Dear Cardinal O’Brien

I have read and heard your various recent observations about the forthcoming public consultation on extending civil marriage to include same sex marriage. As I don’t know you, I am prepared to believe that your reported views are ones which you genuinely hold. You have been an ordained priest since 1965 so I suspect you know more about Roman Catholicism than I do. I am not a Catholic and my religious teaching has been limited to attending Sunday School when I was six, although my presence was due mainly to the promise of a full set of Noddy books if I completed a year there.

Now, about the time that you were becoming a priest I had just completed my education at an all boys grammar school where  5 of the 33 lads in my class were, if not “friends of Dorothy” at least on nodding acquaintance with her. But as it was the non-swinging sixties in outer London no-one could actually put a name to our feelings or disposition. Such sex education as I had,  amounted to observing the frog’s life cycle and seeing a few slides about rabbits provided by an uncomfortable biology teacher. I left school as confused as I had entered it. You were a science teacher yourself between 1966 and 1971 so I hope you managed to enlighten your students in a truthful way.

My work life started in the City of London and I bought The Times every day to impress my fellow commuters but it was way over my head. I did, however read the News of the World, which was delivered to my parents every Sunday. In that mighty organ I could read about the downfall of scoutmasters, teachers and priests. Articles finishing with reporters saying  “I made my excuses and left” were a constant feature of my Sunday reading. You will, of course, know that being gay was illegal at that time. Any mention of gay people was derogatory;  the press, politicians and the police were completely hostile;  blackmail and queer bashing were routine. Even after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which partially legalised gay sex, prosecutions continued.

With that as a backdrop many gay people felt unable to come out, even to themselves and I was one of those. I got married in church;  the vicar wore a crumpled surplus, it still rankles; and after some years I got divorced. You will be pleased to hear, Cardinal, that my marriage was blessed with children. I have two fine grown sons with families of their own and four grandchildren. My ex-wife is still one of my best friends. I also have a male partner and we have had 21 wonderful years together. When the civil partnerships were introduced we had a ceremony with friends and family present and it was a joyful day. I still feel that I have been married for 21 years though. I have had a strong and loyal companion who has shared the knocks of life with me. I have  fought many battles on the road to equality. I was a lay branch officer for a major trades union and I helped to shape its policy on sexual orientation. I even led a march on the Isle of Man parliament during a conference to protest at it’s refusal to legalise gay sex. I was a co founder of a London wide AIDS charity at a time when government action was lacking.

Like you, Cardinal, I have known birth and death. Unlike you, that knowledge has stretched me, shaped me and changed me. I will not be bullied by you. I recognise you as an outdated, frightened old trade union leader. You have your policies and practices and you have to hold on to them otherwise the world changes and you become redundant. Even if over the last forty odd years you have changed your opinions and position you cannot say so because your job, your home, your life depends on saying the same thing over and over again. As I understand it,  the majority of Catholics do not follow your proscription on birth control, yet you still recite it. You are supposed to not recognise divorce yet you open your doors to married clergy fleeing women bishops. If I actually bothered to study your feudal religion no doubt I could come up with many more examples of Catholic dogma that is totally irrelevant to today’s society in general and Catholics in particular.

According to the entry in Wikipedia about you it says that before becoming a Cardinal “O’Brien was regarded as relatively liberal on the issue of homosexuality, acknowledging the significant number of homosexual priests in the Roman Catholic Church. This even led to suggestions that he was being “disloyal” to church teaching.” The source was The Telegraph, 2003.  Since becoming a Cardinal in 2005 you seem to have gone off the rails a bit, forgetting what you knew to be true and starting on the road to “sexual aberrations” and “shame the United Kingdom” and describing gay marriage as “grotesque”.  Why are you expending all this acerbic energy on a loving and joyful something which doesn’t concern you? Why don’t you concentrate on all the hateful things in the world that do concern you;  the cover-up of abominable priests, promoting use of condoms to prevent disease in developing countries and providing an inclusive adoption service for children in care?

Today I find that your  fellow trade union bosses Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith, the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark, respectively, have felt it necessary to urge Catholics in England and Wales to stick the boot in as well. I hope ordinary decent people who live in the real world will see their intervention for what it is. It might be worded better than your outbursts but it is still full of frightened outrage.

Yours truly

Mike Pennell