The Catholic Church in these isles has been marked by its historic struggle for survival. Every meal time at Allen Hall I am drawn to the list of martyrs from the Reformation period. I am appalled at the loss and also impressed by their incredible faith. The feelings of suspicion towards Roman Catholics endure in common folklore, and Bonfire night in Lewes is testimony to this. The unspoken question is often whether you can be Roman Catholic and properly British at the same time? This sense of misgiving was illustrated powerful in the recent films about Elizabeth I. The Roman Catholic Church was portrayed as representing the influences and interests of an alien foreign power — altogether a bit too European.

Much of Catholic consciousness has been to show how we are good citizens and I have been surprised, in particular, by how royalist many Catholics are — in many cases more royalist than those in the Church of England whose titular head is the Queen. I sense an anxiety to be accepted, main stream, and above all not different. We want to be seen as just ordinary normal people like everyone else and do not want to do anything that may feed old suspicions. A telling comment was made by someone with the reintroduction of fasting from meat on Friday. The man said that ‘it would make Roman Catholics look silly again’.

To be good citizens of any nation state is one thing and St Paul encourages us to do so. However, this need to be accepted can also come at a real cost. We can be so anxious to prove ourselves that we can be in danger of compromising the faith that those reformation martyrs died for. If they had not sacrificed so much there would not be the Roman Catholic presence in these lands that there is today. Sometimes we have to risk being different, misunderstood, treated as irrelevant and viewed with suspicion for the sake of the gospel. For too long in practice we have failed to take seriously or teach the theology of the body. We have accepted as normal sex before marriage, the use of contraception and even been divided in our opinions about abortion and euthanasia. Is it any wonder that the wider community is being sent mixed messages? Are we also to accept meekly the redefining of marriage?

I would much rather our time was spent raising awareness and support for the famine victims in West Africa and the persecuted Christians of Northern Nigeria. Yet our government wants to redefine marriage so that same sex couple can be married. If this goes though then the terms Husband and Wife will be removed from all official documents, every school will be made to teach that there is no distinction between types of marriages and eventually legal challenges and prosecutions will be made against those who do not conform.

The redefining of marriage is made in the name of eradicating prejudice and discrimination. The Church itself, as part of its mission, seeks justice and peace and yet this attack on marriage is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding which is not about prejudice or discrimination. Marriage is not free to be redefined by Church or State because of a crisis of identity for same sex couples, to do so will render marriage meaningless. Marriage is defined by and emerges from the need of a stable relationship between and man and a woman for the procreation of the species. Procreation can only take place between a man and a woman. By definition the coming together of a man and a woman in sexual union creates the possibility of life. Although marriage is a prophetic sign of the life of the Trinity and speaks beautifully of the relationship between Christ and the Church, this openness to life is the defining element in marriage. Same sex couples are by definition not open to life in the terms of procreation. For a same sex couple to have children, they need — however limited — the interaction of a male and female to create the life they may wish to care for. Same sex couples cannot generate new life and therefore cannot be seen as relationships of marriage. If you decouple marriage from procreation then you render it meaningless. It’s a bit like the government telling us that we should suspend our logic and accept that black is white and white is black in the name of fairness.

Same sex couples now have access to equality in law via the act of civil partnerships. We seem to have mistakenly identified equality as meaning the same. Defining what same sex relationships are to provide some sense of identity is not going to be achieved by destroying the meaning of marriage.

It seems to me that the Roman Catholic Church in this country is being asked to face a new form of Martyrdom as Christian truths and values are being challenged more often. The temptation to compromise and be accepted is strong but if there is to be a recognisable Church for future generations and a faithfulness to Christ, then I believe we need to face these opposing voices with truth and love now.