The US Supreme Court ruling that states cannot ban same-sex marriage follows soon after the Irish referendum which found 62% were in favour of changing the constitution
to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The reaction of the US Catholic bishops was swift, with their top man calling it a “tragic error” and the Pope’s top US advisor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, writing he was “saddened” by the news.
Here in Australia, the diocese of Parramatta produced an 18-page booklet on same sex marriage entitled, ‘Don’t Mess With Marriage,’ detailing the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage. The booklet was sent to 78 schools under the Diocese, both primary and secondary. Approximately 35,000 copies were distributed in total. A spokesman from the Diocese of Parramatta said: “While recognizing there are a range of views in society, the Australian Catholic Bishops are seeking to present their view based on Catholic teaching.”
While the booklet does not advocate hatred or vilification of people, as wrongly claimed, with a same sex attraction, and specifically calls for understanding and directs Catholics to the Catechism which teaches that people with same-sex attraction ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,’ the booklet’s distribution was negatively received. Students and families across the Penrith region in Sydney’s west have taken to social media to criticise local schools and the Diocese of Parramatta for sending out the booklet, which was seen by some as “anti-gay.” Clearly the timing for the distribution of this booklet was not wisely considered, nor was it sensitive to the mood of the time.
Vatican II called us to ‘read the signs of the times.’ Some US and Irish bishops are doing just that in the face of these dramatic social changes. While upholding the Church’s teaching on marriage, they nonetheless have called on Catholics to reflect deeply on the ruling.
Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, said the Church in Ireland needed to reconnect with young people. The archbishop told the Irish broadcaster RTÉ: “We [the Church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.”
The archbishop personally voted “No” arguing that gay rights should be respected “without changing the definition of marriage.” The archbishop went on to say, however, “I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church,”
Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago called on Catholics to offer a “real” welcome to LGBT people following the US Supreme Court decision striking down state bans on same-sex marriage, while reiterating that the Church’s position that sacramental marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
Cupich, handpicked by Pope Francis last year to lead the nation’s third largest archdiocese, highlighted a frequently cited part of the Catechism that says gays and lesbians “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
But he challenged Catholics to go further.
“This respect must be real, not rhetorical, and ever reflective of the Church’s commitment to accompanying all people,” he said. “For this reason, the Church must extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.”
“The rapid social changes signaled by the Court ruling call us to mature and serene reflections as we move forward together,” Cupich said in a statement. “In that process, the Catholic Church will stand ready to offer a wisdom rooted in faith and a wide range of human experience.”
He said the Church will “hold fast to an authentic understanding of marriage which has been written in the human heart, consolidated in history, and confirmed by the Word of God” and noted that the Court’s 5-4 decision “has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony, in which the marriage of man and woman is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church.”
Cupich’s statement appears to distance him from the more pointed criticism of the Court’s decision by the head the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is not alone, though, in calling for moderation. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, a former president of the USCCB, warned those disappointed by the Court’s decision to refrain from “more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions continue to differ from our own.” He said the ruling “confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before,” but stated that it “does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake.”
I am personally heartened by the responses of these moderate bishops who clearly have a greater appreciation of the ‘Sensus Fidelium.’ It is sad, though not surprising, to see that the majority of bishops continue to believe that we live in the era of Christendom and Church Triumphant that can dictate to people how they are to think and behave. That ship has long sailed. Any credibility their approach might have had at one time was shattered by the mismanagement of the Sex Abuse scandals. They certainly won’t win back credibility by continuing to live in the past.
The archbishop of Dublin’s comments are particularly telling. The Irish young people who voted in favour of the constitutional change are the product of Catholic schools, and have well learned the lessons of justice and equality. They understand the conflict of the right of Gay and Lesbians to marry in these terms. The Church triumphant approach, that dictates standards and condemns actions, cannot but be seen by young people as contrary to the principles of Catholic Social teaching.