dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Dolan on Gay Marriage

Archbishop Dolan's blog refused to take Father's Day off from the crusade against gay marriage. I applaud Dolan's embrace of blogging, and Dolan's posts have attracted a great deal of media attention, but I wish he would put more thought into his posts on this topic. I think it would be a much more powerful use of the medium, and would be helpful for those of us struggling to understand the Church's state of panic in the face of gay marriage, if he would engage in a more detailed way with the arguments on both sides of this issue. One searches his posts in vain for reasoned argument, finding instead a series of conclusory zingers like the one with which he finished up his most recent post. "Government presumes to redefine these sacred words at the peril of the common good." How does expanding the definition of the family to encompass same sex couples threaten the common good? Dolan doesn't tell us. His post simply ends.I looked back at his earlier post, and it also fails to adequately explain his views, except to tell us that the family is the foundation of our civilization and that tinkering with its definition is dangerous. I suppose I agree with both of those points, but neither one rules out same sex marriage. After all, the definition of marriage varies across time. Polygamy is approved in the Bible, though it is now illegal. Dolan doesn't discuss that, despite a reference to the authority of Genesis in his most recent post. Divorce used to be prohibited but no-fault divorce is now ubiquitous. Interracial marriage was legally forbidden in many US jurisdictions until just a generation ago. Now it is constitutionally protected. Telling us that revising the definition of the family is dangerous either means that all of these past changes were wrong or that, more likely, some were better than others. But if it means the latter, it adds nothing but a cautionary note to the present debate. It cannot be decisive.Indeed, Dolan himself can hardly make up his mind on the subject of marriage's meaning. In his two posts on the issue, he tells us that traditional definition of marriage is "timeless" and "as old as human reason and ordered good." And, yet, in these same two posts, separated by a mere four days, Dolan himself actually gives us, not one, but THREE different definitions of marriage. In his first post, he says that marriage is "one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity, hoping for children." His second definition, in the same post, is similar but not identical: "a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children." Finally, in his Father's Day post, he says that marriage is a "loving, faithful union between one man and one woman leading to a family."Of course, marriage has not been "lifelong" or "permanent" by law for a long time, and yet no blog posts urging NY legislators to (re)prohibit no-fault divorce as a grave threat to the common good have yet appeared on Dolan's blog. [UPDATE: By the way, no-fault divorce is actually a recent innovation in NY family law. While the Church opposed the change, during the debate, the director of the New York State Catholic Conference (which bills itself as the "official public policy voice of the Catholic Church") noted that [c]learly, not every marriage can be permanent."] Perhaps someone pointed this out after Dolan's first post, which might explain why he dropped any reference to duration in his most recent, timeless definition.As for procreation, "hoping for children" and "to pro-create children" are far from identical. Both might be read to rule out marriages among the non-fertile, though the "hoping for children" formulation is less exclusive on that front. But this leads to the question -- which is it to be? Does the marriage of two 80-year-olds threaten the timeless definition of marriage or undermine the common good? If not, why not? In his most recent definition, the reference to procreation is replaced by "leading to a family." This is circular, since legal recognition of same-sex couples as "families" would allow their unions to also "lead[] to a family." That's the whole point.These blog posts were useful opportunities for some thoughtful reflection on these questions, but the Archbishop chose instead to write unconvincing little screeds aimed at producing nice sound-bites for the press. Those who agree with him will no doubt take heart from his vocal opposition to New York's proposed legislation. For the rest of us, we are no better able to understand the foundation for his fears than we were before.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Today, if I were single, I could legally marry any single, willing woman I wanted to, whatever color she is, undeterred by the criminal law of the state. 45 years ago, that was not true a few miles from where I sit. Nothing in the laws says that I should or that it would be good for me, society, or civilization to do so. Nothing in the laws encourages or requires it to be done by me or anyone else. It is generally recognized that children of such a marriage may be visibly marked for life by having parents of two different colors. The ungainly democratic process in which we live eventually concluded, after much debate and violence, that something as humanly fundamental as racial color was not grounds for criminalizing the prevailing 20th-century concept of marriage of a man and woman. The concept has evolved substantially since Biblical times, Abp. Dolan's and others' claims notwithstanding, recognition of which could clarify the ongoing debate. Procreation is recognized as a possibility, beneficial overall to the survival of the species but, in individual cases, not mandatory nor is it grounds for civil punishment when it does not occur, whatever the reason. The Catholic Church is ambivalent, sanctioning some deliberate steps taken to prevent procreation but not others, depending on the sufficiency of the justification. Nature guarantees the absolute impossibility of procreation most (> 80%) of the time for fertile, healthy women (see NFP). In the current debate, it would help to distinguish procreative aspects for individuals and for the society - they differ.

