In November, the Maryland Catholic Conference published a document entitled, “Religious Freedom: The Most Sacred of All Property.” Despite its title, it quickly became obvious that this publication was really focused on the marriage equality debate, which the bishops seem to fear they are losing. So instead of debating the merits of marriage equality, they have attempted to shift the terms of the debate to “religious freedom,” where they have framed themselves as the victims of a secular government and culture.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops followed suit later in the same month, when at their national assembly they heard an address from Bishop William Lori, Chair of their newly formed Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
Much of the commentary surrounding this question of religious liberty showed how Catholics’ liberty is not threatened, but that the bishops’ opposition to marriage equality, in fact, threatens the religious liberty of others. We posted about one such commentary a few weeks back in this blog post. You can also read New Ways Ministry’s response to the Maryland Catholic Conference statement here.
But these questions are more than just legal and political. They are also pastoral and personal. We were delighted when we read a response from a dear friend of New Ways Ministry, Erma Durkin, which approaches the Maryland bishops’ religious liberty arguments from these more concretely human concerns. Erma is an octogenarian mother of a gay son, and not only a devout Catholic, but a thought-filled one, too. She speaks primarily as a parent:
We sincerely wish the Bishops of Maryland, when they campaign against Civil Marriage for gay couples, would focus serious attention to the profound effects this drive has on the families among their flock. Parents are desperate to know how to reconcile the negative messages the Church delivers, or allows to be
assumed about gays, with the truth they know about the children they have brought to birth, and love so well. The arguments, given on p.9 of the Statement we are discussing, are not convincing in the light of what is known today about gender diversity among humans. Parents cannot understand how the State, by legalizing same-gender marriage, would, “infringe upon the religious liberties of individuals and institutions….” The State is simply granting equal rights to persons of all faiths, or no faith, to commit to a monogamous, permanent, and exclusive marriage contract. It is not telling people what to believe “as an article
of faith” p.9.”
She speaks as a Catholic citizen, too:
“I have never felt any coercion or obstructionism from the State, in all my years, while practicing my faith in good conscience. On the other hand, I have noted an area of pastoral need that cries out for attention and conversational engagement with our Shepherds. “
It’s clear from their statements that the bishops have listened to a lot of lawyers and political strategists. What they need to do is to listen, instead, to the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful) which has been expressed so eloquently by Erma Durkin.
By the way, Erma has written eloquently before on the issue of marriage equality. She contributed a moving reflection to New Ways Ministry’s book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach. You can download a PDF of the book from our website. Erma’s contribution is on page 15.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry