Yesterday, we introduced this two-part series on Commonweal magazine’s continued conversation about Joseph Bottum’s 2013 essay entitled“The Things We Share:A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” Commonweal asked two writers with opposing points of view to respond to Bottum’s essay. Yesterday, we examined the conservative pundit’s point of view, expressed by Ross Douthat of The New York Times. Today, we will look at the progressive response, offered by Jamie Manson of The National Catholic Reporter.
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have a much more favorable view of Manson’s take on Bottum’s essay than I did of Douthat’s. Manson’s main argument is one that New Ways Ministry strongly shares. She states:
“. . . I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true.”
That argument, which is seemingly simple, is packed with history and faith. Catholics, who now overwhelmingly support marriage equality, are doing so because of their faith, not in spite of it. Their faith journeys of the last few decades, largely ignored by the hierarchy, have led them to understand sexuality and relationships in new ways. They have come to recognize that so many myths and stereotypes that they have had about lesbian and gay people are false. Unfortunately, church teaching has not quite yet caught up with this new faith reality.
Manson illustrates this new reality nicely:
“Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.
“Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples.”
The insistence of so many of the church’s bishops to listen to the lived faith of gay and lesbian people, to examine new research on sexuality, to dialogue with family members of sexual and gender minorities is truly a great scandal in our church. This resistance has caused great damage to LGBT people, but it has also caused much damage to the bishops who continue to ignore this reality. These clerics are missing out on an amazing development of faith in the world. Manson seems to recognize this idea when she states:
“The growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and the push for same-sex marriage is not, I would argue, a sign that reality needs re-enchanting, but a sign that our culture may be more receptive to a challenging spiritual vision of married love and commitment than Bottum suspects.”
It is in accepting, not in rejecting, same-sex couples’ commitments that the church and the world can be renewed. Manson makes this point in her conclusion. Having discussed witnessing a same-sex marriage ceremony in New York City, and having noted her own plans to marry her lesbian partner, Manson states:
“It may take centuries before the Catholic hierarchy recognizes that marriages like the one I witnessed in the park, or the one I hope to enter, are holy unions with the potential to bring the life of God more fully into our world. But just as most of our culture has already concluded that same-sex relationships are equally deserving of protection under the law, for many Catholics the question of whether gays and lesbians are capable of living the vocation of marriage is already settled.”
Douthat’s and Bottum’s disappointment that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on same-sex marriage could easily be turned around if they would understand that though the hierarchy may have lost, the entire church has actually “won” because we have all gained so much by the fact that marriage equality is spreading rapidly. The true loss for the hierarchy will be if they persist in their refusal to listen.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo