Should Civil Marriage Be Separated from Sacramental Marriage?

November 25, 2014

Conservative religious leaders, including some Catholics, have imitated an action that many pro-marriage equality advocates have used successfully:  they have pledged not to perform civil marriage ceremonies until their view of marriage is accepted by the state.

According to an article in Crux, the conservative Catholic opinion journal First Things has posted “The Marriage Pledge” on their website, which is a statement by Christian ministers who agree not to perform the civil aspect of wedding ceremonies (i.e., not signing the marriage licesnse) until same-gender marriage is revoked.  The pledge states, in part:

“. . . [I]n our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.”

What I find most interesting about this stand is that in many states across our nation, pro-marriage equality ministers took a similar pledge as they were advocating for the state to adopt marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  The pro-marriage equality pastors pledged to not sign any marriage licenses for any couple until marriage was extended equally to all couples.

When opponents adopt the same strategy to achieve opposite ends, something must be happening.

I think that “something” is a growing consensus on the idea that marriage in the U.S. should be separated from religious institutions.  In other words,  civil marriages would only be performed by government officials, and not religious leaders, who currently are authorized to do so.  If a couple chooses to have a religious ceremony in addition to the civil ceremony, they are free to do so, though the religious ceremony by itself would not be legally recognized.  As many people are aware, this is how marriage is conducted in many European countries.

Some pro-marriage equality advocates, including Catholics, have been advocating for this distinction for a long time.  In addition to being intuitively fairer, this situation also helps to clear up  the muddy interaction that religious and government institutions have about the definition of marriage.  In that sense, such a distinction supports marriage equality.

One major problem that marriage equality advocates have had is that some people see marriage as a mixture of civil and religious ideas, and so the thought of changing even just the civil part of marriage makes them fear that the religious part of marriage will change, too.  Separating the two institutions thus paves the way for the state to democratically decide who should be allowed to marry, and for religious institutions to decide who they want to marry according to their own definitions.

There has already been a discussion of this separation from Catholic advocates on both sides of the marriage equality question.  Back in July 2013,  Bondings 2.0 carried two connected posts exploring the debate.  The first was by Jesuit law professor, Fr. Frank Brennan, who advocated for such a separation as a way to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the well-being of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the well-being of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships. . . .

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

Arguing for the same distinction, but for an opposite purpose, was the Archdiocese of Washington’s Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor, who said:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.”

After giving an interpretation of why he thought such a redefinition took place, he stated:

“So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word ‘marriage’ is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.

I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as ‘Holy Matrimony.’ ” [emphasis, his]

Interestingly, Msgr. Pope called for exactly the type of protest that First Things is now encouraging:

“A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

The Crux article cited other examples of this type of proposal in the last few years, from both liberals and conservatives, Catholic and Protestant:

The concept that civil and religious marriage should be separate is not entirely novel. At US Catholic, columnist Bryan Cones has asked, “Is it time to separate church and state marriages?” And writer Len Woolley raised similar questions at the Mormon-run Deseret News. . . But the idea isn’t just limited to conservatives.

Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, proposed the idea as early as 2009. By 2011, three North Carolina church pastors and at least one in Virginia quit signing marriage licenses as a way of opposing state bans on same-sex marriages they felt violated their conscience.

And in July of this year, Paul Waldman argued at The American Prospect, a liberal publication, that religious couples should fill out state-mandated marriage forms and then have the religious ceremony of their choosing. “The wedding, in other words, should be a ritual with no content prescribed by the state, no ‘By the power vested in me by the state of Indiana’ at all.”

Waldman added: “The state doesn’t tell you how to celebrate Christmas or Ramadan, and it shouldn’t tell you how to get married.”

