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


Majorities of US & Canadian Catholics Support Marriage Equality

March 10, 2013

A new Quinnipiac University poll finds American support for marriage equality growing, especially among Catholics, just as Supreme Court oral arguments around the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 are about to be heard in late March. A separate Canadian survey shows similar results for Catholics in that nation.

Quinnipiac’s survey results indicate that Catholic support is driving the expansion of marriage rights nationwide. 54% of Catholics polled are in support of marriage equality and only 38% in oppose, improved from a 49%-43% split in December 2012. Researcher Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said:

“‘Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex marriage…Among all voters, there is almost no gender gap, but a big age gap. Voters 18 to 34 years old support same sex marriage 62 – 30 percent; voters 35 to 54 years old are divided 48 – 45 percent and voters over 55 are opposed 50 – 39 percent.’”

This gap among Catholics mirrors the emerging demographic trends around marriage equality reported on during an analysis of 2012 election exit polling recently released. Three states, Maryland, Washington, and Maine approved marriage equality ballot measures, while Minnesotans defeated a constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman during the 2012 elections. The Washington Post reports that exit polling showed:

“…resistance to same-sex marriage is shrinking and mainly concentrated among certain segments of the population: older people, white evangelical Christians and non-college-educated whites…

“‘Significant opposition to the freedom to marry is increasingly isolated within narrow demographic groups while a much broader and more diverse majority are ready to let same-sex couples marry,’ wrote Joel Benenson, who led President Obama’s polling operation in 2008 and 2012, and Jan van Lohuizen, who did the same job for former president George W. Bush…

“White evangelical Christians opposed same-sex marriage by nearly 3 to 1. But every non-evangelical group — other white Protestants, white Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, African American non-evangelicals and Jewish voters — expressed support for such unions by double-digit margins.”

Similar polling reveals that Canadian Catholics support marriage equality as well.  The Vancouver Sun reports on a recent University of Lethbridge poll:

“What about homosexuality? The Vatican continues to teach that homosexuality is a sinful ‘disorder.’

“But Canadian Catholics are increasingly accepting. Half approve of ‘same-sex couples marrying.’ An additional one in four Catholics acknowledge they disapprove of homosexual relationships, but “accept” them anyway…

“What of Europe, that other bastion of so-called ‘Western’ values? The rights of women and gays and individual freedom remain paramount throughout most of Europe, including in Italy, Spain and France, where the strong majority continue to say they are Catholic.”

Most interesting in much of the polling for Westernized Catholics is the strong religious identity expressed by those who overwhelmingly support LGBT equality. Previous distinctions on marriage equality between those considered ‘culturally’ Catholic who do not routinely attend Mass and those who attend Mass weekly are disappearing. The Quinnipiac University polling of US Catholics reported 90% of those surveyed consider their Catholic faith either fairly important, or for 57% very important, in their lives.

What do you think? Do an increasing number of Catholics support marriage equality in full harmony with their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, because of a growing understanding that LGBT rights are matters of justice and dignity? Or is it shifting demographics in age and ethnicity of the Church that merely mirror societal trends towards LGBT equality? Perhaps both? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Christmas Party for New Ways Ministry Volunteers

December 24, 2012
New Ways Ministry Volunteer Christmas Party:  Standing: Vern Smith, Patrick McNelis, David Lamdin, David Vespa; Seated: Mark Clark, Thom Krupa, Bob Shine, Matthew Myers; Kneeling:  Sister Jeannine Gramick

At the New Ways Ministry Volunteer Christmas Party, staff and volunteers join “Santa” in sending a pro-marriage equality message. Standing: Vern Smith, Patrick McNelis, David Lamdin, David Vespa; Seated: Mark Clark, Thom Krupa, Bob Shine (dressed as Santa), Matthew Myers; Kneeling: Sister Jeannine Gramick

As Christmas draws near,  we’d like to share a little holiday cheer from New Ways Ministry by presenting this photograph of our annual dinner party for our dedicated volunteers.  We took a moment during the party to send a message of Catholic support for marriage equality to all.

