Friday, February 26, 2010

Bishops take 'strong exception' to marriage ruling

The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland’s Catholic bishops are taking “strong exception” to the ruling Wednesday by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler that the state may recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. In a joint statement, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Del., said the following:

We take strong exception to Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler’s opinion that the state may recognize same-sex “marriages” performed in other jurisdictions. We trust our legislature and the people of Maryland will also object, and will act accordingly to counteract this opinion.

The General Assembly has repeatedly and explicitly upheld Maryland’s definition of marriage “between a man and a woman” even as certain limited benefits have been extended to same-sex couples. The opinion correctly notes that federal law does not require Maryland to recognize such marriages. We see a strong possibility that legal avenues to circumvent the legitimate legislative process on a serious public policy issue could be opened. Allowing the decisions of out-of-state jurisdictions or courts to dictate public policy in Maryland undermines the proper role of the legislature and the citizens they represent.

Most importantly, the opinion chips away at our society’s foundational institution. The equality of men and women and the dignity of their coming together as husband and wife is not merely a fact of religious faith or an institution established by civil authorities, but a fundamental reality rooted in our human nature and experience. Civil marriage is not simply a union of two people who love and are committed to each other. Marriage is invariably reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of their unique ability to bring children into the world, thus forming a stable and secure foundation for our society.

We respect the dignity of homosexual persons and roundly reject all unjust discrimination against them. Nonetheless, the clear words of Maryland’s marriage statute – “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State” – reflect the convictions of Maryland’s citizens and their legislators. This definition has been reaffirmed in recent acts of the General Assembly. The attorney general’s opinion demonstrates a fundamental disregard for the nature and purpose of marriage and its impact on society, as well as for the expressed will of the legislature and previous attorney general opinions. We urge lawmakers, the governor, and the courts to uphold the definition of marriage through all appropriate means.

Lets take a closer look at some of their arguments. They claim “Marriage is reserved to the union of one man and one bring children into the world,” i.e. reproduce. If marriage is to be reserved ONLY to those who may reproduce, then the Catholic hierarchy needs to immediately change its own laws and practices. Actually, there are TWO ends to marriage: 1) Unitive and 2) Procreative. The unitive end of marriage is simply a union of love and life. The Procreative end is, of course, to create new life. It is important to understand that the unitive end of marriage is sufficient for a valid marriage. The Church sanctions, and considers a sacrament, the marriage of elderly heterosexual couples who are biologically incapable of reproduction. So, if two people of different genders who are incapable of reproduction can enter into a valid marriage, then why is it that two people of the same gender, who are incapable of reproduction, cannot enter into a valid marriage?

If the biological ability to physically reproduce is to be required for ALL couples who wish to marry, then no post menopausal woman would be able to marry in the Catholic Church. Additionally, this would raise the question of the “morality” of sexual acts between a married male and female after the female became biologically infertile. You would also need to add to this list of people incapable of marriage, or the marriage act (sex), infertile males. Since, according to the bishops, marriage is “reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of their unique ability to bring children into the world.”

A verbal slight of hand is also employed by the bishops “We respect the dignity of homosexual persons and roundly reject all unjust discrimination against them.” Re-read their very carefully chosen phrase “UNJUST discrimination.” They imply that there exist “JUST discrimination” against people with same sex orientation. What might be some examples of the bishop’s “JUST” discrimination? The immediate form of discrimination which they both advocate and actively use their special rights to sway voters to support, is to strip same sex people of their right to a CIVIL LAW marriage.

In effect, the bishops are asking gay and lesbian people to live their lives alone. Why? Who does this benefit? How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives? What is accomplished by this? Worse still, is to intimidate a gay or lesbian person into a heterosexual marriage, which is doomed from its inception, and makes two victims instead of one by this hurtful “theology.” This “theology,” which is parroted by clerics in polished tones from pulpits, produces the very prejudice and hatred in our society that they claim to abhor.

The statement made by the bishop reaffirms the feelings of exclusion and alienation that are suffered by individuals and their loved ones who have left the Church over this very issue. Imagine what hearing such damaging words does to an adolescent who has just discovered that he/she is gay/lesbian? What is the hierarchy saying to him/her? What are they demanding from that individual? What would it have meant to you personally to be told that you could never date? Never fall in love, never kiss or hold hands with another person? Never be able to marry? How would you view yourself? How would others hearing those same words be directed to view you? How would you view your life and your future?

The bishops with careful premeditation state: “We respect the dignity of homosexual persons and roundly reject all unjust discrimination against them.”

Imagine if they said that of ANY other minority group in our society! Imagine the outrage that would be expressed by African Americans, Latinos, the JDL, etc, if the bishops said that of any of those groups could be the target of “JUST discrimination.” Imagine the media reaction and yet, the bishops can say this blithely of people with same sex orientation, because their still exists legally sanctioned bigotry against this minority. The bishops should be ashamed of their bigotry, especially since they claim to speak in the name of God.

In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” Of course, that statement was made under Pope Paul VI, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have/are backpedaling furiously on that statement. But, since the “Church” (pope/bishops) can never admit a mistake, they simply ignore “inconvenient” statements or, “reinterpret” them away.

The bishops also carefully state: “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State” – reflect the convictions of Maryland’s citizens and their legislators. This definition has been reaffirmed in recent acts of the General Assembly. The idea behind which the bishops are hiding their bigotry is that the “voters” want to exclude same sex couples from civil law marriages. California Supreme Court Justice Moreno explains why this is a basically flawed line of argument. In his view, the issue of marriage equality involves “the core of the constitutional guarantee of equal treatment,” and thus was not properly the subject of a voter initiative under the California state constitution.