"Im thinking of Book III in the Aeneid when the oracle tells the Trojans to return to their ancestral homeland. Oh, that would be Crete, says Anchises. So they go to Crete and get decimated by a plague. Just as theyre about to go consult the oracle again, Aeneas has a vision that they should go to Italy. Oh, those ancestors, says Anchises, I forgot about them."This sounds like dynamic equivalence. :-)

"The Gospels, and scripture more generally, are certainly among our primary sources read, of course, in the light of church teaching and tradition."-------- (Interesting to see how the gospels, the "memoirs of the apostles" as Justin Martyr called them, have been downgraded, made secondary to the fads some wish were "tradition".)

"As long as you would treat someone who is known to be divorced, with no annulment, and civilly remarried the exact same way, I dont have too many problems with this. And I hope you would approach them both equally when it comes to a civil divorce. Married couples (same-sex or opposite sex) who choose to conform to the teachings of the Church and cease having sex may have any number of reasons for not obtaining a civil divorce. They may have children whom they want to have two legal parents. They may own property together. They may still want to make be able to make medical decisions for one another should one become incapacitated. There may be questions of insurance benefits, survivor benefits, and so on."I agree, and I'd like to think I wouldn't treat the two categories differently. As Felapton pointed out back a long way up the thread, though, as a practical matter, it's easier to know how the circumstances line up for a married gay person than for a divorced, not annulled, remarried, still married for a good reason, celibate person.At any rate, I have no specific plans to deny communion to anyone.

Me: The Gospels, and scripture more generally, are certainly among our primary sources read, of course, in the light of church teaching and tradition.Gerelyn: "(Interesting to see how the gospels, the memoirs of the apostles as Justin Martyr called them, have been downgraded, made secondary to the fads some wish were tradition.)"Hi, Gerelyn, this is pretty off-topic. If you've never read Dei Verbum, you'll find lots of good stuff in there about how the church views scripture and revelation. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents...

What is natural law and why is it capitalized? I assume they are different from the laws of nature, but how do we know what they are and how do we enforce them?

"On priests and deacons not knowing parishioners, I can understand the problems. But I always did feel like the parish my family belonged to when I lived at home was much like a bank. You could do all your business there without anyone knowing who you were. And there was almost none of the social life through the parish that Protestant churches often have in abundance. Whenever I see someone on television who has gone through an ordeal of some kind and they say, I never could have done it without the people from my church, I always think to myself, I wonder how that works."I know what you mean. I don't think parishes viewed themselves as social centers (using that term in a non-pejorative sense) when we were kids - there was a whole different self-image of the institutional church and the role of a parish. I don't think people looked to their parish the same way they do today. My own view is that our local community's communal bonds are so much weaker now than they used to be that people look to their churches to fulfill more of their social needs than used to be the case. Catholic parishes, some of them anyway, are trying to adjust. But as with so much about Catholicism, the culture that prevailed when we were young still exerts a lot of influence over Catholic behavior today.

"As a non-Catholic, someone could take the position that while the Church has a right to speak out about what it considers right and wrong, and even about what it thinks should be legal and illegal, it doesnt have the right to get into the nitty gritty of the political process, and it shouldnt use its political clout to try to impose Catholic beliefs on non-Catholics."On the other hand - defense contractors, labor unions and the AARP all do it. Why shouldn't the Catholic Church?

(Jim, talking about the gospels is never off-topic in a discussion of the Catholic Church.) There is nothing about homosexuality in the gospels. Because some American bishops send funds contributed by hardworking Catholics in their dioceses to other dioceses to battle SSM, does not make it "church teaching and tradition".(It was church teaching at one time that Catholics could not pray for the souls of their pagan ancestors.)I wonder what those who decry SSM do when one of their children wants to marry a beloved partner of the same sex. I wonder how they feel when they read articles or see pictures in the paper that make it obvious how HAPPY loving partners are when their relationships are recognized. Why would anyone want to deny that joy to others?

Jack said Today, if I were single, I could legally marry any single, willing woman I wanted toThat sounds good Jack, but the problem with your statement is that it is not true. You cannot legally marry any single, willing woman you want to, and for good reason:A man cannot legally marry his mother or his auntA man cannot legally marry his sister or his daughterA man cannot legally marry a woman who is already marriedSociety has determined in our case via representative government using a democratic process that we will not allow insect or polygamy.All societies have the right to determine what will be allowed and what will not be allowed. That is why we are currently discussing same-sex marriage. As a society, we are trying to decide whether or not we will allow it.

