The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis

As more people begin to scrutinize Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), new details emerge which show that in regards to LGBT issues, the new document shows a complex picture.

The New York Times reports that buried in a footnote to the document is a reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations:  Guidelines for Pastoral Carewhich promoted the traditional definition of a homosexual orientation as an objective disorder.  The Times reports:

“Nowhere in the document did Francis speak explicitly of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, he said the church should not give in to ‘moral relativism,’ and cited with approval a document written by the bishops of the United States on ministering to people with ‘homosexual inclination.’ The pope said the American bishops are right that the church must insist on ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone’ — even when the church is perceived by supporters of gay rights as promoting prejudice and interfering with individual freedom.”

This detail is a clearer indication that Pope Francis does not seem inclined to change the teaching on homosexuality.  That notion had been clear since he first started speaking about gay and lesbian issues back in July with his “Who am I to judge?” interview, in which he also did uphold the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality.  I’ve noted before that it looks like Pope Francis’s road to change in the church won’t be a straight one.

But while in content Pope Francis remains traditional, many people, including myself,  perceive he is opening up a process that will eventually lead to positive developments in church teaching.  For example, Martin Pendergast, a long-time Catholic advocate for LGBT equality in the United Kingdom, offered what he saw as two important selections from the document which point to the possibility of change in the Church, which I had overlooked in yesterday’s post on this topic.

In the first selection, the pope is calling for decentralization of authority in the church:

“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’ ”  (Introduction, section 16)

In the second selection, the pope acknowledges that not all Church teachings hold the same weight:

“All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” (chapter 1, section 36)

What gives me hope from this document, despite the fact that it does not challenge the traditional teaching on homosexuality, is that there is an openness and humility that seem to get at the core of the Christian message.  Having a pope who is interested in the opinions of the laity, who stresses dialogue and the possibility of change, who stresses diversity and decentralization, who acknowledges the role of science, who seeks to update old traditions can only mean that the road ahead is filled with possibilities.  (All of the items mentioned in the previous sentence were included in yesterday’s blog post on excerpts from the papal document.)

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reportersummarizes what he sees as Pope Francis’ outline for reform, which includes many of the items mentioned above.  Allen writes:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

Pope Francis may not be the radical reformer that many have hoped for.  But for those who trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity of the church and who have longed for the possibility of discussion of diversity of opinions, Pope Francis’ project seems to open up a new possibility of hope.

Clearly, this is not the kind of pope that we had gotten used to over the last four decades. And clearly, this new document is complex and layered.  Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide analysis and commentary of this document, especially as it relates to LGBT issues, as we become aware of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


On Labor Day, Let’s Remember LGBT People Fired from Catholic Institutions

September 2, 2013

Labor DayToday is Labor Day in the United States, a time when we stop to celebrate the gifts of all workers in our society.  Labor Day always happens on the first Monday in September, right in the middle of  back-to-school season.

Charles Reid, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, penned an essay for The Huffington Post which combined both of these timely themes by asking Catholic schools and institutions to make a “Back-to-School Resolution: Let’s Stop Firing Gays and Gay-Rights Supporters.”

Noting the long list of firings of LGBT people and their supporters fired from Catholic workplaces over the past year, Reid states:

“It is time, well past time, for Catholic schools to make this back-to-school resolution: No more firings of gays or gay-rights supporters in the new school year.”

His rationale for this suggestion at this point is based on the context of Pope Francis’ summertime statement, “Who am I to judge?” in response to a reporter’s question about gay priests, and specifically rumors about calls to fire Monsignor Battista Ricca, Francis’ overseer at the Vatican Bank, after rumors circulated that Ricca was gay.

Reid suggest that we put Pope Francis’ statement about judging into practice in our Catholic workplaces:

“But if we see this statement as an olive branch, as an effort to accommodate to the Church people with same-sex attractions, then we are entitled to ask Catholic institutions to take the next step: Catholic entities, especially Catholic schools, should stop firing gays and gay-rights supporters.”

Reid says Francis’ example is one that all Catholic leaders can follow:

“Let us remember, once again, that Pope Francis made his statement about not judging gays in circumstances similar to the facts of these cases: Monsignor Ricca, in the pope’s judgment, was just the man to help clean up the mess at the Vatican Bank. And he is gay. And 15 or so years ago, he had taken a lover, or two, or three. And the pope was willing to look past this history, and focus on Ricca’s many fine qualities.”

The rest of the essay examines some of the firings that happened this past year in Catholic schools  (all of which were covered by  Bondings 2.0):  Mike Moroski, Carla Hale, Ken Bencomo.

On this Labor Day, let’s pray for all LGBT workers in Catholic schools and institutions, who serve faithfully.  Let’s remember those who have been fired this past year:

Mark Krolikowski

Nicholas Coppola

Carla Hale

Erin Macke

Nick Johns

Tim Nelson

William Hudson

Ken Bencomo

Let’s also remember those who have had action taken against them in previous years:

Nigel Studdart
“John Doe”
Trish Cameron
Michael Fischer
Steav Bates Congdon
Jodi O’Brien
Fr. Owen O’Sullivan, OFM, Cap (see page 5 in link)
Laine Tadlock
And let’s also remember those LGBT people who’ve suffered employment discrimination in many other areas of work, too.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Commonweal’s Ambivalent Position on Marriage Equality

August 31, 2013

ambivalentThe August 16th issue of Commonweal magazine leads off with an editorial which expresses the publication’s opposition to marriage equality laws.  Yet, at the same time, the editorial shows support for greater discussion of this important topic, as well as for finding ways to publicly acknowledge and affirm committed lesbian and gay couples.  These two notions leave the reader with a sense of the authors’ ambivalence, make the editorial challenging to read, and guarantee that it will make nobody happy.

