It’s a tough time for Catholics in public life, and not just in the United States.
Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) grilled Catholic lawyer Amy Coney Barrett on her religious views during a hearing for her nomination as a federal circuit court judge, in a line of questioning that “smacks of the worst sort of anti-Catholic bigotry,” theologian Dr. Chad Pecknold told CNA Sept. 6. Across the pond, a Catholic member of Parliament in the U.K. faced his own round of hostile questions, during an interview on the morning show Good Morning Britain.
After a brief question about immigration and Brexit, hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid vigorously interrogated Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg on his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, both of which are legal in the U.K. The MP is seen by some as a potential Conservative Party leader and even a possible future prime minister. When repeatedly asked about his views on same-sex marriage, Rees-Mogg responded that he supports the teaching of the Catholic Church, and that the teaching is “completely clear.”
Continually grilled about both this issue and then about abortion, Rees-Mogg noted that while he opposes same-sex marriage and abortion on moral grounds, he equally follows the teaching of the Church not to judge others. He also noted that the laws of the land will not change due to his religious beliefs, because liberal Democrats comprise Parliament’s majority.
“None of these issues are party-political, they are issues that are decided by Parliament on free votes,” Rees-Mogg said. “They are not determined by the Prime Minister, there’s no question of these laws being changed. There would not be a majority in the House of Commons for that.”
Morgan then asks Rees-Mogg if the people could accept a leader with Catholic religious views. “I think the Conservatives are much more tolerant of religious faith, and so they should be,” Rees-Mogg said. “It’s all very well to say we live in a multicultural country, until you’re a Christian, until you hold the traditional views of the Catholic Church,” he added. “And that seems to be fundamentally wrong. People are entitled to hold these views, but also the Democratic majority is entitled to have the laws of the land as they are, which do not go with the teaching of the Catholic Church and will not go with the teaching of the Catholic Church.”
Numerous Catholic leaders applauded the British MP’s public witness to his faith. “Well done Jacob Rees-Mogg! Thank you so much for standing up for Catholics and clearly yet gently proclaiming the teaching of Christ,” tweeted Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth.
Luke Coppen, editor of the Catholic Herald, told CNA in e-mail comments that this is not the first time Catholic politicians in the UK have experience such antagonism. “Hostility towards Catholicism is nothing new in Britain. Indeed, it is nothing now compared to what it was in the Elizabethan era,” during which it was illegal — and often fatal — to be Catholic, Coppen noted. Rather than being frightened by the friction that faith and politics sometimes bring, faithful Catholics should continue to serve in the public sphere, Coppen said. “They are an example to us: we should always seek to serve the wider society because our faith obliges us to,” he said.
Some have even compared Rees-Mogg’s witness to that of St. Thomas More, who opposed King Henry VIII’s remarriage after failing to secure a decree of nullity, and his ploy to break from Rome and become the leader of the Church of England. His faithfulness to the Church cost him his life, and St. Thomas More is often invoked as a patron saint of religious freedom.
“In this week's magazine we have a headline describing Rees-Mogg as ‘the Thomas More of breakfast television,’” Coppen said. “That's tongue in cheek, of course, because he was very brave. But he's unlikely to be executed,” he noted, though Catholics in public life “may no longer receive invitations to certain dinner parties.”
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury also praised Rees-Mogg’s remarks, and also encouraged Catholics to continue to be active, faithful participants in the public sphere. “...beyond the immediate furor I am sure public figures like Jacob Rees-Mogg will ultimately be respected for their courage and integrity,” he told CNA. “I am sure we need to see greater Christian witness in political life rather than a withdrawal of faithful Catholics from the public square and from the public debates of our time. The challenge faced by Christians today allows us to see more clearly why Saint Thomas More was made a patron saint for statesmen.”