Yesterday Pew Research released the results of a new survey of public attitudes on the place of religion in political life. The major finding, as you may have seen, is that nearly three-quarters of Americans now say the influence of religion is waning. That figure is up more than twenty points--from 51 percent to 71--since 2001, when Pew first began measuring the trend. At the same time, growing numbers of Americans want religion to play a more prominant role in politics. In advance of the 2010 midterm elections, 43 percent of Americans said houses of worship should express their view on social and political issies--today 49 percent agree. A growing minority of Americans (32 percent) even said churches should endorse political candidates. Naturally, those who hold such views tend to believe society benefits from religion; they lean more Republican than Democratic.
But that's not the only interesting material in the survey. Pew's research turned up a bunch of interesting findings related to same-sex marriage. Some of that data may surprise you, as it may prove frustrating to leading opponents of gay marriage.Read more
Right now on the homepage, Joseph Bottum takes his turn in our special feature, "Engagement or Retreat? Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage." Bottum responds to Ross Douthat and Jamie L. Manson, who themselves were responding to Bottum's controversial Commonweal piece from last summer, "The Things We Share: A Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage." An excerpt from Bottum's response:
Sometimes same-sex marriage has been described as a natural outcome of the removal of sex from the realm of morality. Sometimes it has been praised as a wonderful transgressive rebellion, good because it helped undo bad Western norms. Sometimes it has been described as a useful expansion of an old idea, helping preserve the marriage culture. Occasionally it has been promoted as a way of returning ethics to sexual relations, drawing gays and lesbians away from support for the demoralization of sex, to which, it is claimed, they were forced by the repressions of a premodern morality that lasted into the modern world.
In other words, the arrival of legal recognition of same-sex marriage was over-determined in America. And that’s why I think it makes a terrible object for the Catholic Church to pick as the synechdoche for all the objectionable things in contemporary society. Our problem as Catholics isn’t that same-sex marriage somehow uniquely represents Western society’s recent turns; our problem is those turns themselves: the disenchantment of the world, the systematic effort to hunt down and destroy the last vestiges of old metaphysical and spiritual meanings in the world.
You may remember the controversial essay from Joseph Bottum we published last summer, “The Things We Share,” in which the former editor of First Things wrote it was no longer prudent for American Catholics to oppose the legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage. We’re continuing the conversation in “Engagement or Retreat? Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage,” in which Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, and Jamie L. Manson of the National Catholic Reporter comment on Bottum’s argument.
In [Joseph Bottum’s] view, “American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.”
I would take that further. As someone preparing to enter a same-sex marriage with my partner of five years, I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true….
Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.
Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples. Many childless couples have demonstrated that their relationships can also be fruitful and life-giving. So why must same-sex couples be regarded as incapable of marriage? … Rather than making procreation and genital complementarity the fundamental criteria for marriage, we should instead be asking whether spouses are a visible, tangible sign of God’s loving presence in our midst.
What’s left to complain about when you realize you can’t complain about the legal reasoning of decisions allowing same-sex marriage? The writing in the rulings by district judges who’ve struck down existing bans.
That’s the tack taken by Branden McGinley in First Things, who seems to be less upset by the substance of the rulings than the style. It’s a thin reed on which to hang an appeal to those like-mindedly distressed by the domino-like fall of state laws restricting marriage, which may explain the flailing common to last-gasp entreaties. When all else fails, suggest there are too many notes.Read more
The church should listen "without any taboo" to all arguments for married priests, for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, and about homosexuality, according to Bishop Nunzio Galatino, the man Pope Francis hand-picked to serve as general secretary of the Italian bishops conference.
In an interview with the Florence newspaper La Nazione, Galatino said that “in the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia." (Sound familiar?) "It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing." He continued: “I don’t identify with the expressionless person who stands outside the abortion clinic reciting their rosary, but with young people, who are still against this practice, but are instead fighting for quality of life, their health, their right to work.”
Needless to say, that didn't go over with members of the prolife movement. As the Tablet of London reported, John Smeaton--head of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn--responded sharply: “I do identify with the person outside the abortion clinic praying their rosary, whether or not the person is expressionless.... I really don't think you would be saying, if national laws had allowed the killing of Catholic priests or Jews over the past few decades: 'In the past we have concentrated too much on the killing of Catholic priests or Jews.'"
(H/T David Gibson)
Today the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany. The bishop was suspended in October, after it came to light that the new residential complex he was building for himself would cost a cool $43 million, including a $20,000 bathtub (cheaper than the $27,000 fine he had to pay for lying under oath), a $35,000 table, and $500,000 wardrobes. Nothing but the best for the man who flew first class to visit the poor of India.
To be sure, $43 million is a lot more than the $500,000 the outgoing Archbishop of Newark is spending to renovate his retirement home. (Take comfort, Newark Catholics, your new bishop is on this. Try to focus on the fact that for a long time Myers was willing to live in the actual city of Newark, which is, you know, Newark.) And it's still a lot more than the $2.2 million Archbishop of Atlanta is reportedly shelling out for his own residence, on top of another $2.2 million to renovate a rectory (all paid for with a $15 million bequest from the nephew of the author of Gone with the Wind). Newark and Atlanta Catholics may not be quite as offended by their archbishops' reno bills as are their co-religionists in Limburg, but it looks like the pope is really not kidding about wanting a church that is poor and for the poor.
