Open Letter on Marriage and Religious Liberty

Four Catholic bishops are among almost 40 American religious leaders who have signed an open letter entitled “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together.” David Gibson writes in The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog that the signatories are “predominantly from conservative Christian churches and Orthodox Judaism.”  Indeed it is remarkable how few mainstream churches are represented and that only 40 leaders signed the document.

You can read the full text of the letter on the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops’ (USCCB) website.

To highlight the “threat” to religious liberty, the letter cites several examples:

“For example, in New Jersey, the state cancelled the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run boardwalk pavilion used for religious services because the religious organization would not host a same-sex ‘wedding’ there.San Francisco dropped its $3.5 million in social service contracts with the Salvation Army because it refused to recognize same-sex ‘domestic partnerships’ in its employee benefits policies.Similarly, Portland, Maine, required Catholic Charities to extend spousal employee benefits to same-sex ‘domestic partners’ as a condition of receiving city housing and community development funds.”

This line of argument makes it seem like church institutions and Catholic individuals only recognize marriages that are valid under the laws of their faith.  In Catholicism, however,  no one objects to church institutions or Catholic-run businesses from dealing with civil marriages between a couple where one or both partners are divorced, but not annulled.  Catholic institutions and businesses seem able to negotiate their religious beliefs when it comes to these heterosexual couples, so why can’t it do the same with homosexual couples?

The letter also claims that religious institutions “face other government sanctions—the targeted withdrawal of government co-operation, grants, or other benefits,”  if they don’t recognize same-sex couples.  This type of argument assumes that religious institutions have a “right” to receive government money.  They don’t.  Separation of church and state protects the principles of churches, but it also protects the principles of the state.  The state does have the right–indeed the responsibility–to make sure that those to whom it grants funds will respect the law of the land.

The four Catholic bishops who signed the letter are Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of
New York, President of the USCCB; Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport,
Chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of  Ft. Wayne – South Bend,  Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Colbert’s Chaplain on “Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity”

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Fr. James Martin, SJ,  is one of Catholicism’s leading spiritual writers and cultural commentators today, as well as one of the most sought-after Catholic conference speakers.  Arguably, he has the largest “pulpit” for young people in this country since he is known as “Stephen Colbert’s chaplain,”  appearing regularly as a guest on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.

So when Fr. Martin speaks out on lesbian/gay issues, as he does from time to time, it is an event worth noting.  His latest contribution is a posting on America magazine’s blog.  Entitled “Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” the comprehensive examination muses on the idea that on the topic of lesbian/gay issues, Catholic leaders tend to forget an important half of church teaching.  Fr. Martin writes:

“. . . I’d like to turn our attention to another part of the church’s official teaching, something equally as valid.  It is contained in the very next line [of the Catechism], and is an important aspect of our tradition that is often overlooked. . . . : ‘The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’

What follows in the post is one of the most thoughtful examinations I have read of the words “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”  and how these concepts apply to lesbian/gay people. For example, in describing “respect,” Fr. Martin observes:

“One of the hallmarks of respecting a person, for example, is listening to him or her.  If a child interrupts an adult, or fails to listen to a teacher, the child may be told, ‘Show some respect.’  You would scarcely say that you respected a person if you showed no real concern for what they said, or, likewise, for their personal experiences.  So, to show real respect Catholics need to listen carefully to the experiences of gays and lesbians.”

In terms of  “compassion, ” he turns to Jesus as the model:

“To suffer with gays means to be with them, and to stand with them, in solidarity.  It means to be, and to be seen to be, on their side, battling “every sign of unjust discrimination.”  It means sticking up for them when others mock or belittle them.  It means reaching out in ways that might move us beyond our comfort zones.  It might mean finding ourselves mocked as a result.  It means aligning ourselves with them. That’s what Jesus did, after all.  Even more than that, it means showing the kind of love that Jesus shows for those on the margins—a special kind of love.”

And for “sensitivity,” he points out the skewed emphasis on sex that church leaders too often portray:

“Another area of sensitivity is the way that the church’s overall teaching on gays and lesbians (not just about activity but about individuals as well) is presented.  Or not presented.  Some Catholic leaders lead off with the “thou shalt nots” and never get to the “thou shalts.”  If all gays and lesbians hear about is the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage (to the exclusion of anything else about gays and lesbians), then it’s perhaps not surprising that many would report feeling rejected. . . . What a difference it would make if Catholic leaders could speak as often about the great contributions of gays and lesbians in the church, for example.  Or about treating gays with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’  Or if they raised their collective voices against gay suicide.”

I’ve only offered highlights here.  The entire posting is worth a thoughtful read. Too often, we only hear negative messages about LGBT people from church leaders and commentators.  It’s refreshing and uplifting to read something positive from one of Catholicism’s most respected writers and commentators.  Thank God for Fr. Martin!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry