Catholic responses to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions around marriage equality continue from politicians, pundits, and parishioners alike. Celebrations remain fervent, but much of the commentary now speculates about the future of the marriage equality struggle focused at the state level.
“Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church has already begun to soften their position on same-sex unions…for hope’s sake, let’s celebrate. As Catholics, we can and ought to celebrate committed relationships of love between persons. We can and ought to celebrate life-giving relationships of love, physically, emotionally and spiritually between two people. And in the words of Cardinal Christopher Schonborn, we ought to ‘respect long-term, committed relationships between people of the same gender.’ “
Scott Alessi at U.S. Catholic questions the bishops’ objections over the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 rulings as nonsensical given what was really at issue in the legal cases. When the bishops claim ‘the Court got it wrong,’ Alessi asks where exactly they erred:
“Though it is the bishops’ right, and even their duty, to proclaim the church’s teachings on marriage, religious beliefs cannot be the basis on which the Supreme Court makes a decision. In fact, the ‘truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman’ was not the question placed before the court at all.
“[United States v. Windsor] was a question of how the Constitution applies in a complex situation where the state and federal governments differ in their laws…that decision was reached without any consideration given to religious beliefs regarding marriage—just as the First Amendment’s establishment clause intended.”
Thomas Reese at the National Catholic Reporterpredicts a de-centralizing effect will take place as emphasis shifts from a national campaign headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the USCCB to state-level efforts directed by local bishops. Reese breaks down three paths he sees as possible for these leaders:
“Bishops in states that have legalized gay marriage may conclude that it is politically impossible to reverse the decision in their states and therefore admit defeat and move on.
“Bishops in red states where gay marriage is not legal may judge the fight worth making because with other allies, they have a good chance of maintaining the status quo.
“The tough call will be for bishops in blue states, where polls show growing support for gay marriage. Here they must choose between fighting gay marriage or negotiating exemptions for the church as a price for their silence. No bishop wants to talk publicly about this on the national level, but in the back rooms of state legislatures, this may be the best deal that the bishops can get.”
Notably, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Catholic, cited the rulings as evidence his state must pursue equal marriage rights again after a failed attempt this spring, as reported at BND.com:
” ‘Today the Supreme Court took a historic step by providing equal access to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits for same-sex couples. Members of the Illinois House now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois…’
” ‘The opportunity to guarantee equal rights and benefits to all citizens — under both state and federal law — is one we must seize here in the Land of Lincoln without delay. Now is the time for all to put differences aside, band together and redouble our efforts to make it happen.’ “
The Supreme Court’s decisions are victories rightfully celebrated, but the state level struggles are just beginning as only 13 US states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out for Catholics, and Bondings 2.0 will update our readers with all the latest in these ongoing campaigns for legal LGBT equality.
This week began with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s statement of pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people, and the commentary and analysis of his remarks still hasn’t stopped. I imagine that the cardinal did not realize that his comment would cause such a discussion, but it is good for the church that this conversation is taking place.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote a Huffington Post essay in which she expressed surprise that people were stunned by Dolan’s positive gesture. Walsh explained that the Catholic Church has always welcomed gay and lesbian people:
“To reiterate Cardinal Dolan’s point: Gays are welcome in the church. So are divorced people. Heck, even in the rare instances that people are excommunicated, they’re still expected at Sunday Mass. Although some sects ban you from the property for violating their rules, the Catholic Church still wants you in the pew.”
But Sister Walsh’s comments illustrate the problem.Many people know that the Catholic Church officially welcomes everyone, yet a good number of people, especially gay and lesbian people, have not experienced that welcome. One of the ways that welcome has been muted is by harsh rhetoric from Catholic hierarchical leaders, like Cardinal Dolan and the USCCB. Is Sister Walsh aware that people have heard many negative messages from the bishops? Is she aware that her final sentence in the quotation above is not a welcoming one?
David Gibson, an author on Catholic topics who writes for Religion News Service, points out more specific examples of how the bishops have not communicated a welcome:
“Other church leaders used especially harsh language to describe gays and lesbians, and some barred children from attending Catholic schools because their parents are gay. Many also equated support for civil marriage for gays with support for abortion, an action that is grounds for automatic excommunication.”
Gibson points to two reasons why Cardinal Dolan may have made his message when he did: 1) a change in leadership style toward a more pastoral approach, exemplified by Pope Francis; 2) the shift occurring in public opinion towards greater acceptance of marriage equality.
Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, and the leader of last summer’s popular “Nuns on the Bus” tour, also looks at the example of Pope Francis as a sign of hope for a shift in leadership and rhetoric from other church hierarchs. In aWashington Post “On Faith” essay, she wrote:
“My deepest hope is that he [Pope Francis] will lead our church in embracing all people who feel they have been marginalized or cast out because of stridency and cruelty they have encountered in our church. Too often we have been a hurtful structure rather than a caring community. Members of LGBT communities have been particularly harmed, and that is wrong.
“The Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus teaching us to reach out to and welcome those who have been marginalized by others. Jesus reached out to the lepers, healed the Roman occupier’s son, asked the Samaritan woman for help, and prevented the woman taken in adultery from being stoned by judgmental men. Pope Francis seems to understand this better than many, and we now have examples of people like Cardinal Dolan making some progress in following Christ’s example.”
Sister Campbell points to Cardinal Dolan’s words in his Easter homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as yet another sign of expectant change. Dolan said:
Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs on “Church and State” issues for BustedHalo.com, a website for young adult Catholics, agrees with Gibson that the change in style may be due to the shift in public opinion on marriage equality, particularly among young people:
Recognizing perhaps that the Church is losing its young members on the issue of same-sex marriage, and perhaps understanding that the battle may be lost entirely, some leaders are beginning to soften their tone. Remember, there’s two parts to the teaching in the catechism: homosexual acts are immoral, we’re told, but all gay people must be treated with respect and dignity. Perhaps the Church is beginning a campaign to emphasize the latter after so many years of touting the former?
O’Loughlin also seems to agree with New Ways Ministry’s suggestion in its initial statement on Cardinal Dolan’s comments that dialogue with LGBT Catholics is the important next step New York’s archbishop:
“As Pope Francis continues to demonstrate so powerfully, symbolism matters. So imagine the powerful image of a senior Catholic prelate sitting down to share a meal with a gay couple and engaging in friendly dialogue about how the Church might make their family feel more welcome in parish life. There’d be no implicit approval of same-sex marriage or conversation about moral theology. Instead, just a pastor and two faithful Catholics exploring ways to live out radical hospitality. Though it seems obvious at first glance, engaging gay and lesbian Catholics in dialogue about their experiences would be a radical shift in how the Church approaches these issues.”
Indeed, DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics and allies, has called upon Dolan to dialogue with its members and leadership. In an open letter to Cardinal Dolan this week, Dignity’s leadership stated:
“We sincerely hope and pray that your recent comments mark the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the Bishops and LGBT Catholics, as well as the majority of U.S. Catholics who have shown themselves to be increasingly supportive of LGBT people. To that end, we feel it is important to set a definite date to resume a dialogue that has been suspended for far too long. We suggest a meeting before Pentecost, or at the earliest possible date, in either New York City or Washington, D.C. If you would let us know your availability, we will make every effort to arrange our schedules to accommodate yours.”
Finally, just a quick note about reactions to New Ways Ministry’s characterization of Cardinal Dolan’s comments as “an Easter miracle.” Earlier this week, John Corvino, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, and author of several works on LGBT issues, took exception to this characterization by stating in a Huffington Post essay:
“I give the man credit for taking a more positive and welcoming tone, and sincerely hope that his fellow Christians take note. At the same time, it’s a sign of how low the bar is set when comments like Dolan’s inspire such interest and excitement. For example, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the gay Catholic group New Ways Ministry, called Dolan’s remarks ‘nothing short of an Easter miracle.’ ”
“Really? Rising from the dead is an Easter miracle. Marshmallow Peeps are an Easter miracle. (You can put them in your pantry for a decade, and they won’t decay. It’s true.) But a Christian leader saying ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t attack gay people’? That’s just common decency, not to mention good strategy — especially in a world where a majority of American Catholics support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.”
I mention this statement because several blog readers argued along similar lines in the “Comments” section of the original post on Easter Sunday. Was Dolan sincere? Were his comments too little, too late? Does Dolan’s continued opposition to marriage equality cancel out his outreach?
I appreciate where all of these people are coming from, yet I still see Dolan’s statement as a hopeful sign. For one, it is a major shift that he has said anything positive to lesbian and gay people, whatever his motivation. This is new. Will it be the beginning of a new era of openness? Time will tell. But whatever happens, it will be very difficult for Dolan and other bishops not to make positive statements in the future.
Secondly, the quotation about “Easter miracle” was taken out of context and isolated as a single statement, thus allowing it to be interpreted in a variety of ways. Here’s what the original statement said:
“This is the first time that the cardinal has made such a positive statement about God’s love for lesbian and gay people. Such a statement is a refreshing change from the usual harsh rhetoric that the church hierarchy uses when discussing LGBT issues. It is a significant sign of welcome and outreach. Cardinal Dolan’s statement is nothing short of an Easter miracle.