Such an interesting development!  What do you think?  Should marriage be separated into civil and religious institutions?  Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Ethika Politika:  The Marriage Pledge: Black, White, and Red All Over”

 


Communion Debate: Montana Gay Catholic vs. Cardinal Burke

November 19, 2014

If anyone wants a lesson in sacramental reverence and church faithfulness, no need to look further than the gay couple in Montana who were denied communion at their local parish in September.  You can read about that terrible action by local church officials by clicking here, and read follow-up posts here and here.  The respect for the sacramental life of the Church in the Montana story is in stark comparison to a recently demoted Cardinal who would use the Eucharist as a weapon or reward.

Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick

This week, Helena, Montana’s Independent Record newspaper interviewed Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff who had been active parishioners at St. Leo the Great parish, Lewistown, for 11 years before their pastor told them that they could not receive communion because they were legally married.

The newspaper article recounts some of the impact that the denial has had, and that one of the husbands continues to attend part of Mass each Sunday at the parish:

“Wojtowick and Huff were willing to write a restoration statement that, in part, would support the concept of marriage in the Catholic faith as between a man and a woman. But they refused the more drastic action of permanent separation.

“Huff has left St. Leo and attends St. James Episcopal Church. A number of other former parishioners departed St. Leo’s for the Episcopal church, Wojtowick said.

“Wojtowick attends half the Mass at St. Leo’s on Saturday nights, leaving after the homily, before the Eucharist is served. On Sundays, he often joins Huff at St. James, where he is frequently asked to play piano.

“Huff has said that he won’t return to St. Leo’s unless the ban is reversed. Others wonder why Wojtowick hasn’t taken that step.

“ ‘A lot of people said, “Why don’t you just give up on it?” ‘ he said in a telephone interview. ‘Boy, it’s hard. I invested so much time there, worked with hundreds of people.’

“His family also has been part of the parish for seven generations, dating back to the early 1900s. Both Wojtowick and Huff are lifelong Catholics.”

Not denying that it must be difficult for them both, I admire Wojtowick’s patience and persistence in claiming his rightful place in his local parish.  His witness attests to the fact that the laity are the stronghold of the Church, and that even despicable actions against them by ill-advised clergy will not keep them from claiming their sense of belonging.

Although Bishop Michael Warfel of the Great Falls-Billings diocese met with St. Leo parishioners in September, he has yet to meet with the couple.  But Wojtowick has been persistent:

“In mid-October, Wojtowick, himself a former priest, wrote a lengthy, in-depth piece he titled ‘The Warfel Solution — A Failure to Dialogue.’ He submitted the paper to Warfel.

“In it, Wojtowick maintains that the action Spiering took against the couple regarding divorce and separation, and which Warfel apparently upheld, is unprecedented anywhere else in the United States.

“Wojtowick got a letter from the bishop, who said he perused what Wojtowick had written, and plans to read it. The bishop also offered for the two to sit down for coffee the next time he comes through Lewistown, Wojtowick said.

“ ‘What’s odd to me is the censure comes from Father Spiering [pastor] at St. Leo’s, but the bishop hasn’t acted on it, he hasn’t changed it,’ he said. ‘I never heard anything formal.’ ”

Such persistence speaks of love of the Church and the Eucharist, which in itself, should be evidence enough to have the couple welcomed back to the communion table.

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Contrast this attitude toward the Eucharist with Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Vatican official who was recently demoted from head of the Church’s highest court to a ceremonial position as patron of the Knights of Malta. PinkNews.co.uk reported that Burke remarked to Irish television that communion should be denied to pro-marriage equality politicians:

“Speaking to RTE in Ireland, Burke refused to comment on his demotion, and also would not talk about the upcoming referendum on equal marriage in the country.

“However, he did say he would refuse to give communion to any legislators who voted in favour of equality.

“He said he would have ‘issues giving holy communion’ to Catholic legislators who backed gay rights against church doctrine.”

To me there is a wide chasm between Wojtowick’s respect for the Eucharist, which keeps him going to church even though he is denied full participation, and Burke’s use of the Eucharist as a weapon to intimidate politicians or as a reward for only those he deems politically correct.