The editors note that they have always “expressed skepticism and urged caution regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage, while at the same time defending the rights and dignity of homosexual persons both in society and in the church.”  A sentence like that is not necessarily ambivalent.  I believe, though disagree with, people who say that they oppose marriage equality while they want to defend equality of lesbian and gay people in other arenas.

The ambivalence comes in with the editors’ discussion of social scientific evidence concerning the social efficacy of granting marriage to same-sex couples and of the effects on children raised in families headed by same-sex couples.  The ambivalence is on display in a sentence such as this one:

“There is simply not yet enough social-scientific data to say one way or the other how children raised in same-sex marriages fare, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that same-sex couples are as devoted to their children as their heterosexual neighbors.”

Granted, there is a difference between empirical and anecdotal evidence, but if anecdotal evidence is telling them something, don’t the writers owe it to themselves and their readers to see exactly what the empirical evidence is saying.   Their claim begs the question of just how much empirical evidence is “enough” for them.  Vermont passed the U.S. civil union law in 2000.  We now have 13 states and the District of Columbia which offer marriage equality, and numerous nations, provinces, cities around the globe have done so, too.  Isn’t that enough of a sampling to be able to see if same-sex marriage is a stabilizing or detrimental social force? Over the years, I have seen reports of dozens of empirical studies which support the idea that children in households headed by lesbian and gay couples fare no worse, and sometimes much better, than children in heterosexually-headed households.

The ambivalence is on display later in the editorial when they call for greater recognition of child-rearing by lesbian and gay people:

“It is also time for the church to open its eyes to the selfless work same-sex couples do in raising children, many of whom would otherwise go uncared for and unloved.”

Yes! I agree wholeheartedly!  But then why do they make the claim that we don’t know how much of a social good these couples provide?

The editorial is right on target when they criticize the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for their harmful and self-defeating rhetorically-hyped opposition to marriage equality:

“The conference’s advocacy, which has often cast the debate in hyperbolic terms, has persuaded few and offended many. With typical alarm, the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage issued a statement calling the Court’s decisions ‘a tragic day for marriage and our nation,’ and a ‘profound injustice to the American people.’ The statement went on to use variations on the phrase ‘the truth of marriage’ seven times in two brief paragraphs, as though mere incantation were a substitute for persuasion. A more dexterous rhetorical strategy is needed if the church’s witness to the “truth” about marriage is not to be written off as blind prejudice. The bishops might begin by emphasizing that the church strongly defends the dignity of same-sex oriented people, a fact most Americans remain ignorant of. The bishops might also acknowledge the good of faithful, life-long same-sex unions, as well as the progress made in the public recognition of the manifold achievements and contributions of gays and lesbians.”

New Ways Ministry and many other Catholic advocacy groups have been making the same suggestion to bishops for years. Perhaps if more Catholic organizations like Commonweal make that same suggestion, bishops will begin to listen.

In discussing religious liberty questions, the editors worry about churches being unfairly labeled as discriminators.  They make the case:

“Traditional religious communities continue to do indispensable work in caring for the needy, educating the young, and calling the larger society to account on important questions like war, torture, abortion, euthanasia, and economic justice. American democracy cannot afford to deprive itself of those moral and social resources, yet that is what could happen if the law comes to equate institutional resistance to the recognition of same-sex marriage with racial discrimination.”

Yet, this is a red-herring, given the fact that every marriage equality law passed in the U.S. provides exemptions for churches.  No religious leader that I know of has been silenced from expressing their opposition to marriage equality.  It seems unlikely that any such thing will happen in the future.

The best part of the essay comes when the editors call for a more humane discussion and approach to marriage equality, especially from Catholic leaders:

“Surely, whatever its legitimate reservations about the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is time for the church to begin to come to terms with this challenging new cultural and pastoral reality, a reality that calls for far more than overwrought predictions of moral decline and social calamity. Same-sex marriage may prove to be a mistake or a failed and eventually abandoned experiment, but it is not an existential threat to the church or to Western Civilization. It is now time to listen and learn from those the church has long silenced or ignored. Who knows, those being listened to might even return the compliment.”

I can quibble with their use of the term “church” when they seem to actually mean “hierarchy.”  As regular readers of this blog will know, poll after poll shows that Catholics in the church already support marriage equality.   But they are correct in saying that a new attitude is needed and called for from those leaders who think of themselves as “the church.”   And they are even more correct in saying that if leaders show a willingness to listen, perhaps their opponents would listen to them, too. That is what real dialogue is all about:  listening respectfully.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Catholic Conservative Comes Out for Same-Sex Marriage

August 29, 2013

At the end of last week, Commonweal magazine published a long essay with the provocative headline:  “The Things We Share:  A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage. ”   While accurate, the headline doesn’t tell the whole story.   The essay is not just a Catholic argument for marriage equality, it is an argument that comes from a leading Catholic conservative and he bases his stand on natural law theory–the philosophical position that bishops and other religious thinkers use to oppose marriage equality.

Joseph Bottum

Joseph Bottum

I have to admit that I’m a bit ambivalent about recommending this essay to you.  Not because I disagree with it (though there are some points with which I differ), but because it is long, complicated and extremely digressive.  At over, 9,300 words, it may be one of the longest articles Commonweal has published,  The numerous erudite digressions in the essay make it seem even longer.

But it is an important article, given the fact that the author, Joseph Bottum, was once the editor of First Things, a leading publication for religious and political conservatives.  His “defection” from the “party line” of these types of thinkers is, therefore, significant, especially since he uses their very esteemed theory of natural law to make a case against their stand.

Bottum’s case for marriage equality actually comes very close to the end of the essay.  He spends the first three-quarters of the essay dealing with a variety of tangential issues that (somewhat) lay the groundwork for his marriage argument.  The New York Times ran a story about Bottum’s Commonweal argument, and their summary of his case is actually easier to read and more understandable than the original, so I quote from it here:

“Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage. But Mr. Bottum contends that these rules are not the point.

