I am a little late getting to the issue of the Irish vote last week to legalize same-sex marriages. There are many countries where same sex marriages are already legal, and of course a number of states in our own country take place by decision of the lower courts. Our own Supreme Court is taking up the question this year, I understand. What makes the Irish situation somewhat remarkable is that the decision was made by an electorate, and a predominantly Catholic one at that. This has led pundits of all sides of the question to speculate upon “what this means for the Catholic Church.”
This blog is intended for any interested Catholic reader, but in particular for catechists, teachers, parish ministers, or anyone who speaks for the Church. (I have always considered my content for the “Café” as falling under that umbrella, and naturally my own teaching for the diocese.) In a much broader sense I guess it is fair to say that every baptized and self-identifying Catholic has a responsibility to reflect the corpus of our teachings with accuracy and loyalty. It is also true that there is a right and a duty of Catholics to speak candidly and charitably (and within appropriate forums) about their difficulties with the moral teachings of the Church. Academic theology serves the Church best when it brings a breadth of biblical, historical, and interdisciplinary research to the Church understands of its teachings, again in an appropriate forum.
I have no idea whether your friends and neighbors, families, or those in your parish approach you—either personally or due to your responsibility in church ministry—to get your reaction to such matters as Catholic teaching on same sex marriage. One of teaching’s biggest landmines is being put on the spot by a “hot potato” question. Let’s say, for example, you are leading a Bible study group and someone brings up the Irish question and announces to the group that “Ireland is no longer a Catholic country.” Obviously you need to step in here, if for no other reasons than good catechetical ones.
My reaction here is to affirm what the Church actually teaches. Para. 2357 states that “basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” Note, however, that it is acts which are declared disordered. In a surprising admission, the same paragraph notes that the psychological genesis of homosexuality remains “largely unexplained.” Thus the entire weight of proof, as presented in the Catechism, falls to the Scriptures, and some rather marginal portions of the Good Book at that (Genesis 19: 1-29, which almost creaks under the weight of its own internal moral dilemmas.) The Gospels, by contrast, do not raise the subject.) Paragraph 2358 is in fact highly sympathetic to the sufferings of the homosexual, and 2359 simply reiterates, in a hopeful tone, that the law of chastity is a universal Christian application to all.
I went into some detail in the preceding paragraph for two reasons. First, you cannot not teach (I know-double negative) official Church teaching. To put it psychologically, this is a form of incongruence and it leads to burnout; within your diocese, it leads to a lot of administrative hassle. Your questioners already know the answers or they can find them on their Ipads; they are generally probing the depth of your own loyalty and in the process trying to determine whether they can remain faithful to the Church despite their own angers, doubts, sympathies and the like. As US Catholics are leaving the Church at the rate of a thousand per day, prevarication on the part of Church leaders and ministers is about the last thing we need. So, it is important that you yourself have made your peace—publicly at least—with your Church. Privately we all have our “confessional” inner doubts, as did most of the saints.
That said, I think we can continue to serve our people by sharing our own anguish, within appropriate boundaries and sensitivities. There are hardly any of us who do not have someone we love and know in a same-sex relationship, perhaps with a civil marriage license. I know—either personally or professionally—of the stress of individuals finding their way in the sexual mystery of their own lives, and I admit to my students (some of whom no doubt fall under this aegis) that we should be imaginative and zealous in finding theological and pastoral temporal solutions to their problems.
I am seeing in a number of Evangelical-based publications (including some Roman Catholic ones) a fear that the Irish vote represents one of the last straws in the decline and/or disappearance of Western Christian Civilization. The Catholic evangelical fear is that were the Church to accommodate in any way with the contemporary secular world (read: Post-Enlightenment world) she would lose her last great gift to mankind—certainty. The response to such fears is to note that not all the changes in society currently tend in an anti-humanitarian direction. I was surprised to see North Dakota outlaw the death penalty; even more so that “the end of the death penalty” is the cover story of Time Magazine this week. We have seen in very recent times growing social pressures against domestic violence and child abuse, business corruption, environmental problems, police brutality. This is not an age of unbridled evil, and there never was a golden age.
The Spirit of God is not futuristic, it is reflective. As a Franciscan Superior wrote many years ago, “test everything; retain what is good.” We labor hard each day to discern what is good, praying to God for an honest conscience.
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