London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community. At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.
The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture. His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality. The news story stated:
“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.
“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.
“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.
“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”
No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality. Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.
While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved. The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.
Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017