"Unfortunately, this common understanding has been eroded, such that it is non-existent now, replaced by various theories of utilitarianism or Rawlsian liberalism. But the problem for all these theories is that they lack any moral foundation, and are simply a might makes right or whoever gets the most votes wins. So to say youre imposing your X beliefs on Y is really meaningless; arent you imposing your Y beliefs on X? If you dont think youre doing that, then whats the point? This what troubles me about the move lately by the LGBT advocates to label any argument as simply resulting from bigotry or homophobia. So lots of people have made wild, demagogic statements."The vast majority of us go through our lives with little or no philosophical grounding, so it's often difficult to point to what it is that underlies our opinions. A couple of generations ago, the notion of gay people marrying wouldn't have received a respectful hearing in the public square, because there were societal consensuses about marriage and the proper behavior of gays that wouldn't have countenanced such a discussion. There has been a lot of movement since then on both of those questions - marriage and the behavior of gays. There is an emerging social consensus - already fully emerged among influential opinion makers, the educated and the young - that we need to be tolerant of public behavior that is important to others, if it doesn't harm us. (Note that I'm not condemning anything here, just observing how things used to be and how they've changed.)A real difficulty for the church is that she enters public conversations like this with her own philosophical and theological background that is not part of the common currency of social discourse. (I presume there was more commonality a few generations ago when the mainline Protestant churches were vibrant and most Americans belonged to one of them. Now that almost all of them are ghosts of their former selves, one of the losses is that shared Christian philosophical/theological heritage.) When the church says what she says, it may be grounded in Aristotle, scripture, Aquinas and John Paul II; but it is heard by people who hear it through a filters of civil rights, political rhetoric and the primacy of personal experience and emotion. It almost requires ecumenical-style conversations to bridge these gaps.

Your attribution to me (and my relatives) of wanting incest is unsupported. "Single" means not married. Read the text.

Please William; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_lawExcerpt:Natural law or the law of nature (Latin: lex naturalis) has been described as a law whose content is set by nature and is thus universal.[1] As classically used, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. The phrase natural law is opposed to the positive law (meaning "man-made law", not "good law"; cf. posit) of a given political community, society, or nation-state, and thus can function as a standard by which to criticize that law.[2] In natural law jurisprudence, on the other hand, the content of positive law cannot be known without some reference to the natural law (or something like it). Used in this way, natural law can be invoked to criticize decisions about the statutes, but less so to criticize the law itself. Some use natural law synonymously with natural justice or natural right (Latin ius naturale)[citation needed]Although natural law is often conflated with common law, the two are distinct in that natural law is a view that certain rights or values are inherent in or universally cognizable by virtue of human reason or human nature, while common law is the legal tradition whereby certain rights or values are legally cognizable by virtue of judicial recognition or articulation.[3] Natural law theories have, however, exercised a profound influence on the development of English common law,[4] and have featured greatly in the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Surez, Richard Hooker, Thomas Hobbes, Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, and Emmerich de Vattel. Because of the intersection between natural law and natural rights, it has been cited as a component in United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. The essence of Declarationism is that the founding of the United States is based on Natural law.Paul of Tarsus wrote in his Epistle to the Romans: "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law unto themselves, their conscience also bearing witness."[40] The intellectual historian A.J. Carlyle has commented on this passage as follows:There can be little doubt that St Paul's words imply some conception analogous to 'natural law' in Cicero, a law written in men's hearts, recognized by man's reason, a law distinct from the positive law of any State, or from what St Paul recognized as the revealed law of God. It is in this sense that St Paul's words are taken by the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries like St Hilary of Poitiers, St Ambrose, and St Augustine, and there seems no reason to doubt the correctness of their interpretation.[41]

Jack - My point is that none of us can marry "anyone we please". Society has rules about such things, and the people in a given society have the right to set the rules for their society.

The Catholic Church has the right and responsibility to speak to political matters, including the definition and status of marriage. The Church should speak with a clear and authoritative voice on any matter of public concern. I left the RCC because I didn't wish the institution to speak for me on same-sex marriage legislation, and in particular to fundraise in the pews, during the Mass, for political causes, and use discretionary funds at a diocesan level to influence plebiscites (including in other jurisdictions). I think these last two matters are poor practices that speak to a lack of accountability.

So how, exactly, do I know that sexual relations (feelings of affection, acts of intimacy) between two persons of the same sex are in violation of the natural law. It seems to me that natural law (or Natural Law) is in the eyes of the beholder.

On the other hand defense contractors, labor unions and the AARP all do it. Why shouldnt the Catholic Church?Jim,Because the Church wants to keep its 501(c)(3) tax exempt status?There are other interesting problems. For example, the bishops are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. However, polls show that 51% of Catholics support same-sex marriage. I don't know how much the Church takes in through Sunday collections, but whatever the level of Catholic giving is at present, if the Church starts politicking on hot button issues, I would imagine it would lose financial support.

