A story which bothers me but seems to have had surprisingly little publicity is the decision of the Church Commissioners , who look after the properties of the Church of England, to refuse to sell a disused Church in Manchester to the Society of St Pius Tenth (SSPX) The refusal seems to me to be nothing more than blatant religious discrimination and therefore illegal under Part 2 of the Equality Act 2006 .
For those who don't know about the SSPX it is a group which split from the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council and which continues to use the traditional Latin Mass instead of the new Catholic Mass which is said in the language of the congregation. I accept that a follower of SSPX would say that was a greatly oversimplified view of them and would also say that they had not split from the Catholic Church however this Blog is not the place to go into a debate which to the outsider can resemble arguments about Angels dancing on the heads of pins. The most famous, or infamous, member of SSPX is Bishop Williamson who expressed doubts about the Holocaust in an interview on Swedish TV.
Now I can understand the motives of those who justify the refusal to sell by reference to the remarks of Bishop Williamson however the point is that Williamson is just one of 4 SSPX Bishops, he is not the superior of the SSPX and his remarks were not supported by his fellow Bishops so therefore it does seem that the entire SSPX is being punished because of the remarks of one person and, in simple terms, that is unjust and unfair.
Besides being unfair on the members of the SSPX, who are being deprived of the opportunity to spend their money on restoring a derelict Church and returning it to Christian worship, the decision creates a dangerous precedent. If Catholics apply to build a new Church will people be able to object because of something the Pope has said, should Mosques be banned because of Osama Bin Laden ? Just exactly where do we as a society stop once we go down the road that the only religions that are allowed to open new places of worship are religions "we" agree with ?
What I found especially hard to stomach was the remark by the Bishop of Manchester, that the sale of the derelict Church to the SSPX would not be in the interests of "ecumenical relations or inter-faith work". The Bishop clearly has a pretty Orwellian view of what Ecumenism and inter-faith work actually means. Whether one likes SSPX or not they are a religious group, a "faith community" in the modern parlance and they are just as entitled to ecumenism and respect as any other "faith community" the Bishop deals with.
The SSPX have been pilloried as being bigoted and intolerant, I am not a member so I cannot comment on the general views of members of the SSPX, but one thing I do know in this particular case it is the SSPX which is the victim of bigotry and intolerance. I also suspect that they have a good legal case should they decide to challenge the Church Commissioners.