“Cardinal Dolan now has to back up these words with actions. Later in the interview he said that church leaders ‘gotta listen to people,’ referring to lesbian and gay persons. If Dolan meant what he said, he should open a dialogue with lesbian and gay people, especially Catholics, to learn more about their pain and struggle , but also about their joy and faith. New Ways Ministry stands ready to help Dolan identify people with whom he can begin to dialogue.”
An Easter miracle? Yes, but it has to be backed up by actions. Are Dolan’s words “baby steps,” as Corvino characterizes them? I don’t think so. I think they signal a shift, which even if it is only “window dressing” could have a major impact on how Catholicism approaches LGBT issues. If bishops begin speaking positively, even if only as a style change, it can affect the way that many traditional Catholics speak and think about these issues. And when thought changes, eventually policy changes, too.
In Connecticut, the LGBT Coalition at Yale Divinity School commenced a petition drive calling on Christian religious leadership worldwide to speak publicly against the legislation. The group’s statement addresses Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York among other religious leaders, and reads, in part:
“We urge you to call on your Ugandan counterparts to resist coopting Christian language in support of such a hateful cause. Claiming defense of religious values can never be an adequate justification for the degradation of human life. As we all know, faith in a loving God is wholly inconsistent with support for such cruel and malicious policies…
“Regardless of your place on the spectrum of theological opinion regarding homosexuality, please reject the unconscionable measures proposed in this bill which are antithetical to any conception of Christian morality.”
Alumni of the University of Notre Dame are similarly asking that institution’s administration to condemn the Ugandan bill with their own petition drive. The sponsors cite the University’s deep relationship with Uganda through study abroad programs and commitment to act justly with partner nations when engaging in educational initiatives.
Others, including several students interviewed by campus newspaper, The Observer, speak to the Catholic identity of the University as a driving impetus. Katie Day, class of 2009 and participant in a research project in Uganda, claims she’s “mystified” by the silence of Catholics and especially the praise of Uganda’s Catholic bishops for the bill. She told The Observer:
“‘As the universal Church, Catholic leaders elsewhere in the world need to let the Ugandan Catholic Church know this bill is completely contradictory to our faith’s core beliefs,’ she said. ‘I cannot think of anything more dehumanizing and degrading than this bill.’
“Day said Notre Dame’s mission statement pledges that the University looks to nurture in its students, ‘a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.’
“‘As the students and alumni of Notre Dame stand up to the injustice of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we are fulfilling this part of Notre Dame’s mission,’ Day said.”
If you would like to sign either petition, Bondings 2.0 provides links below, as well as our previous coverage on Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.
Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic justice organizations, has called on the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, to publicly disassociate themselves and their organizations from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).
The group wrote to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson after documents unsealed in a court case in Maine revealed that in opposing marriage equality NOM sought to “drive a wedge” between the black and LGBT communities and the Latino and LGBT communities.
“Fostering hostility and hatred is something that violates the very fundamentals of our faith,” the group wrote to Dolan. “Our Church stands for unity among all, regardless of race or ethnicity. We should be promoting understanding, love and the inherent dignity of all people.”
The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has worked closely with NOM in opposing marriage equality in a number of states, including the current campaign to reverse same-gender marriage legislation in the state of Washington. The Knights of Columbus donated more than $1.9 million to NOM between 2008 and 2009 alone, according to the group’s annual reports. You can read the entire text of the letter to Dolan here.
In their letter to Anderson, the group said: “We believe that if all of the faithful Knights around the country knew that their leaders have spent millions of dollars fighting marriage equality, rather than spending it on the social programs that the faithful Knights expect, they would be outraged.” You can read the entire text of the letter to Anderson here.
The strategy memo was among a number of documents unsealed last week by a federal judge. It revealed that in addition to turning ethnic communities against he LGBT community, NOM also sought to find children willing to speak out against their LGBT parents.
Equally Blessed is also asking supporters to use the “CatholicNoToNOM” graphic (above) as their profile picture on Facebook pages and to use the “#CatholicNoToNOM” hashtag on Twitter.
“A strategy that deliberately tries to divide families is shameful,” said Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogués, president of Dignity USA. “Being a lesbian makes me no less Cuban that I was before I came out, no less Catholic, no less a part of my family. Latino families want what is best for each of their members and know that anything that oppresses one of us oppresses all of us.”
In addition to calling upon Dolan and Anderson to publicly disassociate themselves and their organizations from NOM, Equally Blessed is also launching a social media campaign: #CatholicNoToNOM to raise awareness of the NOM’s tactics.
“We hear frequently that marriage equality would be detrimental to the family,” said Casey Lopata, co-founder of Fortunate Families. “But it is the National Organization for Marriage that is seeking to tear families apart.”