A Look Back At Yesteryear

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor
Happy new year to all readers. I know I'm looking forward to the coming year. I hope you all are as well.

It is customary, as the sun sets on one year to look back and review the big stories that dominated the headlines during the period. Unfortunately, the sun has already set on 2011 and 2012 is now with us.

So, instead, let's review yesteryear and cast our minds back to the year 2006. For, it was in this year that a controversial headline concerning the Catholic Church in England and Wales ran across pages of The Daily Mail.

The headline in question was 'Archbishop sacked aide for being gay'. You can read the full article here. According to the said article...

'The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales was last night drawn into a furious row over a senior aide sacked because of his homosexuality. 
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, was personally involved in the dismissal of his personal Press secretary, who is also a devout Catholic. 
Stephen Noon, who has held a series of senior appointments in the Commons, was told that being gay was 'incompatible' with his position in the Church. 
Close friends accused the Cardinal of being 'unchristian' in forcing Mr Noon to go through a 'painful' sacking because of his sexuality.

The article goes on...

Mr Noon, 35, joined the Archbishop's staff in 2003 as his £35,000-a-year Press secretary, with a wide-ranging brief to improve the public image of the Church. He was also charged with advising Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor on public statements on ethical issues of the day.
However, Mr Noon remained in the post for less than a year. 
IInsiders say relations with Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor started well, but deteriorated after Mr Noon's long-term partner visited him at the office. A source told The Mail on Sunday: "His partner came into the office to meet him at the end of the day and was introduced to the Cardinal. 
"Shortly after the Church made clear his sexuality was incompatible with the job he had to do. Since he was the spokesperson for the Cardinal, Murphy-O'Connor clearly felt he had to act because homosexual acts are regarded by the Church as a sin." 
Mr Noon asked the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Jeremy Dear, to help negotiate a settlement. 
Mr Noon was reluctant to take the issue to an employment tribunal because, according to a friend: "He wanted to fight to change the Church's attitude to homosexuality from the inside." 
The Mail on Sunday has learned that there were a series of meetings with senior priests and lay officials with the final summit attended by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. 
A source close to the negotiations said: "The Cardinal said he was sorry matters had ended up like they had. But he had not changed his mind about having an openly gay man as his spokesman." 
It is understood Mr Noon received a pay-off worth around £20,000 and in return agreed not to speak in public about the reasons for his departure. 
However last night a close friend told The Mail on Sunday: "What was terrible was the unchristian way Stephen was treated. That was the saddest part of the outcome of events. The process he had to go through was extraordinarily painful.'

Gosh. What a minefield. How do we navigate this one? Well, for my thoughts on this I'll draw upon the 2003 Instruction from the CDF, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition Between Homosexual Persons, which quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

'...According to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided”.'

That's my thoughts on the subject and unless His Eminence had concrete proof that his 'devout Catholic' press officer was mortally sinning with his 'partner' then I don't think sacking him was particularly charitable, or fatherly, and even then, isn't the Church the Hospital for sinners? But there we go. What's done is done. I don't think the idea of a pay-off to keep his press man schtum is particularly good press for the Church either, but, again, there we go. Hopefully, Mr Noon didn't go home, weep into a bottle of sherry and decide never to darken the door of a Catholic Church ever again. I'm sure there must be some Catholics in various positions of influence in the Church in the Westminster Diocese whose open homosexuality has not led to their downfall. Well, it hasn't done the organisers of the Soho Masses any harm has it?

Anyway, the justice or injustice we should attribute to the sudden departure of Mr Noon from his role as press secretary for a Westminster Cardinal isn't the main point of this blogpost. There may indeed be more to the story than simply His Eminence being worried about his image in the media, or with others, or a sense in which His Eminence was, at heart, a Catholic traditionalist.

The main point of this blogpost is that back in the day when Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Cormac was at the helm of the See of Westminster, it seems there was a different line on homosexuality and 'same sex partnerships' to that of his successor, the Archbishop Vincent Nichols and, if I'm not very much mistaken, it looks to me as if the current line taken on homosexuality, civil partnerships, same sex unions and the rest, runs contrary not just to the CDF document of 2003 on same sex unions, but, indeed, the rather, ahem, harder line taken by His Grace's predecessor, His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. I don't know. Maybe its just different rules for different people, but then that isn't really meant to be the Catholic way, is it?

Now, where did I put that application form? You know, I can't stand those Equality boxes where they want you to tick your sexual orientation. I find it so embarrassing! Don't you just want to write on the form, 'None of Your S*dding Business'.

Stephen Noon, by the way, apparently ended up working as a press officer for the SNP who headhunted him in a fashion rather different to the Catholic establishment in England and Wales and now he blogs on Scottish politics. You can find his blog here. Go and say hello, why not?


1569 Rising said…
I agree with your sentiments over the "sacking", but a thought arises in my mind.

Why should the Archbishop of Westminster need an "adviser on ethics"? Surely we, as lay Catholics, look to our clergy, especially Bishops for guidance on ethics, not to some PR guy?
Eugene Gaffney said…
if you dont like filling in equal opportunities forms then you just have to tick the 'rather not say' box - it's simples!

...and no i don't find it embaressing at all, why would you/
epsilon said…
I don't understand your point here, Lawrence! Mr Noon was not sacked because of his sexual orientation - he was sacked because he was in a gay relationship while working for a Catholic archbishop! I used to not even like Archbishop CMO'C, but I must say I admire his honesty in doing the only thing he could do in the circumstances. As Ann Widdecombe said
"I don't think the Cardinal had any choice. The Church's teaching is very clear. It would be difficult if you had a Press secretary explaining that teaching, while at the same time violating it."