@Jeff: "My only point: its hard to have a rational and productive dialogue on this very contentious issue so long as were not clear on the most basic and fundamental teachings of the Church."But that's precisely the point under discussion here. Your reference to what happened in New Orleans during the Civil Rights struggle underscores that point. As this and other recent threads at this site have noted, for centuries, the church taught very clearly that slavery was mandated by scripture and congruent with natural law and reason. Bishops and religious owned slaves.During the Civil Rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s (and yes, I was alive then, and in school at Loyola in New Orleans in the 1960s), some Catholic leaders like Rummel of New Orleans took a courageous and prophetic stand against practices that had PREVIOUSLY been taken for granted by most Catholics and justified by church teaching,, and were still taken for granted and justified by many Catholics.The process by which the church changed its mind about the issue of slavery, about racism in general, and about many other issues throughout history, has been one in which some Catholics somewhere have dared to ask if church teaching is adequate or correct.That's a step AGAINST WHICH you are--strangely--arguing here, with your absolute certainty that the church is correct in condemning same-sex sexual relationships and the civil marriage of same-sex couples, and that this teaching cannot be questioned or discussed.You also ask me, "The Church does require that those who present themselves for Communion do so in a proper state; but the Church has ever thus done so. Should it not?"But I had clearly outlined a method of using bells, alarums, whistles, and spycams to identify and single out the group of public sinners du jour that the majority may decided to exclude from communion at any given point in time, in order to make itself appear untainted and pure from all sin! In doing so, I was following the lead of those posters who have stated that God commands heterosexuality and condemns homosexuality (though, curiously enough, I haven't ever seen either of those terms in the scriptures, and would be surprised to find them there, since they're modern neologisms). Posters who also argue in this thread that that public dissenters from church doctrine should, of course, be excluded from communion.If you assume that no one in this thread has suggested excluding anyone from communion, and that no one in the Catholic church in the U.S. these days presses for such exclusion, I'd suggest you aren't paying careful attention to this thread or the news about the church in general.My own position? Start the kind of witch hunt implied with some of these suggestions, and you'll quickly decimate the body of Christ. All things considered, it seems far preferable to me to invite, welcome, and include, and encourage people to follow the venerable Catholic tradition of consulting their consciences and collaborating with their confessors as they approach the communion rail.I am a traditional Southern person, in many ways. Inviting, welcoming, and including rank high in my list of virtues--though God knows, I'm also painfully aware of the many ways in which both contemporary Southerners and my ancestors have failed to exhibit those virtues vis-a-vis selected groups of people. In the South, many of us who are white Christians have gone in quick succession from targeting people of color to women to gay and lesbian folks. What seems consistent is our need to find a group on which to vent our insecurities and angers, in the name of God. I'm not very attracted to a faith community that is big on disinviting, unwelcoming, and excluding. Or using a targeted group of people as a scapegoat to bear sins that are far more widely exhibited within the body of Christ than within that minority group alone.

Society has rules about such things, and the people in a given society have the right to set the rules for their society.Ken,Not exactly. The people of the United States cannot, for example, say that a black man may not marry a white woman. It once was the case, but "society" did not change its mind. The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. There are many, many restrictions society can't, in the United States, put on who can marry whom, and there are restrictions no society should put on who can marry whom. It is not even the position of the Catholic Church that the majority in a society get to make the rules.

"There is an emerging social consensus already fully emerged among influential opinion makers, the educated and the young that we need to be tolerant of public behavior that is important to others, if it doesnt harm us." There is? That's news to me; seems like the people of California who voted to ban same sex marriage had a different "social consensus." Why is that consensus to be subjected to question? My state has a similar consensus and has banned same sex marriage. Is that consensus to be challenged?

"If you assume that no one in this thread has suggested excluding anyone from communion, and that no one in the Catholic church in the U.S. these days presses for such exclusion, Id suggest you arent paying careful attention to this thread or the news about the church in general."I'm suggesting that neither I nor the Catholic Church has suggested excluding homosexuals from communion simply because they are homosexual. And I just don't see the kind of "spycam" theology that you do.

