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Gay Marriage: The Fallacy of the “Catholic” Argument Against.

Writing in El Paso Times, Texan priest Fr Michael Rodriguez has launched an impassioned diatribe against all forms of legal recognition for same sex union. His ranting could easily be dismissed as the lunatic fringe, but as so many Catholic catechismophiles share his ridiculous claims and assumptions, I think it is worth responding in full. This is his key assertion:

Remember: Every single Catholic, out of fidelity to charity and truth, has the absolute duty to oppose (1) the murder of unborn babies, and (2) any and all government attempts to legalize homosexual unions.”

Sergius & Bacchus: Lovers, Martyrs, & symbol of Christian Same sex Unions

Not content to invent a supposed moral obligation to oppose all forms of union, he goes even further:

“Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”

Furthermore, a Catholic would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda, which thrives on deception and conceals its wicked horns under the guises of “equal rights,” “tolerance,” “who am I to judge?,” etc.

What has he been smoking? He claims to base his words on a pastoral letter of the US bishops, which says, in part:

“It is not unjust to oppose legal recognition of same-sex unions, because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.”

Now I disagree with the bishops’ stance, but it as least an understandable, coherent position. It’s a big leap, though, to go from “it is not unjust to oppose…”, to saying that there exists an “absolute duty to oppose …“

He attempts to soften his position by stating

I urge all of the Catholic faithful to treat homosexuals with love, understanding, and respect.

In doing so, I fear that by his own standards, he damns himself. He has already insisted that a Catholic “would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda”. I have never been clear precisely what this notorious “agenda” comprises, but as one who actively promotes it, I am certain that a central part of it is precisely a demand to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. By urging this part of it, Fr Rodriguez is himself promoting a key component of our “agenda”, and by his own standards is thus committing a “grievous mortal sin”.

By his standards, he also condemns not just himself, but the majority of US and European lay Catholics, and also a significant proportion of the clergy and some bishops. How so? He claims that Catholics have an obligation to actively oppose the homosexual agenda. But numerous (US) research surveys have shown that a narrow majority of Catholics approve of same sex marriage and gay adoption, while more substantial  majorities approve some form of legal recognition, and do not see same sex relationships as being morally wrong. Among the clergy, some individual priests and groups of priests have publicly supported gay marriage, and many more privately support either marriage or civil unions. In Portugal, when the legal process that led to marriage equality first began, the country’s bishops attempted to prevent its introduction by asking for the provision of civil unions instead. As civil unions are one form of legal recognition which the bishops were actively promoting, where they too guilty of the “grievous sin” Rodriguez describes?

In April this year, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, suggested that it is time for the church to reconsider its emphasis on “homosexual acts”, and instead consider the quality of the relationships. Since then three other bishops have said much the same thing. Are they too, condemned, for their “grievous sin”?

So, it would seem that Fr Rodriguez has taken it upon his own authority to condemn a huge proportion of the Catholic church for the grievous sin” of not actively opposing the homosexual agenda. Just what is he condemning us to? Read carefully, once again:

Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”

He cannot be serious. This sounds like the same automatic excommunication recently invoked by the Bishop of Phoenix, and by the Vatican, in the cases of abortion and the “attempts” to ordain women. Is he really taking it on himself to proclaim the automatic excommunication  of half the church, and more?

Let’s be clear on this: It is certainly the collective desire of the the Catholic bishops that we should oppose same sex unions, but it is by no means a moral obligation to do so. Nowhere in orthodox Catholic teaching is there anything that says there is any moral obligation to do everything the bishops urge, and there most certainly is not anything in the Catechism, in the creed, or in our baptismal vows that imposes such a supposed obligation.

On the contrary, one obligation that is stated very clearly in the teaching of the Church, is the obligation to follow one’s conscience. This was stated very clearly by one Fr Joseph Ratzinger, who insisted that conscience must take priority even over the demands of the pope.

When approaching gay marriage from the prism of sexual ethics, many people may well find that the dictates of conscience may lead them to oppose it. But sexual ethics are not the only, or even the most important, dimension of Church teaching. Many Catholics believe that teaching on social justice, and reaching out to the poor and the marginalized, is more important. Approaching marriage equality from the prism of social justice, many Catholics have been led by conscience to conclude that they must support it. This was certainly the case with some of the Argentinean senators who supported their family equality bill, and with “Catholics for Marriage equality in the US”.

