Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When bishops play politics.


Maryland is on the verge of joining a growing list of states that grant same-sex couples the right to a Civil Marriage license. The three Catholic bishops who have ecclesial jurisdiction in Maryland have issued a statement against allowing same-sex couples that civil right, “We urge Maryland Catholics throughout the state to act at once to make your voices heard.”


Let us consider the arguments the bishops posit against same-sex Civil Marriage. They state, “We believe such a change would lead to the erosion of the family, our society's most valued and important social unit.” The rejoinder to this “belief” is the question, “How?” The bishops fail to explain how same-sex marriage will “erode” the family.


They go on to state, “The measure would dismantle our state's legal recognition of the true procreative nature of marriage,” again, how? Not all heterosexual marriages result in procreation. No post-menopausal woman could legally marry, if the bishop's argument was taken to its logical conclusion.


In Catholic theology, 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 that 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 can’t two people of the same gender?


The bishops go on to state, “As a result, the measure would jeopardize the religious freedom of all those who cannot in good conscience recognize marriages that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”


This statement is false. Maryland, like all the fifty states recognizes a couple’s legal right to obtain a divorce and then to remarry. Legal divorce and remarriage is against the teaching of the Catholic Church. Divorced and remarried couples are believed to be living in adulterous relationships by the very bishops who make this statement. The fact that there is legal divorce in all fifty states, with a right to a second, third, fourth, etc Civil Marriage, is not viewed as an attack on religious freedom by Catholic bishops. Why then, are Same-sex marriages singled out as an “attack on religious freedom” while divorce and remarriage (i.e. adulterous marriages) are not?


The Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, is a Catholic and has said that he will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk. House Speaker Michael Busch, also a Catholic, is planning to vote for the bill and Senate President Thomas Miller a Catholic, held off a filibuster that would have effectively killed the bill.


The issue here is not morality; but rather, power. The bishops are attempting to flex their political muscle and intimidate politicians. The problem for the bishops is that according to Gallup Poll, 62% of Catholics recognize same-sex relationships as morally valid. Then again, the overwhelming majority of Catholics have no problem with using artificial birth control, despite the bishop’s prohibition of such practices. One can only hope that these Catholics heed their bishop’s advice and make their voices heard on this issue “at once.” Although I think the bishops may not like what they hear.


It is time for the bishops to move away from a model of Church focused on political, economic and social power. When the Vatican pressured the Cardinal Archbishop of Lisbon, Portugal to oppose Same-sex Civil Marriage in that country, he answered that it was a matter of Civil Law and not Church Law.


This is the central point here. We live in a pluralistic society. Not everyone is required to share the same religious beliefs or, views. The Founders deliberately did not establish a State Religion for the United States of America. That does not endanger religious freedom it protects it.

11 comments:

Mareczku said...

Excellent comments here. I don't understand why some in the Church are pushing this so much. A lot of these bishops are homosexual men. To me it is embarrassing for them to go on the way they do, especially when they look down their noses at gay people.

Kelster said...

This is so completely true. I don't see why anyone should have a problem with same-sex marriage. They are just afraid of change and afraid of people who are different.
It's also good to show that not all religious people believe being homosexual is wrong. Many religious people believe that it is perfectly fine. I feel like people who adhere to a religion are stereotyped as being rigidly conservative, when that's often not true

matt said...

thanks for covering all the major points that refute the maryland bihsops' statement. few have laid them out so succinctly. i'm especially dissappointed in dc's cardinal wuerl as it's common knowledge that he's gay. bishop murphy of long island, who is also gay, did the same thing two years ago when he drafted a letter signed by all new york's bishops to pressure our state senators to vote down gay marriage. they did. when will our ordinaries rediscover their backbones? so many people would feel a heck of a lot better about being catholic if they showed themselves to be kinder and more sensible... if they showed more concern for their flocks than about how they're viewed in rome. for heaven's sake. what's happened to our once-kind church?

Tal said...

Great analysis. The problem is a church hierarchy that has come to value conformity and obedience over conscience, and that fails to draw a distinction between a Supreme Pontiff's personal demons and prejudices and the objective reality of the Church as the People of God. (Apparently, the collective power of the Holy Spirit working through the College of Cardinals and College of Bishops is sufficient to justify everything from the election of a pope to solemn promulgations of doctrine, but the Holy Spirit working through the People of God has no relevance--odd how that one way street works). The reality of how far the Church has drifted is readily evident in the fact that St. Anselm, a Doctor of the Church no less, would find his compassionate position on same sex relations significantly at odds with the extreme and irrational rhetoric of our modern day clerics. Quite a sad indictment, that a man who lived in the late 11th through early 12th centuries had a more evolved sensibility than the automata who presently parade about with the title of "bishop."

