British Catholic Priests Say Marriage Equality Bigger Threat Than 16th Century Reformation

GetoveritWho should be more offended here, gays or protestants?

1,054 Catholic priests, 13 Bishops and assorted Catholic abbots have signed a massive open letter claiming that legalizing marriage equality in England is a greater threat to religious freedom in general, and Catholicism specifically, since the Reformation, the 16th Century split that led to the rise of Protestantism.

Here's a sample of the letter, via The Daily Mail:

After centuries of persecution, Catholics have, in recent times, been able to be members of the professions and participate fully in the life of this country.

Legislation for same-sex marriage, should it be enacted, will have many legal consequences, severely restricting the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship.

It is meaningless to argue that Catholics and others may still teach their beliefs about marriage in schools and other arenas if they are also expected to uphold the opposite view at the same time.

It is germane to point out here that Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other 16th Century Reformers were protesting what they found to be a corrupt, archaic Catholic church. Their efforts were clearly successful, greatly reducing number of Catholics in England (Yes, Henry VIII played a role in the church's erosion of power by erecting the Anglican Church of England, but for far different reasons, though around the same time.)

So, now we have the modern – well, as modern as it can be – Catholic Church claiming that allowing fellow human beings to marry the people they love will somehow destroy their religion. It seems to be that the only thing destroying their religion is their consistent refusal to adapt to the times.


  1. QJ201 says

    where is the letter with a thousand signatures expressing concern that the church has strayed from the teachings of Jesus?

  2. Brian says

    This is one of the things I don’t like about Andrew Belonsky’s writing. Here’s a perfectly ridiculous story, and lends itself easily to criticism. But why go over the top and say the letter says gay marriage is a bigger threat than the Reformation? It clearly says since the Reformation. This may sound pedantic, but the Reformation effectively ended the Catholic church in Britain, and many of their leading lights at the time were executed or imprisoned. Comparing gay marriage to this near death experience for the Catholic church in England is completely absurd, which is why they don’t do it. To say gay marriage is any sort of threat to the Catholic church is ludicrous enough so I don’t see what’s gained from misrepresenting the letter.

    I also don’t see why the church thinks forcing a thousand priests to sign along with the hierarchy adds any weight to the letter. It’s like having the entire north korean army sign a declaration by Kim Jong-un. Everyone knows it’s a dictatorship, and only one voice counts.

  3. Tessie Tura says

    Do they “teach the truth about [child rape by priests] in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship”?

  4. Pierre says

    I think one thing should be brought to light. This is not the Catholic Church teaching… these are bishops chosen by the present pope even while under JP II; and the priests were all formed under the rule and thinking of these men. Therefore, like the rest of Catholicism that has suffered under the dominance of this mind set: it is the Catholicism of these kind of men… and precisely as others have noted: these men have taken Catholicism on a whacko tangent. Little of it resonates with whatever could be seen as the ‘best’ of Catholic tradition. It has everything to do with a ‘recently’ corrupt mindset. Vatican II tried to straighten these guys and this kind of thinking. But the conservative forces have overruled the enlightened efforts of John XXIII and the Church of the mid 1960s.

  5. Mark says

    Is it just me or is anyone else having problems with the way Towleroad renders? I use Firefox and things are really jacked up lately.

  6. simon says

    They should cite also Galileo, Darwin who were threats to the Catholic Church. Also Bruno, an Italian philosopher, was burned at the stake because he didn’t agree with their ridiculous dogma. Therefore he was declared a heretic and threat to the Church.

  7. OddBet says

    I don’t know why you tried to comment on the Reformation if you don’t have a good grasp of its history. John Calvin had little to do with the Reformation beginning in England, as he was still in university when Henry called upon Parliament to provide him with an annulment from Catherine of Aragon. Martin Luther, though the main instigator of the Reformation on the Continent, was also less directly involved. If you’re looking for a Protestant thinker upon whom to place responsibility, Simon Fish, whose writings were held dear by Anne Boleyn, is a good choice.