“Natural law, Mr. Bottum writes, depends for its force on a sense of the mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness of sex. In the West, that climate of belief has been upended: by science, modernism, a Protestant turn away from mysticism, and, most recently, the sexual revolution. The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

“ ‘And if,’ Mr. Bottum writes, ‘heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?’ “

Where I tend to disagree with Bottum is not on his view of natural law, but with the fact that he seems to discount all other approaches to supporting marriage equality.  He spends a good deal in the beginning of his article refuting some of the more popular ways that marriage equality has been argued for in the U.S., i.e., based on legal fairness:

“It’s not enough for a Catholic to say that legal fairness and social niceness compel us. We have a religion of intellectual coherence, too, and the moral positions we take have to comport with the whole of the moral universe. That’s the reason for trying to be serious—for demanding that the unity of truth apply, and that ethical claims cannot be separated from their metaphysical foundations.

“If there is no philosophical or theological reasoning that leads to Catholic recognition of civil same-sex marriage, then we’re simply arguing about what’s politic. What’s fair and nice. What flows along the channels marked out by the dominant culture. We’re merely suggesting that Catholics shouldn’t make trouble. And how is that supposed to convince anyone who holds intellectual consistency at more than a pennyweight?”

Where I disagree with him on this matter is that these arguments for marriage equality are not just secular and political ones, but are also often theological and faith-filled.  For example, many Catholics have used our church’s social justice tradition, not the Democratic Party’s talking points,  to support marriage equality.  Bottum seems to be unaware of the fact that Catholics have been arguing for many years for marriage equality from a faith perspective.

His unawareness of a faith-based perspective affirming marriage equality makes him fall into the trap of spending a good deal of his essay arguing what I consider an irrelevant point.  He states that there exists

“. . . a question religious believers must ask: a prior question of whether the current agitation really derives from a wish for same-sex marriage, or whether the movement is an excuse for a larger campaign to delegitimize and undermine Christianity.”

In raising this point, Bottum shows a great suspicion of secular culture which is characteristic of many conservative Catholics.  I don’t doubt that some on the left want to bring down the church, but my own personal dealings with many LGBT advocates has shown me that many are sincerely respectful of religion.

Still, the value of his argument is that it addresses conservative Catholics on their own terms of natural law theory.  Many traditionalist Catholics will not support marriage equality from a social justice perspective because they don’t think that this tradition applies to LGBT issues.  I’m not sure that many will even be convinced by Bottum’s argument from natural law theory, but it will be harder for them to refute such a position.

Ross Douthat wrote a commentary for The New York Times on Bottum’s essay in which he points out another value of Bottum’s essay.  Douthat describes the piece as

“. . . a literary Catholic’s attempt to wrench the true complexity of his faith back out of the complexity-destroying context of contemporary political debates. He’s writing as someone who loves his church, and wants everyone else to love it as he does — and I don’t blame him for imagining that perhaps, just perhaps, ceasing to offer public resistance on the specific question of gay marriage would liberate the church from some the caricatures that the culture war has imposed upon it, and enable the world to see its richness with fresh eyes.”

I cite this evaluation of the piece because I believe that Bottum’s strongest point in his essay is his awareness that the hierarchy’s strong vocal opposition to marriage equality is doing pastoral harm to Catholics. And it is doing even greater harm to the reputation of the bishops as national leaders. (I make this point about the bishops’ reputation not because of the content of their position, but because of the very angry and insensitive rhetoric they often use to make their point.) After reviewing the stunning recent victories for marriage equality in legislatures, polling booths, and courtrooms, Bottum states:

“We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.

“For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about.”

Bottum’s essay is complex and important.  If you are a progressive Catholic and read the essay all the way through, I think you will find yourself nodding in agreement on some points and shaking your head in disagreement at others.  I suspect that the same will be true for many conservative Catholics.   Regardless of one’s political and ecclesiastical orientation, the essay will make the reader think in new ways.  And for that reason, it is worth the effort.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

QueeringTheChurch.com:  A Conservative Catholic Evolution on Gay Marriage

The Wild Reed: A Conservative Catholic’s Contribution to the Journey to Marriage Equality

The American Conservative:  J. Bottum Flip-Flops On Gay Marriage

The Dish (by Andrew Sullivan):  The Latest Conservative Defector On Same-Sex Marriage

 

 


Equally Blessed Pilgrims Bring LGBT Faith Witness to World Youth Day

July 27, 2013

World Youth Day, the gathering of young Catholics with Pope Francis in Brazil this past week, has garnered many headlines for the pope’s charisma.  LGBT issues have not been mentioned, other than to say that the pope was greeted by protesters who staged a “kiss-in” when he arrived in Rio de Janiero.

Some of the Equally Blessed pilgrims with friends they have met at World Youth Day events.

Some of the Equally Blessed pilgrims with friends they have met at World Youth Day events.

But the real LGBT story at World Youth Day (WYD)has not made it to the major media outlets.  Six young LGBT U.S. Catholics have journeyed to the gathering as pilgrims, sponsored by Equally Blessed, the coalition of Catholic organizations which work on LGBT equality issues. (The four members of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.)

The six pilgrims–Delfin Bautista, Lauren Carpenter, Ellen Euclide, Megan Graves, Jennifer Guterman, Sara Kelley–have been attending the WYD events with other pilgrims, and have been striking up conversations with them to raise awareness of LGBT equality issues.   According to an Equally Blessed press release, Kelley had this to say about the project:

“I’m going to World Youth Day to help start a different conversation about LGBT people in the church, and to offer a different view than the hierarchy’s on how LGBT people can be included. I hope simply to talk to people and to ask questions of the Church’s current teaching.”

The press release also noted:

“In addition to participating in World Youth Day events, the pilgrims hope to meet representatives of other LGBT Catholic groups and possibly participate in a pubic vigil on behalf of LGBT people.”

