as much as it does the woman contemplating or undergoing an abortion, immigrants regardless of their legal status, the unemployed, the sick, the elderly, and his chums at the Old Boy’s Club.
Catholicism, like any religious tradition, is not a pick-and-mix. As a member of the Conservative Party, Rees-Mogg is supporting an entire raft of policies that are simply and wholly inconsistent with the Christian faith. Quite apart from religion – to save this from becoming a sermon – the programme of the British Conservative Party, insofar as it impacts on the economy and the lives of the poor and the vulnerable, is in no sense philosophically or morally good. So while we must welcome the prospect of a Catholic Prime Minister – or indeed a Prime Minister from any religious or non-religious persuasion other than Protestantism, we can’t allow Rees-Mogg to hide behind a quasi-catholicism he is making up as he goes along.
Dear Jacob Rees-Mogg, Be Like Pope Frank!