    In England, Henry VIII was responsible for ending the Catholic Church in England, separating his realm from the Papacy and creating the Church of England. He began as a staunch Catholic, earning the title “Defender of the Faith” for his public denouncement of Martin Luther (so they were contemporaries, but Martin Luther was in the German States). Through the influence of Anne Boleyn, and her family as a whole, Thomas Cranmer, and Thomas Cromwell, Henry turned toward the Reformer line of thinking in order to gain more control over his realm and to separate from a Pope that limited his powers and refused his desires.

    Henry was still at heart a Catholic, however, as demonstrated by his retraction of many reforms after marrying Jane Seymour. Ultimately, it would be his final wife, Catherine Parr, who would return the realm to the Protestant ideals of Anne Boleyn, and was instrumental in the instruction of Edward and Elizabeth in the Protestant faith. After Henry’s death, Edward had his short, but fervently Protestant reign, at the end of which he attempted to remove his Catholic sister Mary from the succession, and designated his cousin Jane Grey as heir. Mary proceeded to take the throne by force and executed Jane. Mary did not reign for long, dying of illness and passing her throne to her Protestant sister Elizabeth. After Elizabeth, the realm remained more or less Protestant (less under Charles I, more during the Interregnum) until modern times.

    May have gone off on a bit of a historical tangent there, but my point is that your placing of Calvin as one of the forces behind the English Reformation and your attempt to discount the role of Henry VIII in the English Reformation betrays your lack of knowledge on the subject.

  8. Hue-Man says

    But wasn’t the Church of England created by Henry VIII because he wanted to “redefine marriage”? Catholic church, wrong in the 16th century, wrong in the 21st.

  9. Ernst Rhoem's Ghost says

    Andrew Belonsky’s slam against Roman Catholicism ends with an opinion which many people should think about. He says that Catholicism is endangering itself by failing to change with the times.

    Q: To what extent CAN a religion abandon its roots–i.e. undergo change or reform–and still BE the same religion?

    The history of Christianity, as well as its basic, fundamental principles, are most directly embodied in the “Living Ancient Churches.” These are groups like the Eastern Orthodox and the various smaller ancient denominations of the East. Roman Catholicism is the largest member of this general family: the member most familiar to us because its cultural/historical roots come from western Europe.

    By definition, the Living Ancient Churches are allergic to change. Their very identity consists of believing and doing everything the way it was done in the first four centuries A.D. That is the period when the Bible and the Creeds were established. In their eyes, if change can be accepted at all, it must be a clear continuation and refinement of what came before. They can see slavery as evil because taking that view is a refinement of the ancient doctrine that God is father to all men equally.

    The liberal Protestant Churches, on the other hand, are bound only by the Bible. They care nothing for the Church that created the Bible . They have little or no concern for what the ancient scholars of the Church believed. Liberal Protestantism can be summarized thus: “Our religion is whatever we want it to be. The Bible, our so-called ‘authority’, belongs to us to interpret as we see fit. Christianity stands for whatever we say it does. Tradition and history are completely unimportant.”

    Obviously, the liberal churches are in a position to please Belonsky better than the Living Ancient Churches. But the $64K question is this: Do the liberal Protestants really present a legitimate Christianity? I say no.

  10. simon says

    They are not only wrong but also stupid. They learned nothing from history. They are the only ones to blame for the downfall of the Church.

  11. craig says

    Well, I’m both, I must scare the blazes out him!

    Of course, being a part of a church that still doesn’t accept blame for the largest sexual abuse scandal in history doesn’t bother him. Perhaps that’s the real threat.

  12. Yupp says

    Ernst Roehm’s ghost : You bring up a lot of interesting points with a lot of juice for debate there. And generally I find it perfectly fine for anyone to rip Catholicism or any religion to shreds if they want to (I’ll greatly join them) but people like Belonsky (and Towle) are such awful hypocrites and in no position to criticize anybody. As I always say, it would be like Stalin criticizing Mao for human rights abuses. (Thanks for the interesting post).

  13. Michael says

    How dare we stop them from meddling in the lives of others that in no way affect their lives at all.

  14. says

    No one is stopping them teaching what they want in their school and charitable institutions;
    but there is another point of view, ours, and we are entitled to civil law equality, no matter whether Catholic or Sharia law differs.