There's nothing on the Vatican link you gave which would imply the archbishop was harsh. In fact, I think he was more than generous in compensating the guy for the loss of his job. The story also says that the great TB was there to soften the blow with another job - no fear the practise of homosexuality was any problem for TB's version of Catholicism!!

This guy went into a job contract knowing full well what he was doing - he was either very misinformed or very brazen to think he could carry on like that.
The Bones said…
My point is that we all violate the Gospel in some way, only Our Lord and Our Lady are without sin. The Church is a Hospital of sinners, not a guild of shining Saints. Those who believe it is the latter need a reality check.

His Eminence was found to be without MERCY.

Second, the gay guy was sacked but there are others in influence who do not get destroyed on account of their sexuality, like, er, the organisers of the Gay Masses who have an explicit open agenda against Christ's teaching.

Third, how does he know what the man and his partner were doing. He shouldn't assume they're sodomising each other every day.

The man wasn't compensated because his sacking was harsh.

He was compensated in order to keep quiet.
The Bones said…
My guess is that not all workers in the Diocese of Westminster are celibate singles and non-contracepting married couples.

If you took His Eminence's line on sinners and extended it across the whole Diocese, my guess is you'd have maybe one or two workers left and everyone else would be sacked. So, it's hypocrisy plain and simple.

Also, a Cardinal isn't just any employer. He's also a Father in God to a Catholics. If the guy was so devastated at his treatment that he hasn't been back to Church since (remember its public humiliation too - something Our Lord warned people not to do at the risk of eternal fire) then Our Lord will likely look upon the Cardinal's actions with the scorn it deserves.

Sins of human weakness are one thing, a total lack of mercy and compassion are another.
epsilon said…
Of course, Lawrence. I'm a sinner at the Catholic hospital as much as anyone. If this guy had previously been in a gay relationship but had realised that he should try to live chastely and was no longer in a relationship, then yes the archbishop would have been downright wrong. But that was not the case by all accounts...
The Bones said…
It becomes problematic though if we take a 'hardline' approach to sinners across the Church to the point where at the end nobody is left.

I understand the point of view from His Eminence, but frankly, I can also understand it from the point of view of the 'injured party'. How humiliating it must have been for him.

Truth is nothing without charity and charity nothing without truth. Justice is harsh without mercy and mercy is not mercy without Justice. I believe the Cardinal went with Justice but no mercy (the payoff was for the man to keep quiet, which is also an admission that his sacking was unjust).

A lot of people are in 'irregular relationships', a lot of Catholics aren't living the Church's teaching on Chastity and contraception. A lot of people don't require a 'partner' in order to sin mortally.

I'm a sinner. I can only look on my own experience of life and I don't find myself in a position to cast judgment on the individual and, were I his employer, I'd find it difficult to sack him.

God is faithful to us despite our disloyalty. I believe that Our Lord's loyalty to us is unfailing, even when we fail Him. My opinion is that His Eminence should have stood by his man. Loyalty is very important. The Lord Jesus doesn't and didn't 'snuff out the flickering flame' or crush the broken reed.

Certainly, I do not believe that homosexuality should be treated as an 'anaethema' sin while every other kind of sin present in us, the Faithful, should be overlooked. That would be very, very unjust.

And, I think this issue is very personal to the employee. A fatherly Cardinal is, one would have thought, the ideal Confessor also. Perhaps there could have been a more loving, Christlike way in which to deal with his employee that would gently bring him closer to God. Bringing people closer to God is never achieved by force.

If the man was aiming to change the Church's teaching, then it is a different matter. Then it is untenable. But it is different to the SOHO Masses. There you have a situation where people are openly dissenting and rejecting the Teaching and trying consistently to undermine it.

I have sympathy with the man because I could be that man. Life is lonely and some people can't bear it all alone. I don't think the episode reflects terribly well on His Eminence because, as well as being a 'terror unto heretics' he is also meant to be a Father in God to his children, whether they be strong in Faith or indeed, weak.
epsilon said…
"If the man was aiming to change the Church's teaching, then it is a different matter. Then it is untenable. But it is different to the SOHO Masses. There you have a situation where people are openly dissenting and rejecting the Teaching and trying consistently to undermine it. "

I think Peter Hitchins' piece here of 18th May 2006 'Who's the hypocrite?' might clarify that, Lawrence.

There are also some very interesting comments on there as well from believers of all sorts.

I am in no way saying that gay people should be prevented from working for the Catholic Church, but if Peter Hitchens is to be believed, then Stephen Noon is no different from the Soho Mass brigade.
The Bones said…
It depends what Stephen means.

I agree with Stephen if he means that Catholics in the Church need to change their attitude towards homosexuals. People in the Church should love homosexuals as their neighbours.

That is not the same as saying that the Church teachings need to change.

It all depends what Stephen meant there.
epsilon said…
"I agree with Stephen if he means that Catholics in the Church need to change their attitude towards homosexuals. People in the Church should love homosexuals as their neighbours.

That is not the same as saying that the Church teachings need to change.

It all depends what Stephen meant there."

I agree with you wholeheartedly, Lawrence, but from my experience there are too many laypeople of all orientations heavily involved in church activities who actually want the Church to 'celebrate' homosexuality, as well as change the Church's teaching on contraception, re-marriage, marriage for priests, women priests, etc. etc. to "bring the Church up-to-date" ! In fact, I would go so far as to say that in this country and in Ireland to name but two, those types of people often outnumber the humble in spirit types who just want to do things for the glory of God!