Bishop Campbell’s criticism of ACTA is spot-on

Bishop Michael Campbell (Mazur/

Good news from the north: the Bishop of Lancaster has rebuked the lobby group ACTA. You can read a report on this website. One can also go to the fountainhead and read what Bishop Campbell has to say on his blog.

Embedded in that posting by the bishop are links to two interviews from Radio Lancaster, one with an ACTA representative and one with the bishop himself. Both are lengthy, but I would urge you to listen in, for thanks to the skills of the interviewer, what is said is deeply revelatory. (The interviewer is Joe Wilson, someone who reminds you just how good BBC local radio can be.)

So, what exactly is at stake here? Listening to the ACTA interview, and to the bishop’s reaction, several things come to mind.

First of all, ACTA is a pressure group, and it is a pressure group for doctrinal change, which is apparent from the ACTA spokesman’s mention of gay marriage. This is not something that the Catholic Church believes in, or is ever going to believe in, but ACTA does not seem to have a problem with espousing a position which is diametrically opposed to Church teaching.

Now, there is nothing wrong per se with being a pressure group inside the Catholic Church. In fact, some pressure groups (though they might not style themselves thus) are quite respectable. It is perfectly acceptable to set up a group inside the Church which aims to focus attention on, for example, some grave social injustice. Think, for example, or the anti-slavery societies of the past.

But there is something wrong with being a supposed Catholic group and campaigning for something like gay marriage. (I take this as an example as it was the only specific topic mentioned by the spokesman; the other things he spoke of were things like “openness” and “dialogue”, which no one could oppose.) To be outwardly Catholic and hold what is in fact irreconcilable with Catholicism is analogous to what the Labour party had to put up with in the 1980s: people who were secretly Marxists and Trotskyites trying to change the party from within, into something it was not and which the vast majority of its members would have opposed, a strategy known as “entryism”.

ACTA is similar to an “entryist” group and Bishop Campbell’s calling them out of is reminiscent of Neil Kinnock’s struggle with Militant. We know how that ended.

Bishop Campbell’s article, with its call to communion, is beautifully argued and expressed. In the radio interview he makes it clear that he is offended by some of the claims of ACTA, and in particular their assertion (not backed by any proof) that he is not following Pope Francis’s lead, and the implication, of course, that ACTA is. In trying to drive a wedge between bishop and Pope, where none exists, ACTA is undermining Bishop Campbell’s ministry and fostering division.

It is also interesting to see how ACTA reads Bishop Campbell’s reception of Cardinal Burke. When the bishop met the crdinal this was surely a sign of brotherly communion. That is Catholic. However, ACTA clearly do not like Cardinal Burke, or people meeting Cardinal Burke, which is a very strange position for a Catholic group to take. Indeed, the bishop’s article has exactly the right title: we need to live the communion, which he, as a bishop, calls us to. ACTA are damaging communion. It is time for them to cease and desist. Bishop Campbell is quite right to rebuke them; and the rest of us should be deeply grateful to him that he has done so.