William FG --About how we get to know natural law: two preliminary notes: First, there are many theories of natural law. They mainly derive from Aristotle and the Stoics. Second, a few words about Aristotle's basic theory. The essence of something is its "whatness", that which makes it to be the *kind* of thing it is. Material things have two levels of being -- their "substance", which is their most basic reality that remains the same even as the being changes in some ways. Substance gives rise to "properties", which further determine the being. For instance, it is a property of a seed to form roots, it is a property of water to freeze at 32 degrees F, properties of human beings including wanting food, friends, sex, children, education, etc. These properties are all *necessarily* part of being human. They come necessarily with being-human. We cannot not want them unless we will to do so. (Note: will gets to be something of a theoretical problem in natural law theory sometimes, but it's not fatal by any means.) Also note: the word "substance" and "properties" are used in Aristotelian natural law theory in the very same way that modern chemists use the terms. "Nature" means "essence as operative", or put another way, nature is substance as it acts for its own good, its own fulfillment of its best capabilities (faculties). So a substance's nature is how it acts --- or needs to act -- for its capabilities to be perfected. According to Aristotle (and Thomas sometimes) we get to know what those capabilities are through experience. We look around and *find* that certain actions lead to the fulfillment of certain capacities while others frustrates those capacities. The most basic notion here is that there are certain sorts of behavior which *necessarily* lead to the fulfillment of people's best capacities, and there are certain sorts of behavior which *necessarily* prevent fulfillment or simply do not aim to fulfill what *must be fulfilled* if a person is to be happy. (I've oversimplified some, of course.) People in a society pool their experiences and end up generalizing about what makes people happy --- and, note, they're the same basic things in all cultures because all cultures are made up of people: food, comfort, sex, friendship, marriage, children, education, being part of society, beauty. Once the generalizations have been discovered (using reason to do so), the society *commands* that the members be allowed to do or commands that people do what leads to happiness, and society *commands* that certain actions that frustrate these capabilities be prohibited. Note the defining connection in all this between actions *necessary* for happiness and command or *law*. For instance, one of the great human capacities is the capacity for friendship. Without friends we cannot be happy. To betray a friend is to prevent the fulfilment of that friendship, so it violates our capacity, it goes against our nature, it is immoral.

@Jeff: "Im suggesting that neither I nor the Catholic Church has suggested excluding homosexuals from communion simply because they are homosexual."I think you and I must read different Catholic newspapers, Jeff.I'm aware of a number of cases in which people have been excluded from communion in Catholic parishes in recent years solely because they were assumed to be either gay or in support of those who are unapologetically gay.In some of these cases, the excuse for the exclusion is, of course, that the folks are wearing rainbow pins or sashes, though I haven't heard of sartorial qualifications for communion on the part of any other groups in the church. If they are there, it seems the Knights of Columbus are violating some serious church laws when they approach the altar in full regalia.In other cases, the exclusion has been solely because the people in question are known to be a gay couple--an unapologetic, open gay couple.We can quibble and say that these folks are being excluded because they are "public" "sinners" or making a "political statement." What is consistent in these stories, however, is the deliberate targeting of a particular group in the church.I suspect that there might be many other public sinners who make overt political statements in the communion line on any given Sunday, don't you, Jeff? Why the disproportionate emphasis on those who happen to be gay public sinners or activists, I wonder?And then, of course, there's the fact that the church is, in so many places and so many ways so unwelcoming to those of us who are gay that many of us have heard the message some of our fellow Catholics intend to give us and we simply no longer participate. And won't do so as long as our very humanity is defined--in an exclusive way that applies only to those who are gay--as intrinsically disordered.And then there's also the fact that those of us who are openly and unapologetically gay have almost no job security or protection from discrimination in most Catholic institutions, and everything the church tries to tell us about how we're loved and welcome will continue to fall on deaf ears as long as we can be excluded from the table of daily bread in the twinkling of an eye by a Catholic employer solely because of our sexual orientation, with no recourse against the injustice. (Empty) welcome is a meager word to munch on when one has no salary or health care coverage due to the decisions of the welcoming community that practices radical unwelcome while preaching its opposite.

"seems like the people of California who voted to ban same sex marriage had a different social consensus. Why is that consensus to be subjected to question? "Hey, Jeff, I wouldn't call the outcome of the California referendum an example of "social consensus" - more like "sharp division".Had that vote been conducted in 1960 there probably would have been an actual consensus. That was then, this is now.

"Society has determined in our case via representative government using a democratic process that we will not allow insect or polygamy. All societies have the right to determine what will be allowed and what will not be allowed. That is why we are currently discussing same-sex marriage. As a society, we are trying to decide whether or not we will allow it."This wonderful Judeo-Christian society at one time decided that people of differing races could not marry. And they used the bible as justification, too. Maybe even natural law.And, no, all societies DO NOT have the right to determine what will or will not be allowed. In this country we are a society of laws and have a constitution - and for very good reason. The tyranny of the majority has a long history in this country and luckily laws take place over prejudices.May I call you attention to this? "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. (The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States)BTW, I have nothing against insects.