So, in focussing exclusively on the approach from sexual ethics, Rodriguez is ignoring a huge chunk of orthodox catholic teaching – on the primacy of conscience, and on social justice. He is also ignoring the evidence of history.

By insisting on the spurious claim of an obligation to oppose all forms of legal recognition, he is including civil unions – but civil unions are just that, legal contracts to provide some protections to the partners in a relationship. They are not about sexual relationships – partners wanting a sexual relationship can (and do) have one without requiring a contract to authorize it. And liturgical recognition of same sex unions has a long tradition in the church, as amply demonstrated by both John Boswell and Alan Bray . To this day, there are echoes of these same –sex unions in the modern Mass, with the paired names of Felicity and Perpetua, Phillip and Bartholomew incorporated into the Eucharistic prayer – just as they were listed in the liturgies for same sex unions. (No, these were not “comparable” to modern marriage – but nor are modern civil unions, and nor were the the early heterosexual marriages comparable to modern marriage.) To the cynics who insist that in practice, civil unions are about sex, I reply that they need not be. In the early church, many saintly married couples committed themselves to voluntary virginity, even within marriage. In the nineteenth century, Cardinal John Newman, who will be beatified next month, was famed for the intensity of his (celibate) love for his dear friend Ambrose St John, even to the extent of insisting on being buried with him in a shared grave “for all eternity”. For any Catholic of homosexual orientation wishing to live strictly within orthodox teaching, which clearly states that the homosexual “condition” is not sinful, this celibate emotional bond might well make a fitting model of emotional friendship. If two such people chose to share their lives together, in chastity, is it in any way conceivable that there is a “moral obligation” to oppose legal protection for their relationship?

Finally, Rodriguez even ignores  the evidence of the Gospels.

By His own words and actions, Jesus Christ clearly showed that He did not reject people in homosexual relationships. He demonstrated this by agreeing to heal the Roman centurion’s “servant” (“paidion”), in a context that would have strongly suggested a sexual relationship. This too, has an echo in the modern Mass – the prayer shortly before communion, “Lord, I am not worthy  to receive you….” is a close variant of the centurion’s reply when Jesus started off for his house “Lord.I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”.

There is additional echo of gay unions in the Mass. Taken as a whole, theologian Gerard Loughlin has shown how it is an echo of the wedding at Cana, a wedding which in Catholic theology, is taken symbolically to represent Christ’s own wedding to his (male) disciples, and to the Church as a whole – including the men. There is even a tradition that the couple getting married were Jesus and His beloved disciple, John.

With three distinct echoes of gay relationships or unions, the Mass itself, the centrepiece of Catholic practice can be seen as promoting the “gay agenda” – or that part of it which seeks inclusion in Church.

Will Fr Rodriguez now cease celebrating the Mass?

6 Responses

  1. isn’t bearing false witness a mortal sin?
    Call me naive or even oblivious-but if his Bishop reads this…shouldn’t he be called on to correct this outright disinformation?

    I am just speechless that such lies can be published with impunity…maybe I am more gullible than I ever thought…thinking that when a priest crossed a certain line he would be called out on it.

    I am not Catholic, but I know a little bit about Catholic teaching and dogma…I think I would have picked up on this in my studies somewhere…but my first inclination…is …this is outright lying and heresy.

  2. Terence,

    What evidence do you have that, “… so many catechismophiles share his ridiculous claims and assumptions.”?

    Even if there are a significant number of “catechismophiles” who may share this priest’s views, I think it would be fair to say that these views are not supported by the actual language nor the context of the Catechism.

    The social action that is mandated by the Catechism is that there be no “unjust discrimination” against persons who have a homosexual orientation. That language begs the question of what is a “just” discrimination. Regardless of one’s approach, the Catechism also sets forth the primacy of conscience in the decision-making of just and unjust.

    Would it be just to abandon all attempts at legally defining “marriage”? That seems fair to everyone. No one could claim discrimination if no one could be married.

    Is it just to exclude man/man and woman/woman relationships from marriage? I don’t think so under most legal definitions of marriage. I think a solid argument could be made that the Catechism supports such a position.

