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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.

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Ken --No, we do not have the moral right to deprive others of their rights . (I'm talking pure Thomistic natural law theory here.)You don't seem to make a distinction between legal rights and moral rights. They are not the same in all cases. If anyone is interested in a very understandable but authoritative book on natural law, I recommend Alasdair MacIntyre's "After Virtue" very highly. He has had a huge influence on many different ethicians, not just Thomists. First rate by any standards.

Bill L. --In the early '80's I visited the great shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and attended Mass there. I saw no evidence of discrimination against the poor at all. The long lines filing past the great image, the people seated in the church, both seemed to me like any normal mixture of well-to-do and poor in U.S. Churches.

Thanks, Ann, for the reference to MacIntyre. I admit be being skeptical of what I sense is crypto-theocratic politics behind "N"atural "L"aw rhetoric, at least by George, but I would read MacIntyre with an open mind. Here is how scandalous the Eucharist is at my Episcopal Church. At St. Mary's we welcome any baptized person to the Table who wishes to receive. Indeed, as some may know, even very young children are invited to receive; there's no such thing as a First Holy Communion as a rite of passage. I believe in a radical openness to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Some of this thread brings to mind the end of an old saying drawn from an earlier Church era (1209): "And let God sort them out." It sounds at times here as if God is known to need some serious help in sorting out who's who in a mixed crowd, as if He were short on time, energy, or database. William F.'s church sounds as if it has a clear idea of what they are there for.

Ann, I was very surprised to see that particular incident at the shrine of Guadalupe. It was the second time in my life to have gone there, and part of what draws me strongly to the shrine of Guadalupe is precisely its affirmation that God is present among, speaks to, and loves with a very particular love those who are on the margins in this world. On both occasions--but more so on my first visit a decade or so before the one about which I've just spoken--I was deeply moved by seeing the confidence with which people who were obviously from the lowest socioeconomic echelons of their societies approached the shrine and its image of the Lady of Guadalupe.All the more shocking to see that man refused communion. I have no idea, of course, why he was refused communion. And for all I know, the priest with whom I discussed the story may have been right, and the priest who denied him communion may have had a valid reason for doing so.All I can say is what I felt from my vantage point as the bystander, about what this exceedingly painful event communicated to me. No matter what valid reasons anyone might have to refuse communion to an humble man in rags, who is in a church with his son (I felt sure the young boy was the man's son), there ought to be some way to safeguard the man's dignity. And to spare his son the pain of seeing his father humiliated.The obvious disparity in socioeconomic status between the priest denying this man communion and the status of the man denied communion seems to me to warrant even more delicacy and compassion, if one must deny him communion. A sad smile, even, to accompany the denial of communion? And surely a blessing, a hand touching his head to make the sign of the cross on it? Why all of this happened on that day, I can't say. I would prefer not to have seen it. And I would wish it had been very different. I would wish that my church would be far more like William F.'s, radically open and radically inviting in its approach to the eucharistic table.But then, who I am and what I have to say doesn't count for much in either the grand scheme of things or in how my church chooses to do business or how my fellow Catholics decide what it means to be Catholic these days . . . . People's very substance as human beings is at stake when we begin talking about who is worthy to approach the communion table and who is not. I'm astonished that so many Catholics are willing to entertain this conversation without seeming to think deeply about that fact--and about how this is far more than a rational, abstract theological discussion.

The lack of hospitality at the heart of our central act of worship, as Catholics (and I am Catholic) is astounding when one thinks of turning people away from the symbol and substance of our unity. At an Episcopal church nearby where we only sporadically attend--more "smells and bells" than our parish of St. Mary's--the priest is careful to say that all many come forward at communion either for the Eucharist or, if not baptized, for a blessing. Thus, no one is made to feel he or she must remain in the pew. One Bread. One Body. One Cup. One Lord of all.

Bill L --To me refusing anyone Communion would be a terrible thing. Unless someone has publicly repudiated membership or has been excommunicated publicly and individually I don't see how the person distributes the Host could possibly be competent to judge anyone's rightful access to Communion Some one suggested that even a non-priest could question a doubtful person, it it seems to me that this would be usurping the function of the priest in the privacy of Confession. The whole notion with possibly a very, very few exceptons seems to violate a lot of what the Church teaches about Confession, conscience, and the need of grace for sinners.

To receive communion in the Catholic Church, you must be initiated, and you must be properly disposed. That is the sense in which "All Are Welcome". You're welcome to enter more deeply into the salvific mystery (initiation), and you're welcome to reform your life to enable that deepening (disposition).Communion is a sacrament of reality - the reality of deep, intimate spiritual union with the Body of Christ. Those who aren't properly initiated or disposed, but who come forward to receive communion anyway, are imposing their own wishful thinking, or confusion, or bad faith, on what should be a sacrament of truth and light. They are smothering beautiful reality and possibility in a blanket of unreality and sin. The light becomes dimmed, the truth is no longer heard.One can note the preceding without singling out homosexuals in any way. It applies equally to everyone.

Whatever, Jim P. This is not the only way to understand this sacrament at an operational level. Peace be with you.

Jim, the reason why a believer should not partake of the Eucharist if he is not in a state of grace is because it does him no good -- not because it is an offense against the Church or his fellow believers. To see otherwise is to look at the Church as a club that dispenses perks to members in good standing, whose sense of decorum and privilege must not be disrupted. The authoritarian impulse -- to be offended by the disorderly in thought and deed among us -- is almost never charitable.

Barbara, this way of talking about the state of grace is creepy and obsolete. Bishops feel very sad today, because so many of them would have lived so much happier lives if they had married.The opening of marriage to two people of the same sex is perhaps the biggest body blow to traditional patriarchal order since the abolition of the great biblical institution of slavery.

The Eucharist itself brings the forgiveness of sins. Everything is given in Christ, bread from heaven -- he fulfills all our appetites. There is nothing lacking in him, but our own appetite is what is defective. Spiritual anorexia is our problem.

Ken thinks that slavery was terrible and very wrong. Forbidding love and marriage is terrible too, and as we now see, very wrong. It is a sad thing that the Stonewall generation in New York did not make committed relationships their foremost concern (not that any of the churches encouraged them to). This could have forestalled the AIDS epidemic.

Ken also things that society has the right to make its own rules -- so slavery is OK in slave societies? What sort of extreme relativism is this? Why do Catholic bloggers so often end up at square one, or minus?

But why bother with Ken -- Archbishop Dolan's cry baby antics are much more interesting.

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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.