You can read the entire press release here.

The Equally Blessed Pilgrims:  Delfin Bautista, Megan Graves, Ellen Euclide, Jennifer Guterman, Lauren Carpenter, Sara Kelley

The Equally Blessed Pilgrims: Delfin Bautista, Megan Graves, Ellen Euclide, Jennifer Guterman, Lauren Carpenter, Sara Kelley

While in Brazil, the pilgrims are maintaining a blog about their experiences on the Equally Blessed website.   You can read their reflections by clicking here.  The following are some excerpts:

Delfin Bautista:

“When we think of activists often time the images that come to mind are of a person with a bullhorn leading a chant or a passionate orator giving a speech to set people’s hearts ablaze or the community organizer who brings together all of the logistics for a public education campaign.

“At World Youth Day we’ve encountered many who embody this spirit—people gathering to sing, dance, and exchange stories (through gestures, facial expressions, and other forms of communication when spoken languages differed).  Many reflected physically the joy of being here and of sharing their experience of faith and pride in their countries in very energetic ways.    As I stood in line to finish the process of registering our group, participated in Mass, and during our catechesis sessions where everyone focused on the Bishop speaking, I realized that as introverts we have been invited to step up to the challenge of going beyond our comfort zone to go up to other WYD participants to hand out rainbow rosaries, EB prayer cards, and get to know where people are coming from.  We have been interviewed by the BBC and approached by pilgrims from all over the world who are interested, intrigued, and happy that there is some form of visible lgbt and queer presence at WYD. “

Megan Graves:

“As we continued to pass out and share many of our rainbow trinkets and gifts, many people we delighted to have them, especially the rainbow rosaries! Many of the Central and South American youth that we met we very positive about our outreach, we even had one young woman who spoke only Portuguese translate for us several times.  Also, for me personally, it was wonderful to engage in brief dialogue with those who spoke Spanish, because I wanted to try my best to explain our ministry.”

Ellen Euclide:

 “The atmosphere was one of celebrating multiple identities and connecting across cultures.  We all struggled to overcome language barriers and smiled for pictures with people we had just met.  People were proud of their national identity and sang football chants and church songs, but the excitement came from the feeling of connection, that we have all been brought together by our diverse experiences of the same faith.

“In that atmosphere our identity as LGBT Catholics received a warm welcome.  Lucky for us “LGBT” and “gay” translate directly in both Spanish and Portuguese so many people deciphered our banner and our schpeil and we were greeted with smiles, hugs and even cheers.  Even those who disagreed simply said “hm, well I think differently” and walked away, letting us continue without further discussion.  I had several conversation with Spanish speakers who were very surprised to see us.  Some were cautious, asking if we were associated with a parish, if we were celibate or if we took communion and made sure to ask if the ribbon would identify them as “one of us.”  The majority though were very positive.  One man asked how he could help and took a stack of our prayer cards to hand out, a young Bolivian asked for my email address because he’s wants to work in LGBT rights in his country and said he thinks most LGBT Bolivians go to church but keep their identity a secret and several Spanish speaking Brazilians helped us translate our message and stayed around to explain our banner to other Portuguese speakers.”

Godspeed to our young pilgrims and witnesses for Catholic LGBT equality!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Separating Civil and Sacramental Marriage–Part 2

July 21, 2013

Yesterday, I noted that I had recently read two opposing essays on marriage equality, both written by priests.  Though they came to different conclusions, both of them based a good deal of their argument on the idea that we have reached the point where civil and sacramental marriage need to be considered as separate institutions.   Yesterday, we looked at the essay supporting marriage equality, written by an Australian Jesuit law professor.  Today, we will examine the essay of Msgr. Charles Pope,  pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish, Washington, DC.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope

On a blog for the Archdiocese of Washington’s website, Msgr. Pope posted an essay with a title which asks a question, “Do we need to set aside the Word ‘Marriage’ and use ‘Holy Matrimony’ exclusively?”  His answer to that question is a “Yes.”

Msgr. Pope recognizes that society has already gone through a major shift in the definition of marriage:

“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.”

Noting that the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines marriage as a permanent commitment, open to procreation, and involving a man and a woman, Msgr. Pope explains that society has shifted from this definition over time:

“The redefinition has actually come in three stages:

  1. “In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
  2. “The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspring as integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses. Having sown in the wind (where we redefined not only marriage, but sex itself) we are now reaping the whirlwind of deep sexual confusion and a defining of marriage right out of existence.
  3. “This final blow of legally recognizing so called gay “marriage” completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships ‘marriage.’ ”

Msgr. Pope concludes that these departures for the Catechism’s definition of marriage warrant the use of separate terms:

“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]

Msgr. Pope goes further with his recommendation, suggesting that Catholic priests and deacons no longer perform marriages as agents of the state:

“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?

Msgr. Pope’s latter proposal is that it flows logically from the first one.  If the Catholic clergy do not consider the civil institution of marriage to be the same thing as the sacramental view of marriage, then it makes sense for them not to participate in that system.

The same argument has been used by many Protestant clergy who support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.  Many of these Christian ministers have refused to sign civil marriage licenses until their states adopt equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.  So, again, we find two opposing sides of the argument advocating for the same measure, albeit for different reasons.

What do you think?  Have we reached the point where civil marriage and sacramental marriage need to be separated?  Offer you ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Jeannine’s Debate with Bishop Thomas Paprocki on Marriage Equality

July 15, 2013
Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

At the end of May,  New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick participated in a marriage equality debate with Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki.  The debate took place in Phoenix, Arizona, and was sponsored by the Jesuit Alumni of Arizona.  You can read the blog post and news story about the event here.

Though Sister Jeannine spoke from an outline, she has since crafted her remarks into a readable text, and we present that to you below.  The text of Bishop Paprocki’s remarks can be found on the Diocese of Springfield website.

