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.
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:
- “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.
- “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.
- “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