Almost every Tuesday evening, a group of volunteers from the local Washington, DC metropolitan area stop by New Ways Ministry’s offices in Mount Rainier, Maryland, to help us prepare the bulk mailings that we send out to our constituents and supporters.  Without these volunteers,  our communications folks around the country and the globe would be much slower and more expensive.  These stalwart worker help spread the word about our programs of education, spiritual development, and advocacy on Catholic LGBT issues.

We are extremely grateful for their service.  If you live in the DC metro area and are interested in volunteering some time, please contact New Ways Ministry either by phone, 301-277-5674, or email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, so that we can let you know what the upcoming schedule is.

The work is not difficult, and it’s a great way of spending an evening together with like-minded souls.  We always end each evening with pizza and soda as refreshments.

We’d love to see you some volunteer night in 2013!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bishops and Vatican React to This Week’s Marriage Equality Electoral Victories

November 10, 2012

It is understandable that certain Catholic bishops would be disappointed in Tuesday’s ballot victories for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.  All the bishops in those particular states were vocal in trying to defeat marriage equality initiatives.

Bishop Richard Malone

In Maine, Bishop Richard Malone attempted to be reconciliatory in his statement following the vote.  While noting that he was “disappointed” in the outcome, he also showed some awareness that Catholics who supported marriage equality did so out of a sense of justice, though he disagreed with their motivation:

“I trust that those who voted for such a radical change did so out of concern for our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Respect and acceptance of all people regardless of sexual orientation is not a point of controversy. It is a teaching of the Church, but so is the authentic meaning and definition of marriage. That is why the Catholic Church will continue its commitment to work for the basic human rights to which all people are entitled, while remaining devoted to preserving and strengthening the precious gift of marriage.”

Although Bishop Malone needs to learn that not all gay and lesbian people “struggle” with their sexuality–indeed, many see it as a gift from God and celebrate it as such–it is commendable that in this statement he reaffirms his dedication to human rights.

Archbishop William Lori

In Maryland, Archbishop William Lori responded to the vote for marriage equality in his state by continuing to speak as if the campaign were still ongoing, instead of a settled affair.  In The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, quotes from Archbishop Lori’s response:

“ ‘I think that vote will prove not to have been for the common good of our state,’ Archbishop Lori said. . . .

“The election results on same-sex marriage should serve as a ‘wake up call’ for Catholics, Archbishop Lori said, demonstrating ‘our need to redouble our efforts to defend marriage, to preach about what marriage is, and to help people understand it as a unique relationship that does not discriminate against anyone, but is for the good of children and for the good of our society.’ ”

Lori’s comments differed greatly from those of Ryan Sattler, a Catholic layman who was profiled by The National Catholic Reporter for his work on marriage equality in the state, and who was sought for his reaction to the election’s outcome.  Sattler stated simply:

“On Election Day, Maryland voters chose justice. They chose equality. They chose love.”

Similarly, Karin Quimby, deputy faith director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, praised the work of Maryland Catholics like Sattler:

“I think the work of Catholics on Question 6 here in Maryland shows that the social justice teaching in the Catholic church is alive and well. Lay leaders did a great job at the grassroots level, making their voices heard, and their fellow Catholics responded. Catholics clearly believe, very strongly, that every person has dignity, every person should be treated fairly, and every person deserves the same rights.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt

In Minnesota, the Archdiocese of St. Paul, led by Archbishop John Nienstedt, also emphasized the idea that it is time to move forward from the rancor of debate:

“Although the defeat of the amendment is a very serious concern to us, it will not deter us from continuing to serve this community and the whole state in pursuit of the common good.”

Father Michael Tegeder, who publicly opposed Archbishop Nienstedt during the marriage debate, called for the Ordinary’s resignation in a letter to the Star Tribune:

“As a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, I would ask our archbishop, John Nienstedt, to prayerfully consider stepping down from his office. It would be healing for our state and our church and would show some magnanimity on his part. His misguided crusade to change our Constitution, spending more than a million dollars and, more importantly, much goodwill, has been rejected. Elections have consequences.”

Archbishop Peter Sartain

In Washington State, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle also seemed prepared to continue the debate about marriage.  In a statement, he said:

“I am disappointed that so many voters failed to recognize marriage between a man and a woman as the natural institution for the permanent, faithful covenant of love for a couple, for bringing children into the world, and for nurturing and educating those children. This change in civil law is not in the best interest of children or society.”