Same-Sex Marriage and Change

By Jeannine Gramick, SL

In 1971, while I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I met a young gay man and his friends who turned my thinking around. I remember a young woman who was intelligent, socially responsible, had a healthy sense of self-esteem, and was working for her rights at the ACLU. I was impressed by a lesbian couple who cared lovingly for their two children.

I believed that I had never met a homosexual in my entire life although, of course, I unknowingly had. Some years later I remade the acquaintance of a high school friend who discovered her lesbianism when she fell in love with a woman in medical school. She then understood her feelings toward the boys at the Saturday night dances we attended at a local parish. I remember her saying, “They’re really nice guys, but I feel for them like I feel about my brother.”

My personal experiences began to clash with what I had been told—not by the Church (for I don’t remember ever hearing the word “homosexual” as I was growing up in the 1950s in Philadelphia)—but by society. Society told me that gay people were sick and perverted. But most of the homosexual people I encountered seemed as well-balanced psychologically as the heterosexual people I knew. The term “disorder” just did not fit. Except for the fact of their sexual orientation, my new friends seemed no more different from my heterosexual ones.

U.S. Catholics

Just as my personal views changed, I noticed change among Catholics in the pew regarding their attitudes about lesbian and gay people. Like me, Catholics were reading newspaper and magazine articles about research that showed that a large percentage of people have same-sex feelings. In fact, professionals told us that homosexual feelings and attractions are perfectly natural for anyone. Catholics heard about the judgments of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association that homosexuality was not an emotional disorder. While they were learning all this new information, they were discovering that their sons or daughters, their brothers or sisters, their aunts or uncles, and their friends, were lesbian or gay. Like me, Catholics listened to the stories of the people they loved. Hearts, as well as minds, started to change.

In the 1990s, I began a more formal pastoral ministry with parents who have lesbian or gay children. During retreat weekends, I heard grief in their voices as they told me how sad they felt because their children no longer went to church. Over the years, I noticed that the sorrow and anguish were replaced by bewilderment and anger at the institutional church. They now ask me, “Why doesn’t the Church accept my child? I want the same happiness for my gay son as for my heterosexual daughter. I want them both to be able to share a life with someone they love.”

I have tracked public opinion polls on Catholic attitudes toward same-sex marriage since the early 1990s. At that time, about 20% of Catholics were in favor of same-sex marriage. By 2003, the percentage had doubled. A decade later, the percentage had risen to 59%. If same-sex marriage is specifically defined as civil marriage, the level of Catholic acceptance jumps to 71%. (These polls were commissioned by ABC News and The Washington Post.)

Catholics have indeed changed their opinions about homosexuality. In fact, 56% believe sexual relations between two people of the same gender is not a sin, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

The Hierarchy

While the Catholic faithful now generally accept same-sex marriage, the Catholic hierarchy has not, although there is recently an openness to accept civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. Most prominent among these Church leaders, of course, is Pope Francis.

Before he became pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio publicly condemned a proposed same-sex marriage law in 2010 in Argentina as the work of the devil. We now know that, in heated, closed-door debates, he advocated civil unions as a compromise position. In the end, because he was President of the Bishops’ Conference, his public remarks reflected the views of the majority of the Argentine bishops, not his own views. During the political debate, a gay rights leader and theologian wrote a pointed letter to Cardinal Bergoglio. Shortly thereafter the man received a phone call and met twice with the Cardinal, who reaffirmed his support for civil unions and legal rights for lesbian and gay persons.

Six other cardinals have advocated civil unions for same-sex couples: Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, DC; Carlo Martini (now deceased) of Milan; Christoph Schonborn of Vienna; Ruben Salazar of Colombia; Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Emeritus of Brussels; and Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin.

For example, last year at a major Church sponsored conference in Mannheim, Germany, that drew more than 50,000 Catholics, Cardinal Woelki told the assembly, “When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships.” His statement recognizes and affirms the qualities of care, trust, commitment, and fidelity that are marks of a marriage. Of course, Cardinal Woelki did not use the word marriage. He stated that the relationship between a man and a woman was the basis for creation. Nevertheless, his words of support for civil unions amazed the crowd of assembly participants.

Also last year, a parish priest denied a gay man in a partnered relationship his elected seat on the parish council. The man asked to meet with Cardinal Schonborn, the influential Archbishop of Vienna. After inviting the man and his partner for lunch, the Cardinal stated that he was impressed by the gay couple’s commitment to living a life of faith, humility, and dedication to the Church. Commenting that the lifestyles of many parish council members do not conform to the ideals of the Church, the Cardinal reinstated the man to the parish council. This year at a lecture in London, Cardinal Schonborn reiterated that same-sex relationships need respect and civil protection.

Two national Bishops’ conferences and about a dozen bishops and archbishops throughout the world have likewise given public support to civil unions. Two of these prelates are Vatican officials. In February of this year, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council of the Family, said that the Church could recognize private law solutions for same-gender couples to prevent injustice. He condemned discrimination against gay and lesbian people because of their dignity as children of God. He said he would like Church officials to oppose bills that would make homosexuality a crime.

These remarks were followed by those of Archbishop Piero Marini, President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, who said, “In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized.” In his press interview, Archbishop Marini also said that the election of Francis has generated an air of freedom and a window of springtime and hope.

The most substantial challenge to official Church teaching comes from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired bishop from Australia. In his current book, For Christ’s Sake, and in a previous book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, Bishop Robinson calls for a radical reexamination of the Church’s teaching on all sexual issues, which would affect both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. He believes that sexual morality should be based not on authority, but on people taking responsibility for their actions and their lives. Bishop Robinson is asking Catholics all over the world to sign a petition for a third Vatican Council to begin worldwide discussions not only among the bishops, but also among all the members of the Church. See “For Christ’s Sake! Stop Sexual Abuse for good!” or http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/pope-francis-the-vatican-for-christ-s-sake-stop-sexual-abuse-for-good

These actions and comments indicate that the official Church is beginning to acknowledge a need to rethink homosexual relationships and, according to some bishops, its theology of sexuality.