Commonweal magazine’s most recent editorial focuses on Burke’s ultra conservative stance, but argues that he should be allowed to continue taking part in church debate about marriage, family, and sexuality which began at this past month’s synod.  But, the editor’s, while championing free debate, are not shy about pointing out the errors in Burke’s way of thinking:

“Yet Burke sets the wrong course for the church by insisting that the questions taken up in the synod were settled centuries ago and need never be revisited. His fear of foisting ‘confusion’ on the faithful is misplaced, especially his claim that no good can come from what the church has traditionally taught are disordered and gravely sinful acts and relationships. That gets the contemporary moral dilemma backwards. Given what the church teaches, what is perplexing for the faithful is the goodness evident in the lives of many divorced and remarried Catholics. Much virtue is also apparent in the loving relationships of same-sex couples, especially in their devotion to their children. Goodness, after all, is properly understood as a grace and a mystery. What is confounding is finding it in places where the church—or at least Cardinal Burke—claims it cannot exist.

“Burke will now have more free time to challenge those who think it imperative that the church reconsider the status of the divorced and remarried as well as the nature of homosexuality. And he should. These are not questions that demand a rush to judgment. But if the cardinal wants to be credible, he should refrain from pretending that all church doctrine was cast in stone two millennia ago. The moral questions Catholics face today are as real and as difficult as those faced by the apostles; pat answers did not work then, and will not work now. ‘We shall find ourselves unable to fix an historical point at which the growth of doctrine ceased, and the rule of faith was once and for all settled,’ Cardinal Newman wrote. Bishops should deepen, not simplify, our understanding as well as our faith. Change need not be betrayal.”

For Catholics, communion is the center of our lives.  It is what unites us as one body, despite our many differences and disagreements.  While we debate and discuss matters of personal and public concern, we should never lose sight of our unity as brothers and sisters.  Making the Eucharist a system of rewards and penalties destroys such important unity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

RTE.ie: “Cardinal would refuse Communion to pro-gay marriage Catholic legislators”

OnTopMag.com: “Cardinal Demoted By Pope Francis Would Deny Communion To Pro-Gay Marriage Lawmakers”

 

 

 


Pope’s Comments on Marriage Raise Questions About His LGBT Outreach

November 18, 2014

In a style which is becoming a hallmark of his papacy, while at the same time raising many questions, Pope Francis addressed the Vatican’s controversial conference on traditional marriage.  As has become his custom, the pope praised theological concepts concerning heterosexual marriage, while at the same time avoiding condemnations or even mentions of gay or lesbian couples, relationships, and marriages.

Pope Francis addresses Vatican conference on marriage.

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter reported on the main points of the pope’s talk at the conference entitled “Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman”:

” ‘We must not fall into the trap of qualifying [family] with ideological concepts,’ said the pontiff, speaking at an event organized to bolster inter-religious support for the concept of complementarity of men and women in marriage.

” ‘We cannot qualify [the family] with concepts of an ideological nature that only have strength in a moment of history and then fall,’ Francis continued. ‘We cannot talk today of conservative family or progressive family: Family is family.’

” ‘The family is in itself, has a strength in itself,’ said the pontiff.”

(You can read the entire text of the pope’s talk by clicking here, and scrolling down to the end of the news story.)

Pope Francis’ style of not wanting to offend also leaves room for a lot of speculation.  What does he mean by “ideological concepts”?  Since the major push in family laws around the globe focuses on same-gender marriage, it seems that this might be his target.  But the vagueness allows him plausible deniability.  It is easy to get behind his last statement about family strength, but only if he means it in an inclusive and expansive way to denote ALL families.

Other comments during his speech, however, indicate that he did not mean families with single parents or headed by gay or lesbian couples.   McElwee noted the conference’s general reticence to mention same-gender married couples, and noted the pope’s most direct comment on this topic:

“While speakers at the event have shied away from directly addressing or criticizing same-sex unions, most left little doubt about their view of such relationships.

“On that subject, Francis himself said: ‘Children have the right to grow up in a family, with a father and a mother, able to create a suitable environment for their development and their emotional maturation.’