  15. Caliban says

    I am by no means a scholar of Catholic Church history, but it seems ironic to call an intractable, calcified, and static organization a “Living” Ancient anything. Like a prehistoric insect encased in amber, it may still look great but it’s really quite dead. Maybe one of those fossilized should get its own Twitter account too? Chances are it would be every bit as relevant as the Pope’s.

  16. jr says

    A moribund institution’s death rattles- music to the ears. They know they’ve lost their war; the dust heap of history is waiting.

  17. CPT_Doom says

    “But wasn’t the Church of England created by Henry VIII because he wanted to “redefine marriage”?”

    Why yes, Hue-man, you are exactly right about that, and the Catholic Church STILL preaches that divorce and remarriage are immoral (unless you’re Newt Gingrich, of course) and does not recognize such marriages as valid. In fact, the Church also does not recognize a whole host of other legal marriages as valid – for instance those married only by a judge or other civil official or marriages in churches the Catholics don’t believe are valid (e.g., Southern Baptists and Mormons). Yet they don’t ever complain that their hospitals and schools and other institutions are forced to recognize these marriages as legally valid. In fact, the letter itself makes it clear that Catholics operate just fine in a society that recognizes adultery and fornication as “valid lifestyle choices.”

  18. DannyEastVillage says

    just goes to show you how idiotic the clergy can be–individually and, perhaps, even more so as a group. This is more alike than different from the condemnation of witches in Massachusetts Bay in the 17th Century.

  19. walter says

    actually Henry VIII had the right idea he executed or imprisoned most of the priest and bishops in ENgland. but i still seehow gay relates to that did some gay guy run into church and tell a priest marry us or i’ll behead you?

  20. UFFDA says

    Dear Experts: has anyone ever written a good historical novel about Henry’s dismantling of the Catholic church – destruction of Abbey’s, murder of priests, etc? Or what about a regular history of such events? I would love to read more and some of you are clearly experts. Thanks for the information.

  21. andrew says

    Catholicism and all the other Christian sects/cults along with Judaism, islam and all the other man made religions should be thrown in the ash can of history. They are all primitive beliefs with no basis in fact and they hold back human progress.

  22. jomicur says

    Gay equality, whether marriage or otherwise, really IS a threat–TO THEM. The more widespread gay equality becomes, the faster their antiquated “teachings” fall into the same historical garbage can as the flat earth, spontaneous generation and fairies in the bottom of the garden.

  23. Molc says

    The Catholic church is instituionalized corruption at it’s worst. A soulless corporate beast like Wall Street. The sooner it’s gone for good, the better!

  24. says

    There’s nothing wrong with Belonsky’s writing here. The criticism of the exaggeration in the title is valid and that is it. That sort of exaggeration is so common that people bothered by it need to log off and stay off the Internet for good. Even Rachel Maddow does it.

    As far as the Reformation pedants, his inclusion of John Calvin was more of a list of names commonly associated with the Reformation. He could have easily left both Calvin and Luther out and his point would not have changed one iota. It could have read “it is germane to point out here that 16th century Reformers were…” and then left Reformation geeks to insert whatever historical names they prefer that gives them a hardon. In no universe except the most narrow Reformation pedant does that constitute “placing of Calvin as one of the forces behind the English Reformation and [his] attempt to discount the role of Henry VIII in the English Reformation.”

    And to Ernst Rhoem’s Ghost, I have thought about the conclusion you seem to be alarmed by and I agree with Belonsky. The Catholic Church must change or die. To the purists who will then say then it is not the same Catholic Church, I say so what? If you want to label it something other than the Catholic Church, I’m fine with that. The Catholic Church as defined by 4th Century priests must become extinct. It is a menace to Truth and Justice.

  25. says

    more useless opinions from the very same folks who literally believe that the more than 6 million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust are “in hell for eternity” simply for not being Christians.