So why do I get the sense that Natural Law is just Thomism whose theology has been made sub rosa? Why should Aristotle (much as I love the guy) be the ultimate window onto truth?

I agree that Aristotle should not be the ultimate window onto truth. Here is what Aristotle says about bison:"Owing to the savor of its flesh it is sought for in the chase. When it is wounded it runs away, and stops only when thoroughly exhausted. It defends itself against an assailant by kicking and projecting its excrement to a distance of eight yards; this device it can easily adopt over and over again, and the excrement is so pungent that the hair of hunting-dogs is burnt off by it."On subjects other than bison, Aristotle is usually worth consulting, though not uncritically.

William FG --I don't understand your question. What doyou have in mind here?

"Im aware of a number of cases in which people have been excluded from communion in Catholic parishes in recent years solely because they were assumed to be either gay or in support of those who are unapologetically gay. In some of these cases, the excuse for the exclusion is, of course, that the folks are wearing rainbow pins or sashes, though I havent heard of sartorial qualifications for communion on the part of any other groups in the church. If they are there, it seems the Knights of Columbus are violating some serious church laws when they approach the altar in full regalia."William L, if you believe that wearers of rainbow sashes are denied communion in some times and places because they are gay or because they "support those who are unapologetically gay", you're mistaken. Here's a pretty good news story - hope it helps. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0502992.htm

"I suspect that there might be many other public sinners who make overt political statements in the communion line on any given Sunday"I don't know of any. Can you give some examples?

Per David Not exactly. The people of the United States cannot, for example, say that a black man may not marry a white woman. It once was the case, but society did not change its mind. The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. There are many, many restrictions society cant, in the United States, put on who can marry whom, and there are restrictions no society should put on who can marry whom. It is not even the position of the Catholic Church that the majority in a society get to make the rules.David The US Constitution was developed, approved, and even changed (via amendment) by the free society we thankfully have and likewise, the US Supreme Court and the rest of our government was established. The Supreme Court is not separate from, and does not lord over society from somewhere on high. It is a reflection of the values of society and its charter is straightforward enough; to determine whether a given law is in line with the ideals set forth by American society in our Constitution.The supreme court did not declare anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional back in the 1870s; it came around to that conclusion about a hundred years later (sometime in the 1970s I think). In the century that had past between the end of the Civil War and 1970, the view of most Americans regarding black-white marriage had changed quite a bit.It is simply factual that over the course of about a hundred years, American society did change how it viewed the constitution regarding inter-racial marriage; the opinion of the majority evolved on that and other issues as well. Eventually the rules regarding inter-racial marriage were changed. They were changed by the Supreme Court when - in the view of most of society - it was time to change them. The Supreme Court then, is a reflection of the values our society holdsAnd so my point stands; a given society is well within its rights to set up the laws and customs by which people in that society will live. For example, while I do not think anyone should have their hand cut off for stealing (or for doing anything else for that matter), some societies have laws that call exactly for that penalty. Now, you and I can tsk, tsk all day long but in fact, folks in those societies do not care what we or anyone else thinks regarding the matter. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that they are well within their right to organize and set the rules for their society; it is their concern.Why would I presume that any society would not have the right to self determination?

Felapton --Ah, the great scientists! They'll believe anything:-)

There may be reasons for Catholics to not support gay marriage (e.g. traditional understanding & Biblical view of marriage consisting of a man and a woman) but upholding the sanctity of marriage is certianly not one of them.Thanks to us heterosexuals, marriage could not sink any lower. Divorce. Multiple divorces. Starter marriages. Marriage as reality TV. The Bachelor. Who Wants to Marry My Father? Multiple marriages. Adultery. Celebrity marriages. Open marriages. Polyamory. Public affairs. Private affairs. Ugly divorces. Damaged children. Custody fights. Facebook affairs. Do I need to go on?The idea that despite the way heterosexuals have denegrated marriage, homosexuals still want access to this most "scared" insitution may be a positive sign in a troubled world. Who knows? Maybe gay couples can redeem an institution destroyed by heterosexuals.

Ken --Nice, decent, educated Soitherners thought slavery was AOK, and for the longest time the Northerners generally agreed to it. Did that make the laws just?

Suzanne, I do not agree with how you are using notion of collective guilt. Politicians like to use group-identity to pit one group against another, usually with their own political gain in mind. In any case, I do not think group-identification is fitting or useful in this discussion. I do not think one can say Homosexuals will damage the institution of marriage or that Heterosexuals have damaged the institution of marriage. It is more complex than pointing a finger at one group or the other.