“The pontiff also said ‘today marriage and the family are in crisis.’ “

It would have been better had the pope said that children have a right to grow up in a loving and supported environment, which is the greatest factor in promoting healthy development and emotional maturation.

Interestingly, the only direct reference so far about gay people came from a British representative discussing the mathematician Alan Turing, who was gay:

“[Rabbi Jonathan] Sacks, who also is a member of Britain’s House of Lords, made the only oblique reference to same-sex marriage during Monday’s morning session.

“Mentioning the story of Alan Turing, an early 20th century gay British mathematician who was punished with chemical castration because of his sexual orientation, Sacks said: ‘That’s the kind of world to which we should never return.’

” ‘But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not prohibit us from being advocates,’ said Sacks, referring to traditional marriage as ‘the best means for which we have discovered for nurturing future generations.’ “

Sacks’ use of the words “choose to live differently” reveals a basic ignorance about the fact that homosexuality is not a choice for people.

The conference at the Vatican was already controversial even before Pope Francis spoke because of the line-up of speakers strongly opposed to same-gender marriage.  The most shocking invitation was Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a notoriously anti-LGBT organization.  Perkins was invited to attend, but not give a speech.

In an Associated Press account of the story, Nicole Winfield framed the pope’s talk within the context of appealing to Church traditionalists:

“Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church’s right-wing base that he’s not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues — weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.”

Similarly, British journalist Nick Squires said he thought the pope “appeared to bow to pressure from Catholic conservatives.”

I disagree with Winfield and Squires.  I think that what we are seeing is what Pope Francis has been doing for a long time:  defending traditional doctrine, but avoiding angering those who oppose it.  Is this a strategy that can work for the long haul?  How long will it be before people start asking for more specifics?

Specifics might be something he will need to work on when he visits the U.S. next September to participate in the World Meeting of Families, an appearance that he confirmed yesterday.  The event in Philadelphia is expected to draw over 1.5 million people.  No other details were given about any other stops the pope might make on his U.S. visit.

This pope has done more for engendering good will among LGBT people than any other Catholic leader.  He would do well to learn how his statements, which seem to be intended not to offend, actually cause harm to the people he is supposedly trying to welcome to the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Crux: “Pope confirms US trip, defends traditional family”

The Telegraph: “Pope: children need mother and a father”

News.va: “Pope Francis: I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families”

Religion News Service: “Philadelphia gets ready to host Pope Francis following official papal announcement”

Bondings 2.o: “Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues,”  April 12, 2014

 


To Answer “What Is Marriage Now?” Lesbian & Gay Couples Must Be Included

November 15, 2014

These days, it is rare indeed that I read an argument about marriage equality that doesn’t remind me of other arguments that I’ve read in the past.  It seems that we have kind of reached the saturation point for arguments on this issue, having discussed this topic seriously for well over a decade now.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read Gerald W. Schlabach’s essay, “What Is Marriage Now?  A Pauline Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Christian Century this week. His essay deserves to be read in its entirety (which you can do so by clicking here), but in this blog post, I will try to highlight a few of what I think are the most insightful parts of his thinking.

Schlabach, who is a Catholic professor of moral theology at the University of Thomas in Minnesota, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what is its essence. His thesis is:

“Extending the blessings of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing their lifelong unions fully as marriage could allow the church to speak all the more clearly to what deeply and rightly concerns those who seek to uphold the sanctity of marriage.”

He uses as his jumping off point St. Paul’s famous line about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” or as it is more commonly quoted from the King James translation “It is better to marry than to burn.”

One of the many things which make his argument unique is that he argues acknowledges the social power that marriage has in stabilizing individuals and society, as well as acknowledging the beauty of sexual expression and its importance in a couple’s overall sense of intimacy.

