It's been nagging away at the back of my mind for some time, a sense that I am being less than true to myself. I'd given it some thought over the past three years, and have even joked about it on occasion. But it was only over the New Year, spent with my family, that I concluded that, deep in my soul, I am at heart a Catholic.
I could have picked a better time, given the furore over the Catholic Church's attempts to seek an exemption from anti-discrimination legislation pertaining to adoption, to consider beginning the process to seek confirmation as a Catholic. It must be admitted that the leadership of the Catholic Church have demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that religious leaders are, for the most part, resistant to change to the nth degree. After all, enlightenment does not tend to sit easily with the absolutism that most religions require as the basis of their support.
And yet, the response from the shapers of opinion has, for the most part, been an attempt to ridicule both the Church and, to some extent, the concept of faith in a set of moral codes laid out in the form of religious text. Perhaps that's where my concerns are triggered.
I'm not going to defend the Church, nor suggest that it has a case for seeking the proposed, and now rejected, exemption from permitting gay men and lesbians from adopting children via Catholic adoption agencies. However, the Church does have the right to seek such an exemption if they believe that it is consistent with their principles. It is for the rest of society to argue, in a cogent manner, to the contrary, and for our wider society to conclude as to who is right.
It is ironic that I've been generally suspicious of 'organised religion', feeling that it tends to produce the type of faith only really experienced by bureaucrats, with a civil service to ensure consistency of message and generally reduce the message of faith to the dullest common denominator. And yet, the concept of belief is, in itself, a quite remarkable thing.
Whilst I was still married, I attended services at North Kensington Reform Synagogue fairly frequently for a while, and discovered that religion could be entertaining, meaningful and thought-provoking, thanks in part to the efforts of Rabbi Sheila Shulman but also due to its incredibly diverse and inclusive membership. The opportunity to debate the liturgy and the unexpected comfort of repetition and song was something of an eye-opener.
Since then, a curious and hitherto unsuspected sense of Catholic guilt has emerged. I don't feel guilty about anything in particular, simply a sense that I need to be true to a moral code of some kind. Given my background, and my sense of familial loyalty, that means catholicism.
As a gut-reaction liberal, this might seem like something of a contradiction. Yet I have always had a deeply conservative set of personal values, married, rather fortunately to my mind, to a deeply liberal set of societal values. It allows me to take a 'live and let live' approach to the society I inhabit, whilst imposing a fairly rigid moral code upon my own actions. I do not accept that any religious grouping can impose its own view of the world upon a wider society.
At the same time, society has no right to impose its morals and ethics upon the internal dynamics of a religious community. Thus, on the subject of Catholic adoption agencies, the argument would be better put if they placed restrictions on non-Catholics, rather than on gay men and lesbians. Better still, we might remove religions from the adoption business altogether. And given the Catholic Church's record on child abuse in recent years, that might not be a bad thing...