Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 2001

Not all the obituaries of Cardinal Thomas Winning, the leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics, who died earlier this year, were thinly disguised hagiographies. One, at least, found the dirt under his fingernails, as Andy Armitage reports.

The Thorn that was Winning is Lost

by Andy Armitage

Cardinal Thomas Winning, now no longer a thorn in the side of sexual minorities, women and anyone who did not follow a strictly orthodox attitude towards sex and morality, has been described as “an unreconstructed bigot who joined forces with a homophobic businessman ... to wage a fanatical campaign against the repeal of the pernicious Section 28”.

While many newspapers were printing mawkish eulogies in their obituary columns, one writer, Joan Smith, author of Moralities: Sex, Money and Power in the 21st Century (Allen Lane), had a different tale to tell.

She is unremittingly brutal – some would say rightly so – in her analysis of Winning and his infamously antiqueer cant and rant in an article headed “The cardinal was perverse” (with the subtitle: “Tributes to the late Cardinal Winning fail to record that he was a bigot who wasted his energies on futile crusades”), which appeared soon after his death in the Guardian.

“His opposition to abortion led him into a distasteful initiative to bribe girls as young as 12 into continuing with unwanted pregnancies,” Smith recalls, adding that, in Winning, she sees “a deeply flawed individual whose political radicalism was at odds with his unrelenting social conservatism; a doctrinaire Christian whose attitude to people different from himself, and to human sexuality in all its diverse forms, was characterised by fear”.

The businessman with whom Winning was in cahoots to combat opposition to the iniquitous Section 28 (known as Section 2A in Scotland, where it is now no longer law) was none other than Scotland’s best-known busman, Brian Souter, himself a somewhat frothy Christian with bizarre ideas of what constitutes sexual morality. He used some of his millions to bankroll a hateful campaign advocating the retention of a law that many claim encourages bullying and schoolkid suicides, prevents teachers from talking openly about sexuality and makes children who are not from “conventional” families feel inferior.

Tony Blair gets beaten up somewhat, too, in Smith’s piece. The Prime Minister praised Winning for his “strong moral leadership”, she says, adding that Blair failed “to appreciate that it revealed precisely those anxious projections that have led the Catholic church to persecute women, gay men and anyone who does not conform to its narrow definition of acceptable behaviour. This is not surprising, since Blair regularly shows himself to be a social conservative with a not-very-sophisticated moral apparatus.”

“Smith goes on to say of Winning’s and the Pope’s condemnation of gay sex: “There is nothing admirable about a moral system that punishes adults for loving the ‘wrong’ person, insisting that the only valid expression of love is heterosexual intercourse between married couples with the firm intention of procreation.”

Smith then talks of the former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, whose new book Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity? is reviewed in this issue, saying he records his “dismay” at the homophobia displayed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and was horrified by banners proclaiming, “No sodomite can enter the Kingdom of Heaven”.

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Created : Sunday, 2001-09-30 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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