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7 September 2017

Jacob Rees-Mogg represents Catholics about as well as he represents modern Britain

For a start, Catholics are more likely to vote Labour. 

By Julia Rampen

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the latest ludicrous personality to hover close to power, and at this dangerous hour, Good Morning Britain unearthed his views about gay marriage (against) and abortion (against). “I am a Catholic and I take the teachings of the Catholic Church seriously,” he declared, defending his remarks.

The right-wing Twittersphere has taken up the chant – and compared the plight of this Catholic MP to a Muslim one. “Why not ask a Muslim MP their views on homosexuality?” one Twitter user complained. “Labour in meltdown that Jacob Rees-Mogg upholds strong Catholic views. No outrage over Muslim homophobia and oppression of women’s rights,” said another.

In fact, British Muslim politicians of equal prominence are more liberal than Rees-Mogg. London mayor Sadiq Khan turned up to Pride while business secretary Sajid Javid said he was “very proud” that his party introduced equal marriage. But this kind of outrage also misses the point. First, as Helen Lewis has observed, what makes Rees-Mogg’s comments relevant is that he does not draw a line between the personal and the political, but votes according to his beliefs.

Second, there are many kinds of Catholics  – as there are with Muslims, Protestants, and Hindus – and last time I checked, they hadn’t elected Rees-Mogg as their spokesman. In fact, Catholics are most likely to vote Labour, according to this LSE study, except in Scotland, where they increasingly choose to back the Scottish National Party. If you want someone to talk about Catholic priorities, maybe you should ask Jeremy Corbyn, whose wife comes from Mexico, a predominantly Catholic country, and was spotted taking Holy Communion, and who consistently votes for equal rights?

The majority of European Catholics do not look or sound like Jacob Rees-Mogg. According to a 2010 YouGov poll, seven out of ten British Catholics believed women should have the right to abortion. Another YouGov poll found British religious Catholics are actually more likely to support gay marriage than Protestants. Despite the Catholic Church’s disapproval of contraception, in 2013, just 3.1 per cent of Italian babies had three siblings, 2.6 per cent of those in Spain and 4.6 per cent in Poland. (Every sperm is not sacred, apparently.) In Ireland, where more than seven in ten identify as Catholic, voters backed same-sex marriage. 

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Of course, this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. But the Westminster Parliament is not a disciplinary wing of the Vatican – that much was established during the English Reformation. And there are many other teachings of the Catholic Church that Jacob Rees-Mogg arguably fails to live up to, like Pope Francis’s call for Catholics to focus on helping people out of poverty. He can interpret Catholicism anyway he likes, but he and his right-wing followers should accept that, as in almost every other facet of his life, he represents an obscure minority.