Schlabach doesn’t argue from the more common, progressive position of justice and equality, but states, instead:

“. . . . [S]ome of the best reasons to support same-sex marriage turn out to be deeply conservative ones. This suggests how the Pauline remark might provide the church with a framework for proclaiming a message of good news for all sides. It offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that we continue to hallow the institution of marriage as the only appropriate place for intimate sexual union. And it offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that people of same-sex orientation be allowed equal opportunity to flourish as human beings—that the covenanted bonds of sexual intimacy play just as much of a role in their lives.”

Gerald Schlabach

Schlabach’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonition is a very insightful one, that raises the remark above a simple denigration of lust.  He looks at the key words as metaphors for deeper understandings about the power of marriage, beyond a cure for concupiscence:

“ ‘To burn’ may stand for all the ways that we human beings, left to ourselves, live only for ourselves, our own pleasures, and our own survival. By contrast, ‘to marry’ may signal the way that all of us (even those who do so in a vocation of lifelong celibacy) learn to bend our desires away from ourselves, become vulnerable to the desires of others, and bend toward the service of others.”

Schlabach upholds St. Augustine’s ideas about the three “goods” of marriage: permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, yet he expands these beyond the more traditional understandings:

“Christian interpreters today may continue to see procreation and child rearing as the prototypical expression of fruitfulness, but not as the only one. Every Christian marriage should face outward in hospitality and service to others.

“Together with permanence, therefore, faithfulness has come to stand for all the ways that couples bind their lives together. Spouses do not practice faithfulness only by giving their bodies exclusively to one another in sexual intimacy, but by together changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes, by promising long and tiring care amid illness and aging, by offering small favors on very ordinary days.”

These new understandings of these “goods” can be easily applied to lesbian and gay couples as they are to heterosexual ones. Perhaps the most important part of his essay is in his understanding that traditional views about marriage are not for heterosexual couples only.

Schlabach takes traditionalists to task for equating homosexuality with the current licentious sexual mores of “contingency,” engaging in sex when it is convenient, like making a consumer choice.  He also challenges the progressive arguments which make marriage, in the words of writer David Brooks, seem like “a really good employee benefits plan.”

Instead the moral theology professor discerns a more important definition of marriage which is based on intimate relationship, not sexual convenience or economic advantage:

“Marriage can and should remain a covenant and a forming of the one flesh of kinship, rather than a mere contract forming a mere partnership. . . .

“Marriage will indeed be subject to endless reinvention unless we recognize it as more than a contract. Instead we should recognize and insist that marriage is the communally sealed bond of lifelong intimate mutual care between two people that creates humanity’s most basic unit of kinship, thus allowing human beings to build sustained networks of society.”

This view of marriage allows him to see the beauty and power of sexual expression, not procreation as the main force which establishes a couple’s union:

“Procreation will always be the prototypical sign of a widening kinship network. But as spouses in any healthy marriage know, including infertile ones, kinship is already being formed in tender, other-directed sexual pleasuring. Such pleasure bonds a couple by promising and rewarding all the other ways of being together in mutual care and service through days, years, and decades.”

Schabach concludes his essay with advice to pastoral leaders:

“. . .[T]he church and its leaders need great pastoral wisdom to do two things simultaneously:

  • Walk back from the culture of contingency by explaining and insisting in fresh ways that God intends for active sexuality to belong uniquely to marriage.
  • Work compassionately with those who have embraced the relative fidelity of cohabitation, even if they have not yet moved to embrace a covenant of marriage or a vocation of celibacy.

“If we aim for these two goals, Christians will be better able to speak clearly and work energetically because together we’ll affirm that marriage is good—for everyone.”

His advice would be important for bishops at next year’s synod on marriage and the family to consider.