Essentially, the Equal Protection Clause of our National Constitution trumps the majority from stripping any minority group of their rights. This is precisely the role of the justice department and of our Courts. Imagine if civil rights for African Americans had to be “voted in” in the 1960’s. Segregation, employment discrimination, laws forbidding interracial marriage, would all still exist in many places in our country today.

Perhaps the bishops would appreciate the role of the Court in protecting minority rights if we were suddenly to “vote” on tax-exempt status for the Catholic Church. I wonder how people in Utah, Alabama, South Carolina, etc would vote?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

LMU and Catholics for Equality

I apologize for this past period of silence; however, I have been very busy lately. I have been occupied with an exciting new project, but more on that later. Last evening I had the privilege of speaking at Loyola Marymount here in Los Angeles. I was invited to speak on the First Amendment and how it applied in my situation with the Catholic hierarchy and Prop 8.

I began by speaking of my “back-story” with the First Amendment. My maternal grandfather was a Sephardic Jew. He stowed away on a ship from Spain to Cuba at the beginning of the last century. Half way across the Atlantic Ocean he was discovered by the crew of the ship. They were going to take him back to Spain to face imprisonment for stowing away. Fortunately, there was a passenger on the ship who knew my grandfather’s family and they paid for his passage. When the ship docked in Havana my grandfather found a job working at a dry cleaning establishment. Eventually, he ended up owning the dry cleaning shop.

Several decades later the Communists came to power in Cuba and declared a policy of state atheism. Up until this point my grandfather had never been an observant Jew, but now he began attending synagogue services. He got into a heated discussion with the state authorities over this matter. He said to them: “This is why we left Europe!” For such a response, he was taken to the police station and beaten up. He was sixty-five years old and suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of his beating. My own parents were political liberal in Cuba and opposed to the dictatorship of Batista. They wanted a democratically elected government in which there was legal due process.

I recall coming home one day from school and walking into the kitchen. My mother was busy preparing dinner. I asked her “Mom, why am I the only kid in the forth grade who doesn’t have grandparents?” I remember vividly mom setting down the knife and carrots and sitting me down at the kitchen table. Honey, she said, you do have grandparents, but your father and I left everyone and everything behind in Cuba so that you and your brother could be free.

Decades later my bishop compared the No on Prop 8 people to Nazis, Stalinist Russians and Maoist who would brainwash children. The bishop also asked pastors to promote parishioners to vote “yes” on Prop 8. I simply could not “go along to get along.” Like most priests I simply decided to be silent on the matter; however, that changed for me when I was asked at a staff meeting by parishioners to make a statement of clarification. The university community, which I served, was very progressive and many of them were both offended and confused by the bishop’s statement. Additionally, as someone engaged in pastoral service I knew first hand the painful stories and the real human cost of bigotry. In conscience, I could not become an instrument and an accomplice to such bigotry.

A priest who served on last evening’s panel pointed out that I had made a promise of obedience to the bishop and his successors. He suggested that I should not have spoken out against the bishop on this matter and that I should have simply waited for history to correct things. Here, I must respectfully and forcefully disagree with my brother priest. Thomas Aquinas pointedly stated that we must follow our conscience “even if it means excommunication,” because it is our conscience which will defend or accuse us at the end of life. For me not to have given guidance to those entrusted to my care, especially when they specifically requested such guidance would have been for me to fail them. For me to say something to them that I believed to be wrong and hurtful would have been for me to fail God and my community. To wait for history to correct things is essentially to wait for someone else to correct injustice and worse, it is to become an accomplice to that injustice. I think God expects more of us than that, I think the victims of injustice certainly do.

Are the Catholic bishops protected by the First Amendment to say whatever they wish? Yes. Religious leaders should be able to teach moral principles, form values and hopefully empower their congregants to be able to make autonomous personal moral decisions. It is quite another thing; however, to dictate to congregants “vote yes on Prop 8.” What happened in Maine was even more egregious, there the bishop required priests to give a series of sermons directing parishioners specifically how to vote on Question 1.

This goes far beyond First Amendment protections of free speech. This is a “Church” which is operating as a PAC (political action committee) while enjoying non-profit tax exemption. I was a toddler when John F. Kennedy had to explain on national television that if he were elected President that the Pope would not run the United States. Today another Kennedy is being threatened by his bishop with excommunication if he doesn’t vote in certain ways in the US Congress. The implications of the Catholic hierarchy’s misbehavior in these matters are far reaching. They would do well to take a lesson from the Cardinal Patriarch of the Church in Portugal. The government there was considering legislation that would make legal same sex marriage. The Vatican put pressure on the Cardinal to use his influence to affect civil legislation. The Cardinal did not, citing that it was a matter of civil law.

The reality is that the United States of America is a secular nation and that its population is diverse. We are a pluralistic society. Our civil society works because we respect other people’s right to think, act and believe differently than ourselves. If the hierarchy of the Catholic Church wishes to offer a contrarian view, I defend their freedom of speech. They do not however speak for all Catholics, or even for a majority of Catholics on a host of issues. In theology this is called the “sensus fidei” it means “the instinctive sensitivity and power of discernment that the members of the church collectively possess in matters of faith and morals.”

This is what I have been busy with and the reason for my silence these past several weeks. I was in Washington DC attending meetings with representatives of various Catholic organizations and theologians who are organizing into a voice for the laity, clergy and religious of our Church. Catholics for Equality will be an organization that will give a public voice to the vast members of our Church who do not share all of the bishop’s political or theological positions.