    However, by the same measure any law that discriminates by excluding bigamists and close family members is also unfair. If all that is required is that parties by of sufficient capacity to contract, then any number of people should be allowed to contract for marriage regardless of sexual preference and religious affiliation.

    I am convinced, to a reasonable certainty, that the vast majority of Catholics make no distinction, nor have any inclination to make a distinction between the secular institution of marriage and the sacramental bonds of marriage within the Church. Further, amongst those who can make the distinction, it appears to me that there is often an attempt, on both sides, to deliberately conflate the two definitions to achieve the desired outcome in either politics or theology.

    I truly appreciate your ability to make the distinction, your willingness to not conflate the distinctions, and your courage to call to task the catechismophiles to task. I would be very interested to hear your views on whether the Church should make provisions for some kind of same-sex “sacramental union, the scope and breath of such a union, and what would be the obligations and duties of such a union (particularly if that kind of union could fit within the parameters of the current Catechism).

  3. David, once again you raise many points which deserve responses – not of of which can be dealt with briefly.

    To start with the simplest:
    My evidence for saying that these comments reflect the views of “many catechismophiles” is simple observation of the comment threads of numerous Catholic publications at any mention of homosexuality. See for example, the hysteria in California Catholic Daily and the Catholic Herald recently after reports on the gay Masses on San Francisco and Soho, London.

    I fully accept your statement that the position of the catechism itself is softer and more nuanced. – I pointed out myself that reading the Catechism as a whole forces on to consider not only sexual ethics in isolation, but also matters of dignity. justice, and conscience. My concern (in this post) was not with the Catechism or formal Vatican doctrine itself, but with those like Fr Rodriguez who cherry pick single clauses and then make huge leaps of logic to demand that people fall obediently into line with the ferocity of his own views.

    On your broader questions around marriage itself, I can accept a view that considerations of children could merit a special place in church for sacramental treatment of marriage. However, the word “marriage” has already been redefined by the state in using it to recognise the legal contract of civil marriage. If the word is acceptable for civil marriage between a man and a woman, including serial polygamy, and marriages with no intention of raising children, then it should also be extended to comparable legal contracts between same sex couples.

    Conversely, if the word is to be reserved as recognising a sacramental union aimed at procreation, then it should be removed entirely from the civil sphere. Let the Churches regulate “marriage” as they will, and leave the state to conduct only civil unions – for wither same sex or opposite sex couples.

    On the desirability of church blessing or recognition of same sex unions, under whatever name, there should not need to be a case – it was part of liturgical practice for centuries. Nevertheless, the case does need to be put for the modern context. As this cannot be done briefly, I shall tackle it in an independent, extended post later today.

    • Terence,

      It would seem that there are a number of possible responses to someone like Fr. Rodriguez. In my opinion, the intellectually least productive response is to suggest that his opinion represents the institutional, or even the catechismal response. While I am not accusing you of doing so, I do level that accusation against a substantial portion of the “lunatic fringe” who have “launched impassionated diatribes” for legalized marriage.

      For whatever reason, it seems that the issue of both legal and sacramental marriage is very polarizing. Unfortunately, that leaves little opportunity for reasoned and informed debate about dignity, justice, and conscience.

      • David, part of the point of my post was to point out that Fr Rodriguez not represent in any way the authentic teaching as a whole.

        You’re right though that the whole issue is very polarizing. The problem is that two sides approach it from within two totally different perspectives – one from that of respect, justice and human rights, the other from that of morality. This is why I try to argue within the framework of Catholic tradition as a whole, even if I do depart dramatically from current Vatican teaching on sexual ethics and papal authority. The primary audience I want to get through to, is not the Fr Rodriquez and his followers, but those who might be so threatened by his distorted idea of Catholicism as to simply desert the Church – a choice made by many gay men. A standard response from other gay men to anyone who declares himself as a gay Catholic, can be more virulent than that from conservative Catholics. One lot believes we are living in a state of permanent sin, the other that we have no integrity.

        I have attempted to take up your earlier challenge, and have posted my thoughts on church blessing of civil unions – from within a strictly orthodox Catholic perspective.

  4. i’m not totally against gay marriage, coz gay persons need to be happy to *

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