  26. EchtKultig says

    The Catholic Church is a complete farce, and this hyperbolic comparison (even if you look at the original meaning and not Belonsky’s mistranslation) is just another exhibit among millions. At least we aren’t being compared to a natural disaster. I can imagine the cardinals sitting around in their palatial drawing rooms being drama queens: “maybe we should say the biggest threat to civilization since the bubonic plague?” “No, I think we’ll just go with the biggest threat to religious freedom since the Reformation”. Right, like armies of gays are going to go around beheading priests.

  27. Bob says

    When I came to this page to see the comments I was shocked to see a banner ad for Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University

  28. stranded says

    The hysterical death rattles of a criminal cult as they bury themselves alive. I spit on their grave.

  29. Ernst Rhoem's Ghost says

    To Davel…
    Here is the thing. If, as you say,
    “the Catholic Church as defined by 4th Century priests … is a menace to Truth and Justice,” then there is an excellent chance that Christ and the original Apostles were at fault. But many people–yes even many gays–are fully committed to the notion that Christ and the Founders of Christianity were the representatives of Truth and Justice. In fact, Jesus said “I am the Truth.”

    This does not mean that private lives must be strictly regimented to follow “every jot and tittle” of Church law. 2000 years of experience tell us that gays will be gay and straights will have sex outside of marriage. Also that people will lie, cheat, steal, and practice cruelty. It’s not really about private lives. It’s more about official policy: What does the Church officially declare to be legitimate Christianity?

    I happen to support gay marriage, but I do not expect the Living Ancient Churches to declare it Chrisitan. That is beyond reason.

  30. Ernst Rhoem's Ghost says

    To Davel…
    Here is the thing. If, as you say,
    “the Catholic Church as defined by 4th Century priests … is a menace to Truth and Justice,” then there is an excellent chance that Christ and the original Apostles were at fault. But many people–yes even many gays–are fully committed to the notion that Christ and the Founders of Christianity were the representatives of Truth and Justice. In fact, Jesus said “I am the Truth.”

    This does not mean that private lives must be strictly regimented to follow “every jot and tittle” of Church law. 2000 years of experience tell us that gays will be gay and straights will have sex outside of marriage. Also that people will lie, cheat, steal, and practice cruelty. It’s not really about private lives. It’s more about official policy: What does the Church officially declare to be legitimate Christianity?

    I happen to support gay marriage, but I do not expect the Living Ancient Churches to declare it Chrisitan. That is beyond reason.

  31. OddBet says

    I’m sorry that me pointing out the problems with Andrew’s post was so offensive to your delicate sensibilities, Davel. Andrew attributed the English Reformation to Calvin and Luther directly, while going on to say that Henry VIII played only a role, and was apparently not even aware of the timeframe. Anne Boleyn was the primary force behind Henry’s change of ideology, and it is disingenuous to attempt to minimize her role in the English Reformation or the fact that the English Reformation probably would not have happened had it not been for her relationship with Henry.

    I also apologize that my career is so offensive to you. We can’t all be the comment police for Towleroad, I suppose.

    To UFFDA, I don’t know your background, but Alison Weir’s biography of Henry VIII is a great place to start. It has a good amount of information and her writing style is very accessible (compared to other historians, at least). For a look at the influence of his wives, I’d recommend Antonia Fraser’s The Wives of Henry VIII. Similar to Weir, it is a good overview of Henry’s reign.

  32. Bill says

    While the headline is not exactly what the priests said (they talked about persecution following the Reformation, not the Reformation itself, and during that time period, the Catholic church did its fair share of the persecuting), the idea is valid.

    Same sex marriage is the biggest threat to Catholicism since the Reformation because both signaled a significant drop in the Catholic Church’s authority over people. While primarily about religious issues, the Reformation resulted in the Catholic Church no longer having governmental authority – they could not have people arrested and tortured to death. While primarily about equality, the marginalization of the Catholic Church regarding same-sex marriage is resulting in (or results from) a loss of that church’s ability to control people by making them feel guilty about sex.

    The Catholic church is losing the only lever at has left – sexual guilt trips – and that must be seen by them as a serious issue for reasons far different than the church’s public pronouncements would suggest. They’ll do everything they can to try to keep that lever.