Ann I am not talking about whether slavery laws were just (they obviously were not) or whether laws that call for chopping someones hands off for stealing are just (they are not). I am simply pointing out that societies are within their rights to organize themselves and set rules for themselves as the majority sees fit.In the case of slavery, obviously that question divided the nation. However eventually it was settled and slavery was outlawed. After the American Civil War, legal slavery continued in other countries for years. The point is that as a society, while initially America chose to simply not address slavery, American society eventually, ultimately decided that slavery was wrong. In any case however, Americans were well within their rights to make the decision; to decide what sort of society we would have.In Saudi Arabia for example, women cannot drive and they must wear the burka. Now I do not think that is fair or just, but the fact of the matter is that the Saudis have the right to organize their society as they wish.Do you not think a society has the right to self determination?

@ Jim P. Are people who wear the Red Star ever refused communion? A red star is a recognizable symbol of Communist ideology. Nobody wears it by accident.

Ann, of course there is no guarantee a society will make correct choices; societies are comprised of flawed human beings. However all societies have the right to decide the sorts of laws and customs under which they will operate.A Norwegian is different than a Spaniard and he is different than a Japanese man, and he is different than someone from Laos. Each of those societies has their own laws and customers, and each is entitled to them.I do not see why the notion of a society having a right to self determination is so bothersome.

The Russians set up Soviet society and seemed to prefer that to anything else until the late 1980s.While Soviet communism was cruel, as long as they kept it within their own country, it was more or less their own business.Red China is probably a better example; China operates under a brutal atheistic communist regime, but regardless of what I think of it, how the Chinese organize themselves inside China is very much their business. It is their country, their society; not anyone elses. The majority in Chinese society have decided that is how they want their nation organized, and that is their right.

@Jim: I suspect that there might be many other public sinners who make overt political statements in the communion line on any given Sunday.If you're reading the sentence to be talking about public sinners making overt political statements, then I can understand your skepticism. And if that's the sense you're making of it, then it's obviously not well-constructed, and I have to apologize for that.If you are doubting, however, that there are other public sinners besides the openly gay couples who preoccupy attention on this thread, or others making overt political statements (again, besides openly gay folks who may be, e.g., wearing rainbow pins), then I'm puzzled. I'm puzzled that you don't recognize that the communion lines in any given Catholic church on any given Sunday have an assortment of people who often include people who could, if a community wished to tag them that way, be identified as public sinners. And people whose politics are worn as openly on their sleeves as are those of the rainbow community.I'm not aware that the church is in the habit of turning away from communion people who pay unjust wages to their employees, or practice discrimination in hiring and firing decisions--though I'm pretty sure those people do exist and approach the altar in many communities. Nor am I aware that folks who engage in sexist, racist, or environmentally destructive behavior are generally turned away from the altar, though I suspect they exist in some communities and approach the communion rail without fear in those communities. I seem to recall that bishops who have been known to have engaged in immoral and even criminal protection of priests who have abused children frequently commune, even when their sins have been made public, and none of the questions asked here about communing gays are asked about them.To the best of my recollection, even people who assisted in massacring workers (and advocates for workers) in Latin America and in disappearing political dissidents in decades not far from the present have boldly approached the communion rail and not been turned away--when many of those in the church have known who these people were and what they've done. I know many parishes in which heterosexual couples living "in sin" receive communion routinely on Sundays, and nobody bats an eyelash. I know of one parish after another where married couples practicing contraception--though perhaps without public announcements about this (they're accorded the right to follow their consciences without public shaming)--go to communion. No questions asked. My brother and his wife have never asked about their welcome at the communion rail after they chose, following consultation with their pastor, for her to have a tubal ligation some years ago.While some of us remain fixated on the question of whether or not to let a rainbow pin-wearing gay person (or a supporter of such a person), or members of a gay couple come to communion, we seem curiously inattentive to the sins of many other "public" sinners. Strange, isn't it?

At my church several of the priests who preside at Eucharist and several of our communion ministers are openly gay and in committed relationships. It's wonderful to be free of the sexual politics that make a turnstile of the communion rail.

William F - You are not attending Roman Catholic church now; correct?

That is correct. I attend St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Ardmore, PA.

In any case however, Americans were well within their rights to make the decision; to decide what sort of society we would have.Ken,You are saying Americans were well within their rights to have slavery. Nobody has a right to sanction slavery. It was, is, and always will be wrong. If you are making the point that democratic societies do set their own rules, then who can disagree. If you are making a point that democratic societies have a right to set their own rules, that is true insofar as the rules they set don't violate human rights or do any other kind of avoidable harm. You seem to be saying slavery is okay if the majority says it is okay. But it isn't. Individuals in the United States have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but they don't have a right to do anything they want just because they are free.