How can we explain these changes in attitude among Catholics? Why have Catholics’ views altered or been modified to be more accepting of lesbian and gay persons and their love relationships? I believe that part of the explanation in understanding any complex issue rests in obtaining correct information. Historians, anthropologists, biological and social scientists, and other professionals have helped us grow in our awareness of the nature of homosexuality in general, and of same-sex marriage in particular.

Marriage

The meaning and rituals of marriage have varied over time and culture. The Israelites held no belief that marriage was between one man and one woman. In that patriarchal society, a man could have more than one wife if he could afford it. The great kings David and Solomon attested to the practice of multiple wives. The story of Adam and Eve was not an endorsement of monogamy among the Hebrews; monogamy became an ideal of prophets, such as Ezekiel and Hosea.

In the early Christian church, marriage had no religious significance. Christians merely adopted the customs of the culture. Marriages were arrangements made by the civil government of Rome that defined rights and responsibilities, provided continuity in society, and facilitated the inheritance of property. Weddings were private ceremonies, with no official sanction from church or state. None of the liturgical books in the early Church mention wedding ceremonies.

In the late 4th century in some parts of the Christian East, it was considered an honor if a priest or bishop blessed the couple during the wedding feast. A century later, the priest participated in the ceremony by joining the couples’ hands or putting a garland over their hands. This ritual may be the origin of the expression, “to tie the knot.” By the 8th century, marriage ceremonies were commonly held in a church, with legal recognition. By the 11th century, church officials required that marriages at least be blessed by a priest. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the West in the 5th century and the decline of the Empire in the East from the 11th century, the institutional church exerted more and more legal control over marriage. By the 12th century, a priest was obliged to conduct the ritual.

By the late 12th and 13th centuries, marriage began to be regarded as a sacrament to be regulated by church officials. Many theologians of the time objected to this sacramental view of marriage because marriages involved financial arrangements. It thus appeared as though grace, which comes from the sacraments, could be bought and sold. Furthermore, the institution of marriage existed before Christ, but if the sacraments were instituted by Christ to give grace, how could Christ have instituted marriage? Thirdly, marriage involved sex, which was considered polluted in some way.

Same-Sex Unions

In his book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe, the medieval historian, John Boswell, presents numerous ceremonies that celebrate same-sex unions. Boswell found and translated more than 60 manuscripts of such ceremonies between the 8th and 16th centuries. These ceremonies had striking word and visual parallels to ceremonies of heterosexual unions. For example, both kinds of ceremonies commonly included the joining or tying of right hands with a stole. Both kinds included a binding with a stole or veil, or the imposition of crowns, or making circles around the altar.

Boswell claims that Church authorities accepted these same-sex ceremonies prior to the 13th century, after which they were considered illicit. Almost all historians agree that the late 11th and early 12th centuries were periods of openness & tolerance, and that the social and ecclesiastical climate became less tolerant in the 13th & 14th centuries, as inquisitions to investigate unorthodoxy began to appear. Scholars have generally accepted the authenticity of the manuscripts Boswell unearthed and the accuracy of his translations, but they have largely disagreed with his interpretations of the facts. Many claim these same sex unions were celebrating brotherly love, not marriage; however, the striking similarities to heterosexual marriage ceremonies cannot be denied. Many question whether Church authorities endorsed these ceremonies, but their existence indicates that they were approved in at least some parts of the Christian world where they were celebrated.

Personal Experiences

Same-sex unions are being sanctioned today in the United States by large segments of the Catholic community. I believe that another explanation for this acceptance, more important than the additional knowledge we have about marriage, is the personal experience of knowing friends, neighbors, relatives, or co-workers who are lesbian or gay. Lesbian and gay people have come out in record numbers in recent years. Their personal testimonies are affecting the hearts and minds of Catholics because our most profound beliefs are shaped by personal experience.

A number of years ago, I had a providential meeting on a plane with Benedict XVI before he was elected pope. I was making a pilgrimage to Munich and we both happened to be on the same flight from Rome. In our 20- minute discussion about lesbian and gay people, I asked him if he had ever met any gay people. “Yes, in Germany,” he said. “In Berlin, they were demonstrating against the pope.” This was his experience of gay people—in a conflict situation. Apparently, he had not heard the personal stories of lesbian or gay people and how they feel about their lives, their beliefs, and the struggles they have encountered from society and the church. I explained to him that lesbian and gay Catholics are often ridiculed by those who ask, “How can you stay with a Church that oppresses you?” “They stay,” I said, “because they love God and their Christian faith.”

Only when we meet lesbian and gay people in the ordinary circumstances of life, will we see them as the normal human beings they are. Only then will we begin to question our notions about same-sex marriage. We then ask the central question: What is the essence of marriage? What did marriage mean before the Christian era? What did it mean in pre-modern Europe? What does marriage mean today? In 2004, the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns answered the question this way: “Love, care, and commitment to another human being, not gender or procreation, form the essence or meaning of marriage.”

The Church’s Teaching

How can Catholics reconcile this new view of marriage with the traditional teachings of the Church? How can Catholics, who love the Church as their spiritual family, formulate a framework in which lesbian and gay people can live justly and wholly within the tradition of the faith community they love? Too often the application of the church’s teaching on social justice toward lesbian and gay persons seems to be thwarted or usurped by the official teaching on sexual ethics. What is needed is a continued development of sexual ethics by the Christian community.

In the first centuries of the Christian era, sexual ethics was not wedded to procreation. This came only with the early Church Fathers, particularly Augustine, who believed that procreation was the only justification for sexual pleasure and marriage. After many centuries, the official Church acknowledged that the love of the couple was a secondary purpose of sexuality and marriage. Vatican II taught that procreation and mutual love were equally important. Contemporary moral theologians have developed the teaching still further. They maintain that the procreative purpose can be broadened and described as creativity for the community. Using traditional Catholic theology based on natural law, this approach acknowledges that our appreciation of what is natural for the human person has also developed.