If your appetite has been whetted for a new understanding of marriage and the marriage equality debate, I strongly recommend that you read Schlabach’s essay in its entirety by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Archbishop’s Comments About Sexual Orientation Show the ‘Francis Effect’

November 13, 2014

While LGBT issues have not been a major focus of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore this week, one small introduction to these topics may be an indicator that the “Francis effect”–the idea that Pope Francis is influencing Catholic leaders–is having an impact on the American hierarchy.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski

At a press conference on Tuesday, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Florida, and a member of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, compared the situation of LGBT people in nations with repressive laws to the plight of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Buzzfeed reported on Wenski’s comments:

“ ‘We have to help people to realize that they should not demonize the undocumented; Nobody should be demonized because of their sexual orientation, etc,’ said Wenski, who is part of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. Immigration reform is one of the American church’s top policy priorities.

“Wenski was responding to a question from BuzzFeed News about whether the global church had been clear in transmitting the message of  ‘love the sinner/hate the sin’ in its teachings on homosexuality. Wenski, a member of the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Persons, said that a public opinion study commissioned by the church found many American church members simply interpreted ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ as ‘hate the sinner.’”

Wenski’s comments are certainly a step in the right direction.  It seems very likely, too, that his remarks have been very influenced by Pope Francis’ new approach to issues like homosexuality, which emphasizes that the Church needs to view such issues through the lens of its social justice tradition, rather than its sexual ethics tradtion.

Why does it seem that Wenski’s attitude is a result of the “Francis effect”?  Because until recently, he has not made supportive of comments for LGBT people, and in fact, some of his comments and actions have been quite negative.  In August of this year, he spoke out against a Florida court’s ruling that same-gender marriage could be approved in that state.  Wenski called the ruling “another salvo in the ‘culture wars’ that ultimately seek to redefine the institution of marriage as solely for adult gratification.”

As chair of the USCCB’s domestic policy committee,  Wenski joined with other bishops to state  great reluctance to accept President Obama’s executive order on non-discrimination, which when it was passed, the USCCB ultimately criticized.

In 2013, he authored a letter to Florida Catholics, instructing them to oppose marriage equality, and he suggested that adoption of same-gender marriage could lead to legalized polygamy.

Before becoming archbishop of Miami, Wenski was the bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he shut down a very successful diocesan outreach to LGBT people.

So, to see him now speak in such compassionate tones forces one to ask, “Why did he change?”  Since the change is very much in line with the pope’s approach, it seems reasonable to infer that Wenski has been influenced by the pontiff.

Rather than condemning him for his earlier comments, I think we should rejoice that his rhetoric is changing.  Regardless of what motivated him to change, it is very beneficial to not only LGBT people, but to the entire Catholic Church that he did. Though he probably still opposes marriage equality, he is still taking a step in the right direction, and that step will help to influence many other Catholics to at least begin to think more positively about LGBT people.

Solid change always happens by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Louisiana Archbishop Stresses Pastoral Over Political in Marriage Case

September 10, 2014

A reporter once asked me what I thought of bishops who protest that their statements against marriage equality were not homophobic.  I answered that I thought the bishops sometimes don’t realize how demeaning their statements about marriage are to gay and lesbian people.  Because they often don’t know the experience of gay and lesbian couples, they often make vicious statements about marriage equality, and often make legal and political statements and not pastoral ones.  I think that many of them don’t even recognize how damaging their words and thoughts are.

Last week in Louisiana, a federal judge upheld the state’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, thus ruling out any possibility of marriage equality (without changing that law first).  While Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage,  gave a response based on legality, it is interesting that Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans instead used the opportunity to stress the idea of pastoral ministry to LGBT people.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Although Aymond supported the decision, in an interview he stated that

“It is my hope that through our pastoral ministry to the Catholic LGBT community we can minister to their spiritual needs and walk with them through their life journeys because as our brothers and sisters and children of God they must be loved and respected and always treated with dignity.”

What’s remarkable about this statement?  Well, first of all Aymond refers to “LGBT Catholics,” a term that few bishops would even dare breathe.  Instead of “LGBT,” they usually say “those with same-sex attractions.”   That, in itself, is a step forward.

Second, he stresses the idea of pastoral ministry focusing on spiritual needs and accompaniment, not on requiring celibacy.  That, too, is a step forward.

