Thursday, March 3, 2011

Closing the Catholic "debate" on same-sex marriage


Thomas Peters (the American Papist) grumped yesterday, “It’s extraordinary to me how, in a Catholic community which has debated endlessly the morality of LiveAction’s use of false statements in exposing Planned Parenthood …, that there has not been more effort to condemn the claim of pro-SSM Catholics that the debate over marriage is closed.”

Funny. I just wrote about gay marriage the other day. I didn’t realize I needed to mention pro-SSM Catholics. I was hoping to leave the topic alone for awhile.

Frankly, I was a little taken aback. Peters generally has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the blogosphere; he should know as well as I that there’s been quite a bit in recent weeks for everyone to chew over. It’s not like we Catholic bloggers are all tied into a central system to get our orders: “Okay, today’s topic will be Planned Parenthood!” Don’t ask me to explain the dog pile over Lila Rose yet again; if you feel like you lost, Tom, don’t worry … we’re still with you on so many other things.

This fit of high dudgeon was brought on by a guest post in the WaPo “on Faith” blog by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministries. New Ways, if you’ll recall, is the “gay-positive ministry” that Cdl. Francis George of Chicago blasted last February for its criticism of Church teaching, saying that, “like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”


DeBernardo is an especially dishonest representative of the pseudo-Catholic activist. For instance, he claims that there’s “no evidence of any sort that allowing same-sex couples to marry will lead to a further erosion of the two-parent household” because “many of these couples already live in two-parent households with their children, only without the legal protection that the law bestows on straight couples.” This is known in informal logic as a fallacy of equivocation: DeBernardo is fully aware that the Maryland bishops’ reference was to a household with both biological parents present.

His next paragraph is truly a howler: “Likewise, the notion that marriage is intended primarily for procreation finds no support in Catholic theology, and conflicts with the Church’s own willingness to marry couples who cannot have biological children.” Sorry, Mr. DeBernardo, you just failed RCIA; go back and take the course over again.

In fact, the Church will grant an annulment if it turns out foreknowledge of sterility was deliberately withheld from one partner (CIC 1098); impotence is held to preclude marriage (CIC 1084 § 1). As for procreation being the primary purpose, this was never a matter of doubt until just this last century; the Holy Office (now Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) clarified it against the modernist interpretation in 1944 (see Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 462; see also CCC 1652-1653). DeBernardo may not be able to reconcile the marriage of a sterile couple with the refusal to marry a gay couple, but that’s his deficiency, not the Church’s inconsistency.

DeBernardo then attempt to turn his appeal to Catholic social justice:

We do not seek to change the definition of traditional marriage; we simply want to expand the definition of who may participate. In this we are influenced by Catholic social teaching which requires that people be treated with dignity, regardless of their state in life or their beliefs. Our moral tradition values increased access to health care benefits, the protection of children and dignity in end-of-life choices. All of these values would be expanded if marriage equality were written into law.

The disingenuity here is that it presupposes an innate and inherent difference in people afflicted with same-sex attraction which, as I tire of repeating, is based on nothing more scientific than “wishing makes it so”. Continuing to pretend that SSA is not a sexual dysfunction doesn’t contribute to individual dignity; enshrining this pretense as a legal fact dishonors true marriage with a farce. In the end, the claim that SSM proponents don’t wish to change the definition of traditional marriage is most calmly and charitably described as a lie.

DeBernardo wraps up his post so: “Most Catholics, and, I hope, most Catholic politicians, will do as Catholic moral teaching urges them to do and follow the dictates of their own well-formed, faithfully Catholic consciences when making decisions about marriage equality.”

In fact, that’s precisely what he doesn’t hope. For if they do, same-sex marriage will go down to defeat in Maryland. Like Kate Childs Graham of the National Catholic Fishwrap, DeBernardo assumes his conscience is well-formed and faithfully Catholic because it selectively filtered out those teachings he disagreed with and burped up the nice bits … the bits that don’t challenge him to “take up his cross” (Mt 16:24).

We Catholics speak of the Church as our mother, and as the Bride of Christ. So powerful is the image that Catholic dissenters such as DeBernardo, Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius and Joe Biden strike one as a rebellious teenager: unwilling to leave Mother, yet unwilling to live by her rules; desperately wanting her approval, yet doing everything possible to hurt and disrespect her. It’s a remarkable institution that can spark such a passionate allegiance coexisting with an equally passionate opposition.

But the debate is closed. As in Roma locuta est; causa finita est.[1] Same-sex marriage may end up legal in Maryland, but it’s still an oxymoron in the Catholic Church.



[1] “Rome has spoken, the matter is at an end.” Derived from a letter of St. Augustine: “Letters [on this issue] have been sent to the Holy See; from there rescripts have also come. The matter is at an end; would that error too might sometime come to an end!”