Change

The thread woven throughout these remarks is change: change in my personal opinions, change in the attitudes of U. S. Catholics, change in the public statements of some high ranking church officials, change in our understanding of marriage, change in our personal experiences, and change in the Church’s official teaching on sexual ethics. Too often we are frightened by change because we are comfortable with the status quo and are skeptical that one change will lead down a slippery slope of still more changes with which we cannot cope. When I fear change, I remind myself of the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who said in his Development of Christian Doctrine, “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Let us pray to Blessed John Henry Newman to help us accept the changes needed in our Church.

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In Africa, An Archbishop Promotes and a Cardinal Decries LGBT Human Rights

July 10, 2013

Over the past week or so there has been some good news and some bad news out of Africa concerning Catholic LGBT issues.

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

On the good news side, a papal envoy to Kenya recently called for the protection of lesbian and gay human rights on a visit to that nation to open a new pastoral center.  Kenya’s The Star newspaper reports:

“The pope’s representative to Kenya Charles Daniel Balvo has asked Kenyans to accord homosexuals respect, dignity and human rights and not discriminate against them.

“Speaking after commissioning a Sh400 million pastoral centre at the Embu Catholic Cathedral in Embu town, Balvo said the Catholic Church does not approve of homosexuality but it recognises the dignity of every individual.

” ‘The homosexuals should be defended against violation of their dignity and human rights, they are human beings like anyone of us,’ he said.”

The newspaper article notes that these words from a papal envoy come soon after many African religious leaders criticized U.S. President Obama’s recent trip to Africa where he spoke in favor of LGBT human rights.  A Religion News Service  article quotes Obama as saying:

“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”

Cardinal John Njue

Cardinal John Njue

One of those religious leaders speaking against Obama was a cardinal from Kenya.  London’s Tablet magazine reports:

“Kenyan Cardinal John Njue has issued a strongly worded riposte to US President Barack Obama’s call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Africa.

“At the start of his three-nation African tour in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on 28 June, Mr Obama said gays deserved equal rights. Homosexual acts are illegal in 38 African nations.

“Speaking in Nairobi the next day, Njue, president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, said Obama, whose father was Kenyan, should forget the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

” ‘Let him forget and forget and forget … I think we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths,’ said Njue. ‘Those people who have already ruined their society … let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go.’ “

Obviously, Cardinal Njue is unaware that the Catholic faith’s most authoritative traditions are on the side of protecting LGBT human rights, as Archbishop Balvo stated.    The Religion News Service article also quotes Anglican, Lutheran, and Muslim religious leaders who similarly condemned Obama’s intervention.   The article also notes:

“Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries, according to the Washington-based Council for Global Equality, and many religious leaders here view it as contrary to scriptures and custom.”

Prominent among those nations is Zimbabwe, headed by Robert Mugabe, a Catholic, whose homophobic rants we reported on recently.  On the campaign trail for re-election, he is continuing to spew anti-gay vitriol, some of which can be read here.  For stories of the reality of gay lives under Zimbabwean terror,  I refer you to the blog 76Crimes.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Dominican Republic Cardinal Uses Anti-Gay Slur Against US Diplomat

July 5, 2013

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez

A controversy is brewing in the Dominican Republic after President Obama’s choice of an openly gay US ambassador to that nation provoked a severe backlash from conservative Christians, including an anti-gay slur from a Catholic cardinal.

Choosing James ‘Wally’ Brewster, also a major LGBT activist and Obama campaign fundraiser, as nominee for the position is part of a series of LGBT appointments to the diplomatic corp. While equal rights are advancing domestically, critics abroad contend this is the latest efforts of the US to export LGBT rights. Among the critics are members of the Catholic hierarchy in the Dominican Republic, which is 88% Catholic and where bishops heavily influence public opinion. The Miami Herald reports:

“Monsignor Pablo Cedano, auxiliary Catholic bishop of Santo Domingo, said the appointment of Brewster showed ‘a lack of sensitivity, of respect by the United States.’

“Brewster’s position on gay rights ‘is far from our cultural reality,’ he said, adding that if he comes, ‘he’s going to suffer,’ due to the cultural differences, ‘and he’ll have to leave.’ ”

This conflict heightened after Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez used a homophobic slur at a press conference when commenting on the Brewster’s appointment. Daily Mail Online reports he called the nominee a ‘maricon,’ which translates as ‘faggot’ or ‘sissy.’ He continued by saying:

“If the government of Washington considers they are apt to send that kind of ambassador, let the government in Washington go ahead…”

“López warned that if Brewster is sent to the country, ‘the United States can expect anything.’ ”

The cardinal also stated the Church in the Dominican Republic would have no official position on Brewster’s nomination and the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo made no comment. Not all object to President Obama’s choice, however, including LGBT activists in the nation who welcomed the American efforts to expand equality. As The Miami Herald reports:

“It’s a great honor for our country to have someone of his prominence be named ambassador,” Estefanie Hernandez, a member of activist organization GAYP, said as she held a sign welcoming Brewster to motorists who passed a busy oceanfront drive. “To have someone from our community to serve as ambassador is a show of support.”

Supporters also include a Catholic priest, Fr. Jesus Maria Tejada, who openly defied the prelates’ offensive comments and said anti-LGBT prejudice is inappropriate and Brewster would not be discriminated against. More Catholics, clergy and laity alike in the Dominican Republic, need to speak out against this type of anti-gay slander and affirm the Catholic Church’s call to welcome all into the community with respect for each person’s dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Reflecting on SCOTUS: Voting Rights, Marriage, the Bishops, and the Future

June 29, 2013

Catholic commentators continue to reflect upon the two Supreme Court marriage decisions this week, and their intellectual and personal musings are too good to pass by.  We present you with a patchwork of summaries and excerpts for you to consider as you do your own reflections on this week’s events.

