2014 has been another year of significant note for Catholics. In March the legislation Marriage – Same Sex Couples – Act which was passed by Parliament in July 2013 came into force allowing anyone who is registered in a civil partnership to have the ability to convert this partnership into a marriage. As of December same-sex couples already in a civil partnership can decide to remain in the legal status or convert to a marriage. Much has been written and continues to be written about this divisive legislation which to Catholics seems to water down the great sacrament of Marriage.
In February there was much joy as Archbishop Vincent Nichols became a Cardinal. The new Cardinal as is traditional was also appointed titular bishop to a church in Rome with Cardinal Nichols being assigned to the church of The Most Holy Redeemer and St Alphonsus. Following his appointment I had a meeting with him in April and he reaffirmed his support and encouragement to the Catholic Union and the work we do to promote catholic values in public life.
In November at our AGM we said goodbye to Lord Brennan who stepped down as our President. Lord Brennan has been a beacon of support to us all in the CU and has been a voice of common sense when speaking in the House of Lords. He has provided much needed guidance and support throughout his 12 years as President and will be sorely missed. We were able to formally thank him on 10 November when a farewell dinner was held in his honour at the RAF Club attended by many friends and members of the Union. As we all know when one door closes another opens and we are fortunate to have Sir Edward Leigh MP who agreed and was formally elected as our new President at the AGM. Sir Edward brings a wealth of experience and is a strong advocate of Catholic values and will be a real asset as we move the Union forward widening its appeal and membership base.
While talking of new appointments Bishop John Arnold was appointed the new Bishop of Salford in the autumn which was welcomed far and wide but it did mean we lost our Ecclesiastical Advisor. I have written to the Cardinal and we are awaiting news on who will be appointed as his replacement and once known we will inform our members accordingly.
And it was with great sadness we learnt of the death of Jim Dobbin MP in September one of our Vice Presidents and a great supporter, he will be missed. However at the AGM we re-elected and elected a number of new Vice Presidents and we hope they will provide the support and voice we need both in Parliament and the wider community.
In 2014 we formally had news from the Charitable Commission of our Charitable status for the Catholic Union Charitable Trust (CUCT). This will now enable us to utilise Gift Aid and all our activity except lobbying will come under the CUCT.
These activities approved for the CUCT will include Education ,Training and Religious activities including the holding of seminars, lectures, discussion groups and the implementation of a social media campaign as well as working closely with other Catholic organisations. The CUCT will formally be launched on 10 February at a reception to be held at Southwark Cathedral courtesy of Archbishop Peter Smith when it is hoped we will attract some 100 prominent Catholics.
The pursuit of the Common Good in Public Life remains the core focus of the Catholic Union and our various committees as we work towards that end. Our Committees remain at the heart of our work and I would again like to record my thanks to all those who serve on a Committee, those members who take an active interest in the Union and Noelle and Gaye in the office for their commitment and support.
The Catholic Union continues to work with members in both Houses to raise issues of the day which affect our Catholic way of life via the Parliamentary & Public Affairs Committee under the excellent Chairmanship of Dr Tony Cole. The past year they discussed and submitted papers on a wide range of issues including Assisted Suicide, Abortion by Midwives, Same Sex Marriage, Modern Slavery to name a few.
Mike Henderson has completed a full year as Chair of the CUCT Executive Committee which takes in membership, fund-raising and communications. Our website has been further updated and refined so please do visit the site http://catholicunion.org.uk
The Craigmyle lecture which is our showcase event of the year saw Ann Widdecombe speak on ‘Faith & Public Life’ to over 100 CU members and guests where she took a closer look at the interaction between faith and politics and the role of faith in modern public life. And thanks are due to John Barrie our Vice Chairman for securing Sir Rocco Forte who has agreed to deliver the 2015 Craigmyle lecture on 13th October 2015 around ‘Faith in Business’ so please make a note of this date in your diary.
Work continues apace on gaining new members with a new strategy of outreach to initially a select number of Dioceses, making contact with the relevant Bishop and then filtering down to the parish network within that Diocese. Also there are plans to update the leaflet entitled ‘Restoring Faith in Public Life’ with the aim to distribute this across the parishes in the UK as well as sending it to all prospective members of Parliament who are standing in the May General Election.
In November Priscilla Sharp became Chairman of the newly reformed CUCT Education Committee in succession to Stuart Sexton and oversee the first of what is hoped will be a series of lectures around educational issues with Fr Michael Holman delivering a speech on 4 December entitled ‘How Can We Help Young People Grow in Their Faith in Jesus and in Their Commitment to the Church?’.
The Catholic Union has a great track record and we owe it our forebears who had the foresight to establish the Union back in 1870 to expand our reach and to remain a strong voice for Catholics in Public Life providing support and encouragement to Catholics aiming to keep the flame of common good alive in today’s ever secular world. As usual, I appeal to all members to help us in enhancing the influence of the Catholic Union by recommending potential new members.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish you and your families a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
29th December 2014