Catholic organizations have a particular responsibility to respect them, particularly by honoring their own gay staff members and clients. The credibility of Catholic organizations as Christian and as humane is at stake.
Debates about social issues tend to bring out blanket statements, sweeping claims, dire threats and feverish reporting. They usually carry historical baggage that needs to be unpacked and the contents tested against contemporary reality. This is true also of the coming plebiscite on gay marriage [in Australia: Editor].
A threat reportedly made, and later denied, by some church leaders was to dismiss from employment in Catholic organizations people who contract same-sex marriages. Regardless of what was said the threat will be featured in the coming debates. It may be helpful to set it in its broader contex
A new book, Pope Francis has spoken out on a variety of topics from his personal development to many issues facing church and state. Not surprisingly, LGBT topics were mentioned, and not surprisingly, the pope’s statements are a mixed bag.
The book, entitled Politics and Society, is a series of 12 conversations between the pope and Dominique Wolton, a French sociologist. Cruxcarried a string of excerpts from the book on his visits to a psychoanalyst, the role of the laity, colonial exploitation, and, of course, same-gender marriage and gender identity. On the last topic, the excerpt reads:
“Marriage between people of the same sex? ‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it’s between a man and a woman… we cannot change that. This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let’s call them ‘civil unions.’ Lets not play with the truth. It’s true that behind it there is a gender ideology. In books also, children are learning that they can choose their own sex. Why is sex, being a woman or a man, a choice and not a fact of nature? This favors this mistake. But let’s say things as they are: Marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the precise term. Lets call unions between the same sex ‘civil unions’.”
Evangelical leaders in the U.S. released “The Nashville Statement” earlier this week to make clear their opposition to LGBT equality. A prominent Catholic priest has responded by affirming the goodness of LGBT people. The contrast between these two statements reveals just how far Catholic LGBT issues have come.
“The Nashville Statement,” drafted by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, issues a series of affirmations and denials about sexuality. These include rejecting marriage equality and denying that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times offered an interesting observation in an essay entitled “The Worst (and Best) Places to Be Gay in America” that was published in last Sunday’s edition. Noting the fact that equality for LGBT people varies widely across the vast and diverse 50 states of the U.S.A., Bruni notes:
“There’s no such thing as L.G.B.T. life in America, a country even more divided on this front than on others. There’s L.G.B.T. life in a group of essentially progressive places like New York, Maryland, Oregon and California, which bans government-funded travel to states it deems unduly discriminatory. Then there is L.G.B.T. life on that blacklist, which includes Texas, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota.
How does this relate to the world of Catholic LGBT issues? I think Bruni’s analysis of the political sphere very accurately reflects the ecclesial sphere, as well. In other words, I think that Catholic LGBT people are more affected by local church attitudes and practices concerning sexual orientation and gender identity than they are by the same influences that are expressed or enacted by higher levels in the Church. In other words, what matters most for LGBT Catholics is not what the hierarchy says or does but what their local pastor and parishioners say or do.
It has been two years since marriage equality became the law of the land in the U.S., but it has been twenty years since an LGBT Catholic organization here in the U.S. issued their own guidelines for same-sex marriage, way ahead of the general population.
In August 1997, The Washington Blade,the LGBT weekly newspaper of the District of Columbia metropolitan area, wrote an article about DignityUSA releasing a new set of guidelines for lesbian and gay couples preparing for a marriage ritual referred to as a Holy Union (which at the time would not have been a legally binding ceremony). The news article explains:
“At its national convention last week, Dignity released its guidelines for the holy union of same-sex couples. The guidelines, which also include a registry of couples that have joined in a ho9ly union, stemmed from a two-year research effort.”
As the struggles for same-sex marriage were rolling out across the United States, a steady stream of opinion polls showed that despite the outspoken opposition from some Catholic bishops, ordinary Catholics were in fact in favour marriage equality – and to a greater degree than other Christian denominations. In other countries there were far fewer polls, but those that there were tended to show the same pattern, for example in the United Kingdom and in Argentina.
It comes as no surprise then, that the same pattern is shown in polling from Australia ahead of the pending postal plebiscite, where 58% of all “people of faith” were found to support equality. Somewhat more than that, two thirds, of Catholics were in favour.
A MAJORITY of Catholics, Christians and other religious people support gay marriage and will likely vote for it in the postal survey, according to a new poll.
The research shows 58 per cent of people of faith back the “yes” campaign, compared with 79 per cent of non-religious Australians.