Two writers have noted the sad juxtaposition of Supreme Court decisions this week.  On Tuesday, the Court unfairly dismantled the Voting Rights Act, greatly restricting justice, and on Wednesday, the Court decided two cases in favor of marriage equality.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson noted that she was celebrating the marriage equality victories

“with a heavy heart, knowing full well that, unlike Wednesday, the Supreme Court rulings that took place Tuesday were not a great moment for America, justice or civil rights.”

Manson notes both the moral and practical connections that exist between the Voting Rights Act and LGBT equality:

“The fight against voter suppression laws and the fight for LGBT rights share some deep connections. At the most fundamental level, both are civil rights battles for equal protection under the law. In the same way that LGBT activists have asked other victims of discrimination to identify with our struggle, LGBT people must continue to foster the bonds of identity and solidarity across communities of justice-seekers.

“At a strategic level, LGBT activists must also consider the ways in which voter suppression could undermine the fight for equality in the 35 states where same-sex marriage continues to be illegal. If right-wing lawmakers are successful in restricting voter eligibility among the disenfranchised, LGBT civil rights will be as vulnerable as government entitlements, civil liberties, collective bargaining and protections for immigrants.”

Daniel Horan, OFM

Daniel Horan, OFM

Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, on his blog DatingGod.comalso noted the disappointment in the Voting Rights case, and noted that the U.S. bishops’ characterization of the marriage decisions as “tragic” seemed misplaced:

“[W]hile the Tuesday decision might rightly be called ‘tragic’ for its short-sightedness and lack of historical appreciation for the crimes and abuses against women and men of color in the south, the decisions on Wednesday were absolutely not tragic. That anyone would say that — and this quote has circulated widely in subsequent days — strikes me as quite appalling. Wednesday’s decisions, as best I can tell, affect no one for the worse. They do not threaten different-sex marriages. They do not ruin the foundations of our society. They do not do anything but provide another step to guarantee that all human beings have the right to be treated like other human beings in the United States. We’ve come as a society to recognize, oftentimes too slowly, the need for these legal protections with regard to sex, race, and now sexual orientation — all things inherent to a person and outside one’s control. . . . Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes reiterates the need the church has to recognize the legitimate role of governments to protect the rights of all people regardless of this inherent characteristics of their personhood:

‘If the citizens’ responsible cooperation is to produce the good results which may be expected in the normal course of political life, there must be a statute of positive law providing for a suitable division of the functions and bodies of authority and an efficient and independent system for the protection of rights. The rights of all persons, families and groups, and their practical application, must be recognized, respected and furthered, together with the duties binding on all citizen (no. 75).’

“All persons, families, and groups!”

Mark SilkMark Silk, a professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life,  offered a very Catholic way for “How the bishops can live with Same-Sex Marriage” in a Religion News Service essay with that title.  In it, Silk points out how “marriage” is used frequently as an analogy in Catholicism to describe other realities.  A nun is sometimes considered married to Christ, a bishop is considered married to his diocese.

Using this very Catholic notion of analogical thinking, Silk suggests that the bishops do the same for thinking about  lesbian and gay couples who marry:

“In the USCCB’s letter condemning the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone write, ‘Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.’

“Sure, guys, but in your book marriage is not only that. So what if same-sex civil marriage is not oriented toward biological procreation and achieved sacramentally in a Catholic church? Use your analogical imaginations.”

Thomas Bushlack

Thomas Bushlack

Finally, one of the more profound reflections on this week’s news comes from Thomas Bushlack, a professor of moral theology at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Writing on the blog PoliticalTheology.com, Bushlack recognizes that with DOMA struck down, we are in a new political, cultural, and theological moment:

“We are clearly in the middle of a fairly rapid cultural turning point regarding the moral and legal status of same-sex couples, and the views of many Americans are tethered to and influenced by the underlying theological issues that inform their opinions.  Despite the plurality of voices within these theological debates, one thing seems certain: what was once taken as a commonplace definition of marriage as between one man and one woman can no longer be assumed.”

This new “moment” means giving up some of old ways of thinking and acting:

“I believe that efforts on the part of individual Christians and church leaders . . . to solidify the legal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman has neither served to promote the common good nor to facilitate the preaching of the Gospel.  Even if one agrees with the theological and moral arguments against same-sex marriage (and there is clearly not consensus here), it has not appeared obvious to the majority of Christians that this necessarily entails prohibiting it in a civic and legal arena.  The Supreme Court decisions offered today reflect this general public sense that same sex couples deserve the equal protection conferred by the Fifth Amendment – regardless of the theological and moral issues involved (which the courts are not competent to judge anyways).”

Most importantly, Bushlack offers some important advice on moving forward for both detractors and supporters of marriage equality:

“If I were to offer my opinion with regard to the best way for theologians and church leaders to move forward following today’s rulings, it would be to reassess our rhetoric. For those opposed to civil recognition of same-sex marriage, the argument that allowing same-sex marriage will have a negative impact upon the common good of society has been found unconvincing, not least because there is little tangible evidence to back it up. And there is no logical step from a theological argument based on Genesis 1 to inscribing “one man, one woman” into civil law. For those of us who support the extension of greater legal protections and rights to same-sex couples, we need to refrain from gloating and find ways to remain united as a church with a common goal of spreading the Gospel even amidst vehement disagreement.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue providing you with links to relevant commentary on this past week’s historic decisions.  You might also want to read our previous posts on the topic:

June 26, 2013: New Ways Ministry Welcomes Supreme Court Decisions on Marriage Equality

June 27, 2013: Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Decisions Continue to Pour In

June 28, 2013: After SCOTUS, Shifts to State Level Struggles Begin

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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