The London Debate on Roman Catholicism
The Spectator magazine organises monthly debates on social and political issues, and on 2nd March, 2010 organised a debate on the subject ‘England should become a Catholic country again’. The speakers for the motion, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Piers Paul Reid and Rev Dom Antony Sutch, were all strong Roman Catholics who made their case for Roman Catholicism being the dominant church while being inclusive of other churches to give a united Christian witness to our secular society. The speakers against the motion were Lord Harries, former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Matthew Parris, a journalist with The Times and Stephen Pound, a Labour MP and a Roman Catholic.
Cardinal O’Connor presented the view that the Reformation was a loss to the country causing a ‘millennium of Christian history’ to become alien territory to the church. He denied the view that the clergy before the Reformation were largely corrupt and that the only good priests were the Lollards, although he did say that the translation of the Bible into English was a good thing. He did not mention the fierce opposition to the translation of the Bible into English by the Catholic Church at the time.
Cardinal O’Connor presented a benign view of a Catholic-dominated England in which the Church of England is united with the ‘Universal church’ (i.e. Rome) in a ‘shared endeavour’ to speak to our secular society and ensure that ‘the forces of darkness’ will not prevail as a united church brings ‘good news’ to all.
The second speaker for the motion, Piers Paul Read, a Catholic writer, spoke strongly on Catholic doctrine as bringing the means of salvation through the sacraments, confession and the Eucharist. He went on to speak on family and moral issues. He said that the permissive society has made an institutional attack on the family by promoting sex outside of marriage and same sex marriages. He then accused Protestant churches, in particular the Church of England, of failing to stand for the biblical teaching that heterosexual marriage is the only sexual union sanctioned by God. I have to say that although I disagree with Catholic doctrine on salvation, on this issue he spoke the truth and this points to one reason why the Roman Catholic Church is likely to reach a stronger position than the Church of England in this country.
The third speaker for the motion, Rev Dom Antony Sutch, gave a rather rambling talk on how faith is necessary for all religions and that we should all be one. When all Christians agree we can have an influence in society. Since all the speakers for the debate were convinced Catholics it was not surprising that they took the line that they did. The real scandal of the debate was that not one of the opposition speakers was able to give a reason either from history or faith for not being a Catholic country.
By far the most abject and pathetic speech of the evening came from the first speaker opposing the motion, Lord Harries, former Bishop of Oxford. He began by expressing his huge admiration for the Roman Catholic Church, its saints and the Jesuits and its absorbing of Greek Aristotelian thought. His defence of the position of the Church of England was to point to how it had ‘reacted creatively to social developments,’ which he said the Catholic Church had failed to do. Examples of this were how the Church of England had accepted Darwinism and Evolution into its teaching and absorbed Higher Critical Theology from Germany. Higher Critical Theology means denying the Bible as the Word of God, questioning God in creation, the miraculous interventions of God in the Old Testament, the virgin birth of Jesus, his miracles, sinless life and death as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, his resurrection and the promise of his return in power and glory to judge the world in righteousness. In other words the achievement of the Church of England according to Lord Harries is to abandon the Bible as the Word of God and make it up as they go along. His speech did not contain a word about God or Jesus and later in the discussion time he said that you could not say that a baby in the womb has life from the moment of conception. In many ways he exemplifies the reason for the decline of the Church of England – its bishops generally let us know what they do not believe about Christianity rather than what they do believe.
The best speech by far of the evening came from the second speaker opposing the motion, Matthew Parris. He announced that he was an atheist and in the course of his speech said that he did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. However he was the only speaker to bring to light the vast difference between Jesus as revealed in the New Testament and the Jesus of the Catholic Church. In fact as an atheist he was the only speaker to say much about Jesus at all. He said how Jesus was an embarrassment to the Catholic Church. He said how Jesus would have set his face against the ritual, robes, finery and pope-mobiles of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy of Bishops, Cardinals and Popes. He said how Jesus had been pushed to the margins of the church and how the clergy had sought to keep the record of his life from the laity and clothed the Virgin Mary with powers they had created and which are entirely absent from the Gospels. He denied that the Catholic Church in power had a record of tolerance towards others. Pity he was speaking as an atheist.
The final speech came from Stephen Pound, a Labour MP who is also a Catholic. He said that he did not want to see England as a solely Catholic country, and that Catholics have many things in common with Anglicans. He agreed with the speakers for the motion that Roman Catholic teaching makes for a better way of life.
The evening was then thrown open to the audience to make points. The first speaker made the best point of the evening by saying that the whole thing was a set up. On the side of proposing the motion were three convinced Roman Catholics. On the side opposing there was no one able to give the historic reasons for biblical Protestant Christianity and opposition to the Church of Rome. In fact only one of them, the atheist Matthew Parris, gave any critical view of Roman Catholicism. The Reformation view has been blotted out. This in fact is what is happening in our media in general.
At the end of the discussion I was able to get in a brief comment that the church needs to preach the Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone and how the Roman Catholic Church teaches error in such areas as the Mass transubstantiation, the role of the Pope, the status of the Virgin Mary and life after death / purgatory. It was good to find that one of our church members, Tony Beasley, had been standing outside the meeting handing out leaflets making this point to people as they left the hall where the debate took place.
Perhaps the most serious issue of this evening was the way in which the real issues of difference in theology are being air-brushed out of the debate over the place of Rome and how the media will not give a place to those who stand for the truth of the Gospel and against the traditions of Rome.
With the Pope coming to England in 2010 and the Church of England in disarray there is no doubt that the push for Catholic dominance will continue. Bible-believing Christians are being pushed to the margins and face discrimination and suppression when they try to get their view across in the public domain. In my view the likely end result is that some kind of EU wide registration of churches will be brought in with the only option being between Roman Catholic and liberal ecumenical Protestant churches, the unity of Babylon (see Revelation 17). In this case the true church will have to go underground. But the Lord Jesus will have the last word and he will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Reprinted with permission from the English Churchman, Fridays 12th & 19th March 2010.
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