Catholics and non-Christians were more likely to support same-sex marriage, with two thirds of both of those groups saying they were in favour.
The polling, commissioned by the Equality Campaign, was conducted last week by Jim Reed of Newgate Research who surveyed 1000 people online, Fairfax reports.
Same-sex marriage supporters rally in Sydney. Picture: AFP/Peter ParksSource:AFP
Why do some people who would recognize gay civil unions oppose gay marriage? Certain religious groups want to deny gays the sacredeness of what they take to be a sacrament. But marriage is no sacrament.
Some of my fellow Catholics even think that “true marriage” was instituted by Christ. It wasn’t. Marriage is prescribed in Eden by YHWH (Yahweh) at Genesis 2.24: man and wife shall “become one flesh.” When Jesus is asked about marriage, he simply quotes that passage from Genesis (Mark 10.8). He nowhere claims to be laying a new foundation for a “Christian marriage” to replace the Yahwist institution.
Some try to make the wedding at Cana (John 1.1-11) somehow sacramental because Jesus worked his first miracle there. But that was clearly a Jewish wedding, like any other Jesus might have attended, and the miracle, by its superabundance of wine, is meant to show the disciples that the Messianic time has come. The great Johannine scholar Father Raymond Brown emphasizes this, and concludes of the passage: “Neither the external nor the internal evidence for a symbolic reference to matrimony is strong. The wedding is only the backdrop and occasion for the story, and the joining of the man and woman does not have any direct role in the narrative.”
Throughout human history all types of arrangements have evolved to nurture children, of which a common form is a reasonably stable relationship between woman and man. Whether or not this was seen as marriage varied widely. So,use of the term “traditional marriage” is a misnomer. What the Catholic hierarchy is presenting as “traditional” is really a romantic, bourgeois understanding of marriage.
Over the last five years, the Australian Catholic Church has experienced its worst crisis in its 200-year history. The catastrophic fall-out from the evidence presented at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse, the charging of “Australia’s most senior Catholic” with historic offenses, the 2.6% drop in the number of Australian Catholics between the 2011 and 2016 Census, the collapse in the number of younger people adhering to or practising Catholicism (among Catholics aged 25 to 34 only 5.4% attend Mass) and the continuing decline of general Mass attendance (it is now down to between 8% to 10%), is all evidence of a profound malaise effecting Catholicism. The church’s proclamation of Christ’s Gospel has taken a series of body blows and Catholic moral authority is in tatters.
Like many Australian Catholics, I am disturbed by your identification of your personal views on marriage equality with those of the Catholic Church. No one questions your right to hold such views, but many are concerned when you identify them—or allow others, such as journalists—to identify them with the teaching of the Church. You must be aware that, as Archbishop, journalists will take what you say as authoritative and as pitching “the Catholic Church in a heated battle against Labor and key backers of the Yes campaign”, as reported in TheAustralian on 14/8/17. You may be involved in a “heated debate” with the Labor Party and the “yes” campaign, but most Australian Catholics are not.
Yes, I know that similar views to yours were expressed in the 2015 pastoral letter of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference entitled Don’t Mess with Marriage. It has been widely rumoured that you were the substantial author of this document. Be that as it may, it is significant that the pastoral contains only one reference to scripture, simply referring to the two becoming “one flesh”. I would have hoped that you would have trawled through the bible to provide some basis for your views on marriage. The scriptures are normative for us as Catholics, surely?
The theological content of the Don’t Mess document is negligible and it fails to recognize that marriage historically has taken several forms within the Christian era and that the church only became involved in the marriage business in the late-eleventh century. Prior to that it simply followed societal norms, which were largely based on inheritance of land and clan ties, and the remnants of Roman civil law.
This interview was conducted on August 4. It introduces our readers to Father Martin’s Building a Bridge, released earlier this year. The first part of his book expands upon a lecture that he delivered last year to New Ways Ministry in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.]
In publishing this interview the editors of Orthodoxy in Dialogue ask if such a conversation as Father Martin advocates is possible and necessary in the Orthodox Church.
GIACOMO: Father Jim, thanks so much for making the time to discuss your new book with me. You and I share a concern that our respective Churches adopt a more pastorally responsive approach to questions of same-sex love. (See my recent articles here, here, and here.)
FATHER JIM: It’s my pleasure to talk with you. Thanks for giving me the chance to speak more about this outreach to our LGBT Catholic brothers and sisters.