More joyous in response was Washington State’s Catholic Govern Christine Gregoire, who had signed the marriage equality legislation into law.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted her reaction to the vote:

“ ‘Washington has made history and I couldn’t be prouder,’ said Gregoire.  ‘Voters stood up for what is right and what is just and said that all Washington families are equal under the law . . .

“ ‘This is a day history will look back on as a turning point for equality.  It is a day I will look back on as Washington state leading the nation.  And it is a day that I will carry with me forever.’ ”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Commenting on all four successful votes, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, also seemed intent on putting a negative spin on the outcomes in his statement:

“Yesterday, November 6, was a disappointing day for marriage, as the effort to preserve the unique meaning of marriage in the law lost by only a narrow margin in four states, even though vastly outspent by those who promote the redefinition of marriage.

“The meaning of marriage, though, cannot be redefined because it lies within our very nature. No matter what policy, law or judicial decision is put into place, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union. It is either this, or it is nothing at all. In view of the fact that every child has a mother and a father, our society either respects the basic right of every child to be raised by his or her mother and father together and so supports the true and unique meaning of marriage for the good of children, or it does not. In a society marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation, marriage needs to be strengthened, promoted, and defended, not redefined. I hope and pray that political leaders, judges, and all people will seek to honor this foundational and common sense truth of marriage.”

In L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, tried to place the Catholic hierarchy’s position in a positive cast, even in the face of such resounding defeats.  A Religion News Service story offers the following summary:

” ‘You could say that the church, on this level, is bound to lose,’ writes [Lucetta] Scaraffia. ‘But this is not the case.’

“According to the historian, the church’s fight on moral issues such as gay marriage and abortion has drawn support and admiration’ from many non-Catholics.

“By opposing legislation allowing gay couples to adopt in the United Kingdom or fighting the birth control mandate in the U.S., the church ‘made it clear for everyone that this is not about progress’ but about ‘the loss of one of the founding freedoms of the modern State, religious liberty.’ “

In all these cases, where Catholics have been working on both sides of the marriage question, it will be incumbent on the local bishops to work toward reconciling these factions in the church so that there are no lingering senses of animosity or alienation.  This will be particularly important where the bishops have been particularly politically involved on the marriage question, and thus have risked alienating marriage equality supporters.  Now that the electorates have spoken for justice and equality, the work of reconciliation must begin in earnest.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


‘No One’s Listening to the Pope’ or What Washington Catholics Taught Us This Election

November 8, 2012

With marriage equality successfully enacted in Washington State, a former Catholic in Seattle reflected at Salon.com on the growing chasm between episcopal outreach and lay organizing that emerged during this campaign over marriage equality. His article has the intriguing title “No One’s Listening to the Pope.”

Growing up, Dominic Holden emerged in a local church led by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen where African-American civil rights history was widely active and the Vatican’s attempted removal of Hunthausen for Seattle’s hosting of a 1,000-plus member DignityUSA liturgy triggered massive lay outcry.

After coming out and with changes in the Seattle church, Holden left Catholicism which contains a hierarchy he identifies with anti-equality efforts, evident in the silencing and spending practices of those like Archbishop John Neinstedt in Minnesota or Archbishop William Lori in Maryland.

However, in Washington State he notices a promising movement amongst lay Catholics:

“But here in Seattle, the archbishop is facing a confrontation.

“When conservative activists in Washington sought to suspend and overturn a marriage equality law for same-sex couples in January, Archbishop Sartain started strong…Sartain was clearly spoiling for a fight.

“And he got one, but not the one he expected. It’s not clear that Sartain knew what he was in for. After all, Sartain has only been appointed about 14 months before — by a pope who, it must be acknowledged, may have a vendetta against Seattle’s gay-friendly congregations that rebuffed him 30 years prior — and what Sartain got was an outright revolt from the pews.”

Holden notes the vigorous efforts of Washington State Catholics leading up to yesterday’s vote with Catholics for Marriage Equality raising $38,000, publicly witnessing at Mass and the pride parade, running newspaper advertisements, and challenging the Yakima Diocese for illegal contributions. Elsewhere, 63 former priests from the area came out publicly in support of the referendum and pastors, including at the Cathedral in Seattle, refused to allow anti-equality campaigners into their churches.