  33. Brian says


    As the person who pointed out Belonsky’s misleading headline, I’m going to have to disobey your orders to log off the internet forever to make a followup comment. First and foremost, this is just one of many examples where Belonsky’s writing just doesn’t match the facts, and often contradicts them. I just don’t see the point of being a news aggregator if you’re going to completely mangle the news you’re aggregating. He had a blurb a few months ago saying the Rhode Island senate would refuse to take up gay marriage, but the linked article said the exact opposite. There was something about some Anglican priests who were mad because the government wouldn’t allow them to perform gay marriage, which belonsky summarized as Anglicans in last ditch effort to kill gay marriage or something like that. There are many, many examples of this. I admit that’s a much bigger problem than we have here, although really his headline is again the opposite of the article. His headline says gay marriage bigger threat than reformation, but since the letter says since, that really means smaller threat than the reformation. But the rest of his summary was reasonably in accordance with the linked article so it’s not a big deal in isolation. But I pointed it out because he’s so often wrong, and I don’t think he’s doing it to mislead, I think it’s just sloppy. The letter by itself was a ridiculous exaggeration of the threat, if any, posed by gay marriage to the church. Not one extra page view was gained by changing since to greater than, so I think it’s just done out of carelessness, which can be fatal to a news aggregator like Towleroad.

  34. Yupp says

    Bill : Just to say, thanks for that post. That’s very interesting, and sure sounds accurate as to what is going on with Catholicism. At least, I agree. On a much smaller stage, as far as “control” goes, I was raised Catholic in NYC, with parochial school and everything, and the physical (not sexual) abuse was pretty shocking. THAT is a subject that never gets enough attention, because the sexual abuse has overshadowed it. But it’s shocking when I think now of how quick priests and nuns were to actually strike children (not even their own children!) without any fear of lawsuits (or even obstruction) from the parents. It was a very strange and awful culture.

  35. EchtKultig says

    Bill, that is correct. As I’ve said before, sexual guilt – often about being in the closet – is a HUGE recruiting tool for both evangelical Protestants and Catholics. Both for the laity and the church leadership. But it doesn’t make their comparison less ridiculous. Their silly syllogism seems to be “the world is changing, therefore the sky is falling.” Their biggest threat is themselves, and their smug, arrogant god complex.

  36. Brian says


    Your knowledge of Catholic history must come exclusively from what you learned in Catholic school. The whole point of Protestantism (Luther, Calvin etc, not the English variety) was that the catholic church had become completely severed from ancient christianity, riddled with corruption and saturated with the pagan myths of ancient rome. So they set about trying to return christianity to its ancient roots, using the bible as their guide. For some reason you think using the bible rather than the dictates of an old man in rome means liberal protestants aren’t related to ancient christianity, but the bible is the only real thing anyone has to work with in trying to understand ancient christianity. I’m an atheist so I’m completely unbiased when it comes to comparing christian sects, but I am keenly interested in religious history and the protestants have the better argument here.

  37. DaveL says

    Brian, by ignoring my recommendation (as opposed to order), you’ve left yourself in grave danger. If there’s one thing in all of Creation we know with absolute certainty, it’s that the Internet will not bend to your will and it’s reasonable to conclude it will only continue to disappoint you. Don’t come crying to me when you finally snap. I tried to help you.

    At the risk of pushing you ever closer to the edge, I have to point out you did to me exactly what you complain about Belonsky’s title. In recasting what I said you should do as an order, you have contorted the original meaning and reported it back as the opposite of what it intended.

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand the point of responding in comment sections as you do if you’re going to completely mangle the thread.

  38. DaveL says

    Ernst Rhoem’s Ghost

    “…there is an excellent chance that Christ and the original Apostles were at fault. But many people–yes even many gays–are fully committed to the notion that Christ and the Founders of Christianity were the representatives of Truth and Justice.”

    First thank you for the attention. You’re a thoughtful man who posts genuinely. A rare Internet find.

    I quoted this one section from your post since it was up several posts. I don’t agree there’s an “excellent” chance of what you say. But I agree there’s a chance and I’d have no problem then expanding my original conclusion to both the 4th century Church and Jesus himself are menaces to Truth and Justice.

    As an atheist who is not yet convinced Jesus Christ ever even existed, I’d have no qualms whatsoever.

    It’s hard to know how to respond to your comment on these Living Ancient Churches that you clearly revere. Their pronouncements on what is and is not “Christian” is meaningless to me so I should perhaps be polite and not say anything. If, as you seem to feel, what is Christian (according to these AncientLiving Churches) cannot change, then as with all things that cannot change, it must become extinct. I think the time for the extinction of the Ancient Living Churches (and yes perhaps that means Jesus Christ too) is long past.

    Though I do not accept the oneness of Jesus’ message as revealed in the gospels and these Ancient Living Churches.

  39. Brian says


    I’ll take you at your word and chalk this down to a misunderstanding. But clearly the word need, as in you need to log off the internet forever, is ambiguous, and often used as a substitute for order (“you need to get out of my face” for example). But it could also be a strong recommendation, so we’ll leave it there. this is however, nothing like what belonsky does. There is no room for ambiguity in his many mistakes, just carelessness.

  40. thepolarbeast says

    The Catholic Church: Protects Pedophiles, Encourages Misogyny, and despite a huge number of gay priests, bishops, and cardinals, seeks to prevent gays and women from fully participating in society and the Church.

    The ship continues to sink and the crew continues not to notice.

  41. Diogenes Arktos says

    The letter itself is not yet available on the internet. It’s supposed to be in the Daily Telegraph – but it’s not there (yet). It’s not even on the official UK RC website (yet).

    Do not underestimate the importance of political and financial governmental realities in the Reformation – without which there probably wouldn’t have been one.

    I, too, share the frustration with the headlines not matching the articles. As someone who doesn’t always read the full posts or follow the links, I rely on accuracy and it’s not up to standards.

  42. EdA says

    I do not know what is in the proposed bill, but I doubt very much that it will abolish the right of Roman Catholics to hold public office, that it will entail the confiscation of Catholic churches and monasteries, or that it will to a possibility, let alone a probability, that Catholic bishops will be burned at the stake for derivative reasons.

    Based on the words and actions of the Bishop of Rome, the “truth” about marriage, as declared by people who reject any form of marriage for themselves, is that the only acceptable forms of human sexuality is sex that treats women like dairy cattle or sexual abuse of youngsters — if perpetrated by their fellow clergy.

  43. Bill says

    @DaveL: while the practice of exaggerated headlines is common (mostly I presume as advertising to get people to read the article), I think there is a legitimate reason to complain about it in general: it makes life harder for people looking for articles on a particular topic, and the resulting inefficiency, summed over all the searches people do, is extraordinarily expensive. Adding an extra 5 seconds to a search may seem trivial on an individual level, but when you multiply it by the number of people searching for the same thing, it comes out to a significant loss of time.

    Sometimes minor cultural differences make a significant difference. For instance, in the U.S. people stand anywhere they like on escalators. If you visit Germany, you’ll see people standing staying to the right so that people who are in a hurry can easily get by. In places like train stations, this slightly more courteous behavior makes a significant difference as being a few seconds late can mean having to take a later train.

  44. Darrell says

    Nice to know these people think it is not the 21st Century and that society in the United Kingdom is still medieval!!!!!!

  45. OUTinMinnesota says

    By their own words, those Catholic priests have just acknowledged the inevitability of marriage equality. In the Kingdom of Great Britain, witchcraft ceased to be an act punishable by law with the Witchcraft Act of 1735.

    That historic “loss of religious freedom” is inarguably a good thing and inarguably occurred after the reformation.

  46. noteasilyoffended says

    My new t-shirt:

    “If I can tolerate your children, you can tolerate my husband.” (C)

  47. Jerry6 says

    ALL Religions were created by rulers to control the masses by claiming that natural events that caused destruction (Storms, Floods, earthquakes, Lightning strikes, etc) were the acts of “Gods” that were punishments for things people did that displeased those “Gods”. Then, Rulers realized that they could create a whole bunch of rules that these “Gods” wanted the masses to observe, or suffer the consequences when they died. Religions are the result of the perpetuation of these ancient cults; even though we all know that the God crap is nothing but the perpetuation of living off of the “Fear of the unknown”.