Aymond seems to have an awareness that there is more to LGBT people’s lives and experiences than just sexual matters.  He also seems more concerned about pastoral ministry than about politics.

The archbishop did support the decision, but he did so using very low-key rhetoric:

“The redefinition of marriage is a moral one for us as Catholics. We as Catholics believe marriage is defined in the Bible and through our Catholic Church teaching as a union between a man and a woman.”

My sense is that Archbishop Aymond has had some pastoral experience with LGBT people, and that he recognizes the consequences of any language that he might use.  It is not the first time since he has been archbishop of New Orleans that he has done something positive in regard to LGBT issues.  In 2013, he apologized for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar.  Also that year, he expressed openness to welcoming all to the Church, noting: “Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.”

The U.S. bishops should learn from Aymond’s example, which seems to be very much in the mold of Pope Francis.  Yet, just recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with other religious organizations to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decide against the states’ constitutional right to enact marriage equality laws. According to an Associated Press story:

“The religious groups urged the Supreme Court on the basis of tradition and religious freedom to uphold a state’s right to disallow gay and lesbian couples to wed.”

The Supreme Court has not said yet if it would hear the case or not.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Social Ills Linked to Marriage Equality? Really?

August 23, 2014

The new Catholic bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, spoke against marriage equality, and seemed to name it as the cause for a variety of social ills.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski

It seems odd that Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, formerly an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore, would use this opportunity to speak out a about a political issue which was decided 12 years ago in Massachusetts, when it became the first state to institute marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

What’s even more surprising is, according to the report of the interview on MassLive.com, Rozanski brought up the topic of marriage in response to a question about social ills:

“In terms of secular culture, he said, today’s ‘crime, drugs, general lack of respect for one another, is really based on in the disintegration of family life.’

” ‘What we offer as Catholics is to strengthen the family as the basis of society. When there is a solid family life, there is less likelihood of crime, there is less likelihood of drug use. The children grow up with a solid foundation. And that is a foundation they can take all through their lives,’ Rozanski said. ‘And, as a Church, what we are saying is that God made us male and female, and that the institution of marriage is so crucial. It is a sacrament of the Church, if the sacrament is well lived, then the children and future generations will benefit.’ “

(You can read the entire interview here.)

Taken in this context, it seems like the bishop is including marriage for lesbian and gay people as part of the reason that many other aspects of society are disintegrating. The news reporter noted that Pope Francis has asked bishops not to “obsess” about gay marriage:

“Last September, Francis, in an interview, said abortion, contraception and gay marriage had become an “obsessed” focus in the Church.”

The reporter also noted that U.S. bishops have not followed this advice:

“U.S. bishops continue to speak out against abortion, oppose same sex marriages, and to support legislation that would ban them.”

From his statement, it looks like Bishop Rozanski fits this profile.

Besides the dubious connection of marriage equality to social ills, Rozanski’s comments are flawed in three more ways.

First, he attributes the major parts of society’s ills on the disintegration of the family.  While family problems almost certainly contribute to these problems, other problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, untreated mental illness also are major contributing factors.  Why select a personal issue, such as family, and not one of these more social issues, to highlight the causes of society’s problems?

Second, while Rozanski may lament the disintegration of the family, he fails to recognize that marriage equality actually strengthens families rather than contributing to their disintegration.  Marriage equality provides protections for all families, not just those headed by heterosexual couples.  And marriage equality teaches respect for lesbian and gay people, which is an important factor in strengthening their families of origin.

Third, the bishop notes that marriage is a sacrament, but that is not a view that is shared by all people in our pluralistic nation.  While Catholics view marriage as a sacrament, others see it as purely a civil matter, governed by legal realities, not ecclesial or spiritual ones.   Confusion of church marriage with civil marriage is one of the most insidious strategies that marriage equality opponents employ.

Let’s pray that Bishop Rozanski’s tenure in Springfield, Massachusetts will be met with more enlightened and pastoral approaches to LGBT issues than he has already displayed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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