Will US Bishops Stop Obsessing About Marriage At Last?

The National Catholic Reporter published an editorial last week firmly criticizing the American bishops’ ongoing involvement in the now terminal debate over same-gender marriage rights.

NCR‘s jumping off point is San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s recent appearance at the March for Marriage, which places the Church in league with anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage who have ties to international LGBT persecutions in places like Uganda and Russia. Of this, NCR writes:

“No amount of claiming the church’s love for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will disguise the reality of the company one has to keep in order to further the cause of opposing same-sex unions.”

Cordileone is given credit for affirming the Church’s commitment to upholding each person’s dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, but with a major caveat. NCR writes:

“Underlying the sincere declarations of love for all of the God’s children is the real nub of the issue, the language that stings no matter how one might try to disguise its harshness beneath theological nuance. The church has declared that people of homosexual orientation are objectively disordered. With that understanding, the church effectively tells the LGBT community that it must quarantine its sexual reality, its affections and its members’ love of one another in order to be welcome in its worship spaces and among its ministries.

“Perhaps that inherent contradiction — professing to uphold the dignity of all while simultaneously requiring some to block off an integral part of who they are in order to be a member of the community in good standing — is the reason the church is losing the battle in the courts and at the ballot box.

NCR notes the disparity between what the bishops have said–that same-gender marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, that children need a mother and father, that Catholic priests will be forced to perform weddings they disagree with–and the reality that all the aforementioned has proven to be false. In light of this disparity, NCR asks why the bishops are even fighting this issue.  The editorial concludes:

“It is mystifying, with so many social problems needing attention, to watch so much of the U.S. Catholic leadership obsessed with these sexual matters. The fact is that people of other than traditional sexual orientation no longer engage in self-sequester or quarantine. That age has passed, and it has little to do with willful disregard for church teaching and far more to do with a growing understanding of the complexity and diversity of humankind.”

Leaders like Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison and Archbishop Cordileone will still release bombastic statements against LGBT people. Bishops like Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland reflect more of Pope Francis’ call to be merciful, though he still opposes equal marriage rights.

Yet, not all Church leaders want to keep fighting it appears. Perhaps they have experienced the ‘reality check’ called for by Catholics a few weeks ago. The above instances of extremism are actually evidence of a new reality: opposing marriage equality is less a united effort by the American Church and more the cause of individual bishops obsessed with stopping LGBT rights. Brian Roewe summarizes the varied episcopal responses to marriage equality’s legalization, noting:

“In most states that have seen bans thrown out, bishops have issued joint statements through their policy arms, but not all have made comment of their own. New Mexico’s bishops issued a statement in December that counted fewer than 60 words; Texas’ 15 bishops issued a three-paragraph statement.”

These statements are hardly the prioritized and bombastic opposition to marriage equality once common for bishops, and they seem more in keeping with statements released by state conferences on a host of other legislative and judicial issues. Could it be that these bishops realize, as Pope Francis has insisted, that truly pressing issues of social justice, like immigration, demand their attention instead?

Sidelining the political and legal fight also means there is room to honestly address pastoral care and the strengthening of family life in a society which now embraces LGBT rights. Roewe ends his column quoting St. Louis University theology professor Julie Rubio, who says:

” ‘I think people are ready for a different conversation…’

“Where the bishops’ discussion of marriage so far has been almost exclusively in terms of fighting same-sex marriage, Rubio sees others arenas to turn the discussion: issues of single-parent families, divorce, broken families, and the needs of children.

“Turning the gaze away from federal courts and toward parishes and individual couples’ struggles offers another starting point for strengthening marriage.

” ‘Talk to married couples and talk to single parents, talk to younger people who are dating and thinking about marriage, and ask them what they need’.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is still dominated by men who seem determined to stop LGBT rights. There are others, however, who seem to understand Pope Francis’ admonition to stop ‘obsessing’ over same-gender marriage and build up the common good instead. Let’s hope this latter group’s voices are amplified more and more in the discourse over LGBT issues in the U.S. Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

One thought on “Will US Bishops Stop Obsessing About Marriage At Last?

  1. Friends July 8, 2014 / 12:19 am

    Quick and plausible explanation: “Sexually repressed Catholic priests and bishops = sexually obsessed Catholic priests and bishops”! That’s why they have everybody else’s private sexual activity on the brain! Abolish mandatory celibacy for Catholic clergy, and just watch how quickly a mainstream Christian approach to the normal activity of human sexual partnering will take hold within the Catholic Church.

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