The author quotes Fr. John Whitney, SJ, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Seattle,

“…who said circulating the petitions in his parish ‘seems to me inappropriately coercive.’
He added in a statement to his congregation: ‘Although the Archbishop has the right and responsibility to speak and educate the community about legislation, I believe that this level of involvement around the issue of civil marriage is ill-considered, and risks placing the Church on the side of injustice and the denial of civil rights.’ He continued to counter Sartain’s efforts just last month by telling parishioners in an email that ‘authority never supplants conscience.’”

All of this, accompanied by a diminished public effort by bishops in Washington State over Referendum 74, leads Holden to one conclusion:

“I’ll speculate: the flock is taming the shepherds.

“It seems that Sartain and his counterparts have a real crisis on their hands…The problem for bishops shapes up like this: Priests and laity alike are declaring their intent to ignore the bishops’ moral authority on the so-called conscience issues of marriage and contraception, which represent the bishops’ primary political agendas. The risk for bishops isn’t that these Catholics will leave the church like I did…The risk is that they will stay in the church and empower other parishioners to stand up to the bishops on these and other issues, from married priests to the ordination of women.

“Catholics are setting an example for elections to come. They’re refusing to let the hierarchy speak for them, and even reining them in, just as they did back when I was a kid. Given that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has proven it can shift national policy, God bless the laity for keeping them in check. They’re the only people who can.”

In light of a victory in Washington State for marriage equality where Catholics played a key role, Holden’s positive conclusion about these events seems correct. Continued lay involvement that helps to correct and contain the bishops, while presenting a different image of Catholicism in the public sphere is not going away. Hopefully, it has just begun.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Thank You, Catholic Voters

November 7, 2012

National Catholic Reporter columnist Kate Childs Graham posted a piece today thanking Catholic voters for their tremendous positive impact in the four states that voted on marriage equality yesterday, while reminding us amid the euphoric victories that the struggle continues:

“As we celebrate these victories, these conversions, we must prepare for the next step on our journey towards fairness. Not only must we begin to organize and proselytize in those states that have not yet heeded the call of progress, we must bring that call to the pews…

Kate Childs Graham

“I look forward to a day when fairness for my family isn’t seen as a threat to freedom for my religion, when all communities of faith — including our Catholic community — affirm same-sex unions.

“That day can’t happen without some hard conversations and some hard work. So after the dust has settled and the celebrations have finished, let us band together like we did in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. Let us do as scripture says. Let us “learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed,” both in our communities and our church.

“Catholic voters, again I say simply: Thanks.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


A Lesson to Be Learned from Marriage Equality Victories

November 7, 2012

The news is almost too incredible to believe.

Yesterday, marriage equality was made the law of the land in three states–Maine, Maryland, and Washington State–and a proposed constitutional ban against marriage equality in a fourth state–Minnesota–was defeated.

Catholics played a significant role in all four states.  In Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the original laws that were upheld by the referendum were all signed by Catholic governors.  In those states and Minnesota, active groups of Catholics for Marriage Equality worked tirelessly to get out the vote.

What makes the efforts of these Catholics for Marriage Equality so significant is that they have worked against incredible odds.  In each case, Catholic bishops have worked against marriage equality, and their power and influence is formidable when it comes to election campaigns.

It’s not the moral authority that the bishops have.  Indeed, due to the sexual abuse crisis among other things, their moral authority has seriously decreased in the last decade.  What they do have though is a vast communication infrastructure:  parishes, sermons, letters, mailing lists, bulletin inserts, schools–these are incredibly powerful tools to mobilize voters to vote the way the bishops instruct.  Despite these advantages, the bishop failed.

The lesson of this election for Catholics interested in LGBT equality is that lay organizing is becoming more powerful than the bishops’ organizing.  Despite that lay organizers do not have the access to Catholics that the bishops have, they have found a variety of methods to get their message across:  public vigils, YouTube videos, community forums, and newspaper advertisements, to name only a few.

We’ve also seen that having courageous priests and religious who are not afraid to speak out for equality are emerging.  Their witness gives us hope that others will soon step forward to urge people to form and follow their consciences with regard to marriage equality.

May the victories today inspire Catholics to continue to work for justice and equality for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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