According to a Vatican statement, the pope removed the bishop because of "a situation that prevents a fruitful exercise of the ministry of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst." In other words, he skunked his own authority by scandalizing the faithful through his misuse of funds.
Can you think of any other situations that might prevent the fruitful exercise of a bishop's ministry?
Since the controversy about (and subsequent veto of) Arizona's SB 1062, a pointed debate in newspapers and blogs has ensued about civil rights vs. religious liberty. Ross Douthat's New York Times column expressed frustration that religious dissenters are not being permitted to "negotiate terms of surrender" in a culture "war."
What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.
But is this best construed as a war, or does a less threatening metaphor suffice? Perhaps we're not fighting an apocalyptic war of religion vs. secularism, but instead tinkering with our delicate balance of Constitutional rights.Read more
Last week, Univision released a survey of twelve thousand Catholics in a dozen countries across five continents. The idea occurred to them after the Vatican asked the world's bishops conferences to find out what their people think about a range of social issues and report back. But, as the Univision survey's executive summary notes, "the papal questionnaire is not an opinion-gathering instrument." True, it's not exactly reader-friendly (several dioceses chose to adapt it in order to make it more intelligible to the people whose views it was designed to gather). Nor were its results easy to compile. So Univision sponsored a large-scale survey that would adhere to contemporary standards of data collection, and allow us to say with a measure of confidence: This what the world's Catholics think now.
The results won't shock you. (The German and Swiss bishops certainly weren't surprised.) They represent "an alarming trend for the Vatican," because the "majority of Catholics worldwide disagree with Catholic doctrine on divorce, abortion, and contraceptives," according to Bendixen and Amandi International--the communications firm that conducted the study. (It's been published a few ways: as an interactive feature, a slideshow, and an executive summary--which explains the survey's methodology.)
The country-by-country breakdown also holds few surprises. Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the less likely its Catholics are to fully agree with certain church teachings. So, while a significant majority of U.S. Catholics (59 percent) say that women should be ordained priests, 81 percent of Ugandan Catholics disagree (the breakdown is similar on the question of married priests). Of course huge majorities of American Catholics (88 percent) have no problem with the use of artificial contraception. Ninety-four percent of French Catholics support the use of contraceptives--edging out Brazil's 93 percent to take the top spot in that category. And when it comes to divorce, the percentages line up similarly: 60 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that being divorced and remarried outside the church should not bar one from receiving Communion, while 72 percent of Catholics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo agree with that church teaching. On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.
The abortion results are more interesting.Read more
In a year that saw a papal resignation (and consequent conclave) and the public embrace of the new pope, it's not surprising that among our most-read articles and blog posts of 2013 are items on these stories, such as our exclusive interview with Francis. But readers also responded to stories on same-sex marriage, public-education reform, and the relationship among work, material necessities, and "the good life." Below are the top ten stories from Commonweal and blog posts from dotCommonweal this year. As this is simply a data-generated tally, are there other stories and posts from 2013 not represented here that are nonetheless worth a mention? Any particular favorites - or further thoughts?
“The Things We Share,” Joseph Bottum
“Less Please: Capitalism & the Good Life,” Gary Gutting
“Beyond the Stalemate: Forty Years after Roe,” Peter Steinfels
“Reform of the Reform,” Jackson Lears
“Regime Change: Benedict & His Successor,” William L. Portier
“Historical Amnesia: When Catholic Leaders Misread the Past,” Nicholas Clifford
Top blog posts
“NYT’s ironic fact-check error,” Michael Peppard
“Archdiocese of Wobegon,” Grant Gallicho
“Washing feet,” Rita Ferrone
“Apostolic Nuncio to USCCB: Be pastoral, not ideological,” Grant Gallicho
“Interregnum report, March 6,” Dominic Preziosi
“The conclave bird: a distinctively Roman omen,” Michael Peppard
“When ‘allegedly prolife’ groups attack,” Grant Gallicho
“Pontifex legibus solutus?” Joseph A. Komonchak
When I saw that Russell D. Moore had written a long piece about the so-called Evangelical “retreat” from American politics and culture wars, I was elated.
I am updating a syllabus for a course in religion and American politics, and I hoped this would be the perfect fresh take to round out our coverage of Evangelicalism. Certainly the media-savvy and next-generation Moore, the newish President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, would help my students understand the movement better than when they read speeches by his predecessor, Richard Land.
In short, I was primed for this essay.
Sadly, it is not assignable. This 4000-word feature, authored by the most prominent official of the Southern Baptists, is composed almost entirely of straw men.Read more
Now on the website, Commonweal’s editors on what the pope’s interview reveals:
[M]uch attention has been paid to the pope’s surprising admonition that the church has been too “obsessed” with abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage. As welcome as that observation is, however, the real importance of the interview is to be found in the pope’s clear-eyed evaluation of how the gospel should be preached in the modern world.