David, please don't be silly; slavery was terrible and was very wrong, and this is an important discussion.My point is that societies have the right to set the rules that will apply to people living in that society. I pointed out that societies make the correct choices. Still people have the right organize their society as the majority sees fit.-------------------------------------------------------------Ann, of course there is no guarantee a society will make correct choices; societies are comprised of flawed human beings. However all societies have the right to decide the sorts of laws and customs under which they will operate.A Norwegian is different than a Spaniard and he is different than a Japanese man, and he is different than someone from Laos. Each of those societies has their own laws and customers, and each is entitled to them.I do not see why the notion of a society having a right to self determination is so bothersome.

David In some Arab lands they cut off the hands of people who were caught stealing.This punishment is cruel and unusual, and probably a sin. However wrong that law is, it does not negate the fact that even when they choose poorly people in a society have the right to set the rules by which they live.For example, you and I have no right to dictate to the people of Yemen, what their criminal code should be, and what punishments folks in Yemen should allow.

According to Wikipedia, Yemen has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Saudi Arabia has not.

David - I meant to say "...I pointed out that societies [don't always] make the correct choices..."

@William F.: "Its wonderful to be free of the sexual politics that make a turnstile of the communion rail."And it's interesting that Ken wants to underscore that you're speaking here qua Episcopalian. Not as a Roman Catholic. Ken appears eager to own the turnstile on behalf of our RC church.Apropos your remark (and I wholeheartedly agree with you that politics shouldn't make a turnstile of the communion rail; and it's a measure of how badly miscatechized some Catholics are these days, and how little they understand what their faith is all about that they aren't deeply shocked at how far Catholicism has stepped in that direction, at least in the U.S.)--apropos nothing at all in this thread, and apropos everything in the thread: One of the most painful experiences I've ever had in church was something I witnessed at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the latter half of the 1980s. I'd gone on pilgrimage there, and was attending a liturgy at the shrine. In the pew ahead of me was a man with a small boy I took to be his son. Both were in tattered and somewhat dirty clothes. They stood out among the others attending this liturgy, most of whom seemed to be a tour group of what appeared to be affluent Mexicans.When time for communion arrived, the man got up and stood in the communion line with others at the liturgy. I saw all of this from my seat, since I did not go to communion. When the man reached one of the priests distributing communion, the priest shook his head and refused communion to him.The man, who already had the posture of a whipped animal, then crept back with an even more subdued posture to his pew. The small boy witnessed the whole scenario. This man and the boy I thought was his son were dark-skinned Mexican campesinos, obviously from the lower echelons of their country's socio-economic order.All the priests concelebrating the liturgy, and all of the other people attending the liturgy, were light-skinned and appeared to be from the higher echelons of Mexican society. The priest who shook his head and refused communion to the man appeared, frankly, haughty.Of course, I was a visitor and had no idea at all whether the priest knew the man to whom he refused communion, and I had no idea why he chose to do this. I did know, from the accents of the people I'm describing, that they were Mexican.I recounted what had happened a day or so later to an American missionary priest in Mexico City whom I'd met on this pilgrimage, and he assured me that the priest would not have forbidden communion to the man without good reason. I have to say, I found his assurance less than convincing. To me, it seemed to be more about holding up clerical side than recognizing that it might be possible that someone could be refused communion at a pilgrimage site because he was an unknown person of a lower social class attending a liturgy being celebrated for a tour group of known persons from a higher social class.I don't think I'll ever stop seeing in my mind's eye that man creeping back to his pew in his torn and soiled clothes, and the little boy with large eyes in similar clothes watching his father's (as I took him to be) humiliation.

@Ken: "David, please dont be silly; slavery was terrible and was very wrong, and this is an important discussion."Amazing, isn't it, how easy it is to know that fact now, in retrospect, after the moral arc of history has moved decisively in the direction of viewing slavery as morally reprehensible.But how difficult it would have been to ascertain this moral fact at a point in history when people of faith largely supported slavery, and when many of their faith communities harped constantly on how the bible mandates slavery, and how both natural law and reason indicate that slavery is a positive good for society.At the time that a few people of faith (and people in secular society) began to question slavery, they were considered radical dissidents whose questions about a venerable, scripturally blessed institution would unravel the fabric of their society. They were told to stop questioning the clear, consistent teaching of Christian churches for centuries.It was only because those courageous people persisted in questioning what had long been taken for granted by everyone around them--including people of faith--and challenging the consensus of their own religious communities about what scripture holds and what nature and reason demand that we can now look back and say with such certainty that slavery was terrible and wrong--when some of our own bishops and religious in the U.S. owned slaves in the past.

Pages

Share

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.