Saturday, October 24, 2009

The U.S. Catholic Bishops teach Americans about sexual morality.

The U.S. bishop’s draft on Marriage published in the National Catholic Reporter condemns artificial birth control, same-sex marriage, cohabitation and divorce as a “challenge” to marriage. It describing two of these challenges to marriage -- cohabitation and contraception -- as intrinsically evil, a theological term reserved for nuclear weapons in Humanae Vitae. The paper condemns 1) artificial birth control, 2) same-sex marriage, 3) cohabitation and 4) divorce as challenges "directed to the very meaning and purposes of marriage." What is their stated motive? To teach both the church and wider culture the meaning of marriage "from the riches of our Catholic faith." Put another way, this is to re-establish the bishops as a (if not “the”) moral authority for American culture and society.

This reminds me of a childhood game “which of these things is not like the others?” Of the four items listed as “verboten” one stands out in contrast to the other three. Cohabitation, the use of artificial birth control and divorce are all widely accepted socially. If you were to conduct a referendum on the continued legality of any of these three, the electorate would overwhelmingly approve all three easily within the 90% range at the ballot box. Same sex marriage; however, is still highly contended in the mind of voters and that is the principle thrust of this “pastoral.”

Why then list the other three items? To give the illusion that the bishops are “even handed” and that the church is not “picking on” homosexual persons per se. Rather the bishops are looking at the “moral issues” surrounding marriage of which same sex marriage is “just” one. At this point, some may strenuously object to the bishops speaking about sexual morality at all! After all, these same men covered up the pedophilia abuse by countless priests and as their superiors seemed far more interested in the material wealth and public relations image of the Catholic Church than in the protection and well-being of pedophilia victims.

Yes, and that is precisely why this is such an excellent opportunity for the bishops and the Vatican. Same sex marriage is a highly divisive social issue since about half of the electorate is opposed to marriage equality for same sex couples. The Vatican is using the American Catholic Bishops as its mouthpiece in society and here they are claiming to address the broad question of moral issues affecting marriage. They know that even the majority of Catholics will universally ignore their statements on artificial birth control, cohabitation and divorce, however, their statement on same sex marriage will move to center stage.

Conveniently, this will redirect attention away from the pedophilia sex scandals. The religious far right, ultra conservative talk show jocks and far right media will focus on the Catholic Church’s “moral” statement on same sex marriage, since it coincides with and serves its own prejudices. The Catholic hierarchy will instantly have the sympathy and support of about half the electorate. Not bad, especially when you consider how they were viewed only a year ago. Remember all of the jokes at parties, in the movies and on T.V. shows?

In LGBT people and popular bigotry, they have an effective scapegoat for the “moral evils” plaguing marriage and society. Thereby they are able to refocus popular attention away from the pedophilia sex scandals in the Catholic Church and re-establish themselves as a moral authority. What if someone should bring up the inconvenient fact that most Catholic priests and bishops are gay and that this data has been published? Well, hypocrisy is the obsequious bow which vice pays to virtue. Besides, most people chose not to believe that embarrassing data.

10 comments:

BobinCT said...

I think the Bishops have lost so much of their credibility because of the sexual abuse scandals (plural) and financial misdeeds, I'm not so sure that even the majority of practicing Catholics take anything they say seriously anymore, I know they don't at my church. Last year here in CT, despite widespread lobbying by the Ct. Conf. of Catholic Bishops, a referendum calling for a Constitutional Convention to define marriage as being between one man and one woman was soundly defeated by a 2/3 majority. I think this latest "pronoucement" is a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, they're moving closer and closer to irrelevance.

SubtleKnife said...

I see it as an opportunity to say: "Look how behind the times these old farts are. Are you going to take advice from them on marriage equality when they're spouting such nonsense on other 'moral issues'? Issues on which they are being ignored more often than not by their own followers. Just think for yourself on all four of these issues."

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Neither the Pope or his friend Archbishop Rowan of Canterbury seem to be interested in commenting on the deadly, yes, as in murder, legislation against LGBT Catholics, Anglicans/others in UGANDA and NIGERIA! Truly these gentlemen are constantly missing the opportunity to encourage peace and love throughout the World...these men seem to encourage ¨difference¨ in the name of fear and hate as long as they don´t have to be embarrassed by Queer Folk at Church amongst the Priesthood and the Laity!

pellegrine said...

I know this is an old hackneyed cliche: but wouldn't it be wonderful if every gay person turned purple for a week? We'd see a lot more purple on the bishops (and priests) than just their robes. I do not understand how so-called Christians can be so full of self-loathing and animosity.

BobinCT said...

I agree with the last two comments. It also occurs to me that one of the reasons the Traditional Anglican Community is disaffected is because of the ordination of Gene Robinson who is gay. It seems to me that, with all the gay bishops and cardinals in the Catholic Church, for the TAC to seek refuge there is like going from the frying pan into the fire. They don't know this, of course, because neither Benedict nor Rowan Williams has been honest enough to tell them. They're essentially using TAC to further their respective agendae.

Mareczku said...

Since so many bishops and priests are gay, I wonder how much of what they preach they actually believe. Are they so afraid of the people that despise gays that they have to cater to them in this way. It upsets and confuses me to hear about this stuff. I suppose you have heard a lot in private about this, Father Geoff.

Sebastian said...

I don't believe that the issues of artificial birth control and divorce are included simply as a cover for the opposition to gay marriage. The bishops really oppose these too. But they are focusing politically on gay marriage because it is the one fight that they think they can win. This is BULLYING behavior, not principled opposition.

But it does open up a few lines of response. One, as noted earlier, is to point out to folks that if they spout the bishops line about gay marriage, they should also oppose divorce, artificial birth control, etc.

The second argument is to make people realize that if the bishops were to prevail on the gay marriage issue, they would be emboldened, and would then go to the next thing on their list. We have to draw the line here on their political power, since a win for them would just make them more powerful, and more rapacious for political intrigue.

VpO said...

Thank you for this post. I read about the latest pronouncement being discussed at their meeting next month but didn't know what they would get out of it. You provided a good explanation. The sad thing is this is one more issue that will drive people away from the church.

Ht. Tom said...

Great post, Geoff. I agree with you wholeheartedly. However, one silver lining in the pronouncement is that the bishops included same sex marriage in this list of things that are already fully accepted by most Catholics. Most Catholics don't give the church's condemnation of cohabitation, divorce and artificial contraception any moral weight, and by including same sex marriage in this list, the bishops have equated these four issues. In a way, they've signed their own authoritative death sentence. Now Catholics who cohabitate, use contraception, and/or divorce are on the same level with same sex couples. The bishops have given us all the fire power we need to become allies with these other groups. They are undermining their own authority, once again. But, that's what you get from a bunch of closeted, Roman-trained, interior turned hypocrites.

FDeF said...

With so many progressives leaving the church in droves or being put out by bishops, it is no wonder that the Church is becoming more entrenched in conservatism... Trying to lure in disaffected Anglicans/Episcopalians is just pathetic. I agree, irrelevant is what the Church is for me.

PS. Enjoy your posts but often can't read too much or too long because of the white on black.