To be sure, many Catholics whole-heartedly embraced the change in tone and spirit in which the pope discussed difficult questions like abortion. Unfortunately, some deeply involved in the prolife movement have taken those remarks as a rebuke. That is an overreaction and misinterpretation of what the pope said. Obviously, Francis was objecting to the uncompromising and confrontational rhetoric of some Catholic activists. Why? Because that approach is simply not working. Worse, it is preventing the larger gospel message from being heard both within and beyond the Catholic community. With a third of all baptized Catholics abandoning the church, while those who remain are increasingly divided on ecclesial, cultural, and political questions, the pope’s diagnosis is hard to refute. Is it not time, as Francis urged, to “find a new balance” in presenting the church’s teaching to an often doubting flock and a sometimes hostile secular world?
Elsewhere, the analysis continues. R.R. Reno in First Things:
By my reading, Pope Francis was being a bit naïve and undisciplined in parts of this interview, which although reviewed by him before publication has an impromptu quality I imagine he wished to retain. This encourages a distorted reading of what he has in mind for the Church. This is a problem related, perhaps, to his Jesuit identity.
A key passage involves his image—a very helpful one—of the Church as “a field hospital after battle.” He observes that in such a circumstance we need to focus on healing as best we can. Some of the protocols and procedures fitting for a hospital operating in times of peace need to be set aside.
He then digresses into fairly extensive reflections on what the Church needs in the way of pastoral leadership in this situation: “pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.” We’re not to allow ourselves to fixate on “small things, in small-minded rules.” The Church needs to find “new roads,” “new paths,” and “to step outside itself,” something that requires “audacity and courage.”
These and other comments evoke assumptions that are very much favored by the Left, which is why the interview has been so warmly received, not only by the secular media, but also by Catholics who would like the Church to change her teachings on many issues.
At Room for Debate in the New York Times, Simone Campbell, Frances Kissling, Rod Dreher, Bill Donohue, and Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu offer their takes.Read more
Just posted to the homepage, Joseph Bottum’s essay “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.”
Bottum, former chief editor of First Things, writes: “We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.” He goes on:
For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about. There’s a reasonable case to be made that the struggle against abortion is slowly winning, but the fight against public acceptance of same-sex behavior has been utterly lost.
I find these practical considerations compelling, just as I think most ordinary Catholics do.
Read the whole essay here. And after that, see Mark Oppenheimer’s latest Beliefs column in the New York Times. An excerpt:
In the past couple of years, conservative opposition to same-sex marriage has clearly started to erode. Prominent Republicans like Senators Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell have come out in support of gay marriage. Even David Blankenhorn, the expert witness in the Proposition 8 trial in California and a Democrat, announced that he had changed his mind.
They are, for the most part, moderate conservatives using secular, democratic arguments. None come from the Christian right. Among religious conservatives, opposition to same-sex marriage has remained essentially unquestioned.
Which is why “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” an essay by Joseph Bottum, published Friday on the Web site of Commonweal magazine, is something new in this debate.
Yesterday morning, I logged on to Facebook just like every other day. The first update in my newsfeed was from a friend who had changed her profile picture to a pink equal sign with a bright red background. I read the description: "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution." Universal Declaration of Human Rights- Article 16:1 (1948). Well, I agree with that. I thought, so I liked her photo, closed my browser and went on with my day. At lunch, I checked Facebook again and about one out of four of my friends had changed their profile pictures to some variation of the same image. By the end of the day, it was nearly half.
Of course, my Facebook friends may not be the most representative cross-section of my generation. Many of my closest friends are openly gay. I live in New York City. I went to a fairly liberal (Catholic) university for my undergraduate degree, and for graduate school I attended NYU-recognized for its advancement of gay rights. Still, my peers support for marriage equality comes as no surprise. While 51 percent of all Americans support same-sex marriage, the number of those aged eighteen to twenty-nine who support it is 81 percent. My generation, regardless of religious or political affiliation, does not see gay marriage as a big deal. I am a practicing Catholic, I was raised in a conservative Catholic family, and I went to Catholic school until I graduated from college. Like many of my peers, I appreciate the church's teaching on marriage, but respectfully hold a different viewpoint. Over the course of my high school and college career, I, like many others my age, watched friend after friend-many of them also practicing Catholics-struggle with their homosexuality, their decision to come out, and the response from friends and family after they made that decision. More often than not, nothing changed, except their comfort level and happiness. For the most part, their peers accepted their admission without hesitation. It usually took their parents longest to come around to the idea, but they ultimately accepted it too.
Because it has become so much more socially acceptable for men and women of my generation to publically declare their sexual orientation and openly date members of the same sex, because we have become so accustomed to seeing and supporting it, members of my generation find it difficult to draw the line at dating. If my friend can date who she wants, why shouldn't she marry who she wants? And moreover, if I can marry who I want, why shouldn't my best friend be able to do the same thing? It may be a long road to true marriage equality, but, as the Supreme Court hears cases for and against Proposition 8 and DOMA, I have no doubt it will happen eventually. The time will come when all those people who changed their profile pictures to equal signs are in a position of much more authority and influence. Of course there are many people of all ages who disagree with me, but it seems clear that the shift in thinking is well underway.