Paul_B said...

Wow. I am surprised that you miss the point of the procreative nature of marriage.

Marriage, and the marriage act, must be ordered towards procreation. There is no requirement that a pregnancy actually occur.

What does ordered toward procreation mean? It means that, if everything is working correctly, a pregnancy could result. It means that nothing is hindering the procreative act. An infertile couple still can have relations ordered toward procreation.

So, gay marriage, and whatever gay acts you want to talk about, are not ordered toward procreation at all, as all the pieces required that could result in pregnancy are not present.

Michael Dodd said...

One might wonder -- well, I wonder -- why the bishops can't fade into the background on this one, given the fact that they are so willing to ignore the divorce issue. For that matter, many other religious leaders who vehemently and vocally oppose equality for same sex marriage pay only lip service to the issue of divorce, if they even do that.

In Wisconsin, those who forced through a constitutional amendment in 2006 to prohibit same sex marriage (with the enthusiastic support of the Catholic hierarchy), said that they planned to turn their attention next to the scourge of divorce. Some five years later, they haven't done diddly. Wonder why? Yet they are fighting mad about our extremely weak and limited legal domestic partnership law and have obtained the promise of the now-notorious Republican governor and legislature to throw that out.

A co-worker who knows I am a former priest recently said, "You consider yourself a Christian, don't you?" I startled her by saying that lots of people don't consider me a Christian and I do not consider myself "one of them" either. A devout Methodist (raised Wisconsin Synod Lutheran) who firmly supports same sex marriage and other full rights for gays, she was shocked. But I will not lie about any of this any more to make people feel comfortable.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Paul,

As I read your words, I recalled a couple that were parishioners of mine in the late 1980’s. They had been married for many years and were unable to conceive. They very much wanted a child. They went to all sorts of medical experts and finally discovered that one of them was sterile. I sincerely doubt that your technical argument that they were physiologically “ordered towards procreation” would have constituted any consolation to that couple.

That particular story had a happy ending, the couple ended up adopting a child who they lavish with love. They are a family not because of biology, since they do not share the same DNA, but because of love.

As I read your words I remembered a passage from the Gospel according to Mark 7: 6-16. Like the story of the evil stepsister in Cinderella who cut her foot to fit the shoe, the mental gymnastics required to justify these absurd “theologies” might be amusing if it were not for the painful emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds they inflict on real people’s lives. May God move your heart to greater compassion.

Tal said...

Paul B, your argument fails because it neglects facts well known about what the Church considers sacramental marriage. The Church will recognize, therefore, the marriage between a 79 year old man and 81 year old woman. How is that "ordered towards procreation"? Further, the Church asserts as impediments to sacramental marriage the fact that one party may be unbaptized, or the status of the would-be couple as in-laws (i.e., not genetically related, but merely related due to the choice of one party's brother and the other party's sister to marry). How are these restrictions "ordered towards procreation"? The fact remains that the Church recognizes marriages that have no chance of ever producing children, while it refuses to recognize marriages that obviously will produce children (and without violating consanguinity) . Ultimately, procreation is far from the only purpose of marriage. But it is the only aspect that religious conservatives harp on because it is the only thing that a same sex couple can't do with each other (although procreative science may be able to crack even this nut). Such a narrow focus not only fails to accurately articulate the purposes and functions of marriage, but if taken to its logical extreme, would seem to validate the automatic dissolution of any marriage upon one partner becoming incapable of procreation. Of course that result is silly. But that is the danger of arguments contrived to support a conclusion, instead a conclusion that flows naturally from known facts and logically defensible assumptions.

Gary Kelly said...

Goodness me, JustinO! Where have you been hiding all these people?

JCinmeforever said...

Yeah Gary, I was thinking the same! Maybe this time Justin hit a passionate spot with some folks!

Smiles, JCinmeforever

Coop said...

This is Fabulous! :) Fr. Geoff you are right on. I saw this posted on Justin Dunes so I thought I'd come here "personally".

For me one of the most discouraging things about the Catholic church is the constant admonition to be unquestioningly obedient to the pope and bishops; even at the expense of our own conscience. I don't doubt the sincerity of their calling, but they are fallible people too.
I was a history major at a Benedictine college. I've read "Hitler's Pope" and "Galileo's Daughter"; so I know that men of the church can be also be distracted by power and authority.