THE zealotry of Catholic ultra-montane groups often makes the tribalism of secular politics look like a community council kerfuffle over garden waste disposal.

Granted, the current gender debate raging on social media has led to some downright beastly and vile imprecations being hurled back and forth. Columnists expose themselves to public ridicule in which they are told that they are worthless human beings, or worse: that their grammar and syntax exist within the chaos theory of random things.

But when you’re being told you’re destined for an eternity in hell and that purgatory is too good for you it tends to play havoc with your ideas of self-worth and long-term security. My own view on Hell is that it had better exist. Otherwise I’m being asked to accept that there will be no punitive justice for the world’s top genocidal maniacs and that we’re all heading to the same place, no matter how virtuous we strive to be.

As such, I reject the happy-go-lucky attitude of the late Scottish poet and balladeer, Bon Scott when he suggested that “Hell ain’t a bad place to be,” on AC/DC’s apocalyptic 1979 treatise on the Last Things: “Highway to Hell.”

The Catholic Church in Scotland shelters more than a few of its own ecclesiastical flat-Earthers. I’ve had several robust exchanges with adherents of all Scotland’s main political creeds, but none have been as malevolent and sinister as those when I’ve criticised my own Church. The award-winning journalist Catherine Deveney discovered this too in 2013 when she revealed how the former leader of Scotland’s Catholics, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, had pursued a string of sexual liaisons with priests in his charge while publicly condemning homosexuality as intrinsically disordered.

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On these occasions you have to remind yourself that these people are still angry with the Vatican for refusing to discipline Father Ted for bringing the Church into disrepute.

Several of them have exulted this past week in the implications of Boris Johnson being granted all the ecclesiastical bells and whistles of Catholic matrimony at Westminster Cathedral. The Prime Minister is twice divorced and among his five or six children born to several women is one who was born out of wedlock.

Now, you may consider any commentary on such religiously esoteric affairs as essentially unimportant in a secular world governed by certainty and provable fact. These matters remain salient though, not only to many millions of Catholics but also to those who acknowledge how important the Church’s role can be in altering perceptions and making interventions in the world.

What the Church says on climate change; the Palestinian conflict and the morality of affluent western countries stockpiling vaccines while Third World nations struggle to catch up is important. World leaders still care about what the Pope has to say on these because it draws on thousands of years of gathered Judeo/Christian philosophy that underpins civilisation’s judicial framework of basic human rights. His words still have the power to influence mass public opinion.

As such, any apparent idiosyncrasies and contradictions around the sacrament of matrimony has the potential to damage the Church’s credibility when it seeks to provide clarity and consistency in global, secular matters.

It’s impossible to overstate how intrinsic to the Catholic Church’s entire canon of teaching the sacrament of matrimony between a man and a woman is. Without this many of the rest of the Church’s essential truths fall. The central relationship mirrors God’s relationship with his people; it forms a bridge between the human and the divine and thus offers hope when human structures inevitably fail.

As with each of the other six sacraments, matrimony is a sacred event where Catholics and their Christian brothers and sisters in other denominations can encounter the grace and love of God. The Church doesn’t offer this as mere gilded symbolism to provide a dash of Hollywood to its important ceremonies or provide a baroque setting for the wedding pictures: this is real.

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In the days since the marriage of the Prime Minister to his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, an assortment of learned Catholic commentators have had time to re-group and provide a defence of the apparent contradictions implicit in the Church’s role in it. These have gathered round one seemingly immutable truth: that, as Mr Johnson’s two previous marriages were not conducted under Catholic rites his third marriage, in Rome’s eyes, is really his first.

Quite what this communicates to other Christian denominations who share the Catholic Church’s beliefs about the sacrament of matrimony is not explained. You could start with insulting and disrespectful.

Mr Johnson’s previously reported thoughts on Christian faith suggest he views it as a vestigial accoutrement. He has dismissed as “pretentious” any thoughts he might be a “serious, practising Christian”. And that it’s “a bit like trying to get Virgin Radio when you’re driving through the Chilterns. It sort of comes and goes”.

It may be that the Church has performed a complex exercise of ecclesiastical contortions whereby it could satisfy itself that none of its ancient and sacred beliefs were harmed in the making of this production. But what does this say to the great number of faithful Catholics and their chosen spouses (of whom many are not themselves Catholic) who have been denied the privilege of a Catholic wedding owing to their not quite pukka matrimonial history?

What does it say also to the many sincere gay Catholics who were created in God’s image too? If the Church can seemingly provide an ingenious route-map for powerful people to divest themselves of any little obstacles standing in the way of a big fat Catholic wedding then why not provide something similar for its lesser anointed members?

As a lifelong Catholic who still clings to the hope that the Church provides in chaos and error I wish I could provide some clarity, but I can’t. As things stand, the Church is asking the world to heed its wisdom on the great, apocalyptic threats which imperil the world. Yet, on one of its own most essential truths there is no clarity, only the creeping suspicion that a tawdry deal has been concluded with Power.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.