Unsurprisingly, secularists are beginning to fight back against the wave of regard for the late, great John Paul II. (See two opinion pieces in today's Guardian). This is especially to be expected in England where a certain group of people have always regarded the Catholic Church with unmitigated loathing. This isn't just your usual busy bodies with a bee in their bonnet about religion in general but is specifically aimed at Catholics. Partly, this is cultural. Until very recently, properly educated English men and women learnt that our history was a desperate struggle to keep Papism off our shores. More recently, the IRA have done their best to ensure that the image of Catholics as enemies at the gates of civilised society was maintained. When I speak about the anti-Catholic prejudices of any properly brought up Englishman, I am not quite joking.
Today, Catholic bashing is no longer quite politically correct. This was partly because the Prime Minister is married to one, partly because they edit half the press and partly because the late Cardinal Hume was generally recognised as a saint. But the biggest change has been that the evangelical wing of the Church of England (the only wing that matters outside Oxford and Cambridge colleges) has embraced the Catholic Church as a vital ally. Alpha courses are now run out of both. When, five years ago, the rector of Holy Trinity Brompton described the Pope as "that most holy man of God" I almost fell out of my chair. Even ten years ago such language would have been unthinkable from a evangelical Protestant. But now evangelicals see Catholics as allies on the question of woman priests and homosexual acts, and that has overcome the old animosity.
When it comes down to it, the argument between secular society and the Church is about sex. Secular society is dominated by sex and can talk of little else. The aim of life is a great shag and almost everything is subsumed in pursuit of this goal. We are made to feel grossly inadequate if we are not sexually fulfilled at all times. In contrast, the Church rarely talks about sex unless it is asked by journalists or those with an agenda. (Admittedly, this happens a lot because many people want to preserve the myth that the Church thinks about sex as much as they do). This mutual incomprehension is likely to continue but I do expect some relaxation, in practice at least. Expect condoms to be allowed among married couples if one or other is HIV positive. Expect some relaxation on clerical celibacy. Eventually expect some movement on the state of divorcees. But do not expect the slightest change on abortion , homosexual acts or women priests. The Church should not end up being forced to endorse secular society's priorities. Part of John Paul II's greatness was his refusal to do this. If only Rowen Williams was as strong.