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The cramping of Catholic moral reasoning.

The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento recently announced that it will no longer provide grants to a local nonprofit that serves the homeless. Why? Was it financial scandal? No. Egregious incompetence? No. The diocese decided to defund the group, which it had been working with for over two decades, because the agency's new director has publicly supported abortion rights and gay marriage. The Sacramento Bee reports:

"I have never represented any of those positions on behalf of Francis House," said Whitmore, formerly the senior pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist Church. "I was speaking as an individual. So for me, this came out of the blue."[...]In its letter to Whitmore, the Sacramento Diocese said it respects the work Francis House does and cannot expect every organization it supports financially to "actively promote Catholic teaching.""We can expect, however, that they or their leaders not publicly oppose Catholic teaching and that, unfortunately, is the situation in which we find ourselves," the letter reads.

Diocesan spokesman Kevin Eckery said the decision to drop Francis House as a beneficiary of the pastoral center's annual fundraising appeal stemmed in part from public confusion about the agency's affiliation with the church. Although Francis House was born at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Sacramento, it has long been nondenominational and no longer is part of the church.However, "a lot of people still think Francis House is a Catholic charity," he said, and some are concerned that Whitmore's views are a reflection of those of the church.Eckery said he was unsure whether the diocese had received complaints about its donations to Whitmore's agency. "But if we haven't had one yet, we would get one," he said. "We like to get out in front of these things."


But in its zeal to avoid confusing "a lot of people," the diocese has gotten so far in front of the issue that it may be in danger of leaving behind its own moral tradition. In what universe should one expect that providing a grant to an agency whose director holds public-policy views at odds with Catholic teaching (for the moment, leave aside the question of whether the church's teaching on marriage requires Catholics to oppose legalizing gay marriage) suggests support for such views, especially when they have nothing to do with the services the agency provides? We're talking about a homeless shelter. It does not provide abortions. It does not marry gay people. It feeds, houses, and clothes the homeless. Funding such an organization communicates nothing more than the church's traditional concern for the poor. Maybe you've heard of it.What does this decision mean? That the Diocese of Sacramento will begin screening its partner agencies to make sure their employees have not publicly disagreed with policy positions endorsed by the bishop, or the bishops? As Fr. Tom Reese told the Bee, "If the bishops are going to defund every organization headed by someone who disagrees with their views on gay marriage, birth control and abortion, they are going to find very few agencies to fund." Why stop there? Why not find out whether partner agencies have employees in leadership positions who are divorced? Or have attended civil unions of gay people? Or have publicly supported the Affordable Care Act?Here's one reason: the Catholic moral tradition is not kidding about original sin.Let me explain. Early this week I had an interesting e-mail exchange with a friend who expressed his frustration with certain aspects of the contraception-mandate debate. Why are so many people confused about the way insurance works? He wrote:

The fact that insurance itself requires premiums to be pooled tells me that any theory that an employer group is not paying for contraception when it is available in the wider pool of the insured is at best a polite fiction. The desire to maintain polite fictions is part of the problem with society in general and the church in particular. It comes from morality being thought of in legalistic terms and is purely and simply a means for one to avoid responsibility for things while appearing rigorously responsible. Maybe someone should address that.

Of course, the Catholic Church has never been above employing legalistic moral reasoning to justify morally questionable actions. But legalism cuts two ways. And when it comes to casuistry, I replied, I'm pro. It may seem absurdly legalistic to work with categories of cooperation to help us figure out whether our actions are morally permissible, but they were developed to acknowledge a crucial point of Christian theology: original sin. As the contraception-mandate debate has unfolded, I worry that some arguments coming from the bishops conference and its defenders skate too close to a Manichean view of moral acts. It's as though some have forgotten that the Catholic tradition acknowledges how difficult it is to engage in morally pure acts in a fallen world. The categories of cooperation force us to think about our responsibility as moral agents -- as people whose decisions have consequences, and a lineage, always tainted by structural sin. And, when properly used, that framework acts as a bulwark against sectarianism.Now, I agree that the accommodation could be called a polite fiction. But that doesn't make it a useless fiction, because it does something important, from the standpoint of Catholic moral thought: It permits Catholic institutions to avoid explicitly contracting for services they deem inimical to church teaching. Obviously, anyone who pays insurance companies -- whether Taco Bell owners, employees, or bishops -- is to some extent subsidizing medical services the church rejects. But whether you explicitly consent is not inconsequential.How many bishops are thinking that way right now? How many are thinking like the Amish? The Catholic tradition provides a wealth of resources to help us think through these sorts of problems. Why haven't bishops used this moment to make a Catholic argument in defense of their position that even the accommodation threatens to trample the religious freedom of Catholic institutions? It's bizarre.


Commenting Guidelines

Bender and Ann, I suppose the whole thing turns on a word - "marriage". Maybe we should just give up and let the state do what it will unopposed. If two homosexuals can marry, then why not three or four or more people of various kinds in various configurations? Why not a human and a dog? Why can a person not marry himself or herself? Why not bring back polygamy - or bring on polyandry - now that the Judeo-Christian influence over society has all but vanished? "Marriage" is just a word that the state uses to define a certain tax status. The secular democratic state, value free, simply blows with the wind. It can hardly be any other way.Maybe the Church - the churches - are well advised to simply call what they're concerned with something like "Christian sacramental marriage" and get on with trying to influence people in ways in which they're still susceptible of being influenced.

Marriage is not just a word -- the Catholic Church has proclaimed the virtues and values of marriage in a mainly attractive way -- now gays and lesbians, many of them, are saying, "gee, I can practice those virtues too, thanks to my love for one other special person". Polygamy has indeed a noble biblical lineage and also flourished in traditional Asian and African cultures; Aquinas considered it compatible with Natural Law. I know of men and women who really, really love their cat(s) or their dog(s), and perhaps for carrying animals across borders they would like their relationship to enjoy civil recognition. Since I dislike cats and dogs I am not able to enter into this. I think that a human for whom a dog or cat is the supreme significant other is in a sad state.Why would someone marry themselves? It's an original idea, but sorta dotty. I don't see it catching on.Someone married the Eiffel Tower -- but not legally. I know moral theologians who urge sacramental marriage for samesex couples.

@David Smith (3/9, 3:32 pm) Thanks for the questions. First, as to feelings, I don't feel like Kathy and I "seem to belong to different Catholic churches". One of the things I've always enjoyed, as far back as I can recall, about being Catholic is the sense that the church is far bigger than just me and my friends, and people who think just like me, act just like me, believe just like me, pray just like me, and have political views just like me.Second, I don't think I'm well equipped to answer the somewhat theoretical question as to where to draw the limits on who can marry. (I suspect there are others here who are well-equipped by their intellectual training and formation, so please, jump in folks.)Not by training, but by inclination, I've read enough history to know that the Church has, over thousands of years, functioned in hundreds of societies with wildly differing understandings of marriage and what's appropriate related to marriage. At times, the Church has taken a more confrontational approach---defending its own understanding of marriage and its role in civil society, while attacking other understandings. At times, the Church has taken a more tolerant approach. Here in the US (not without extensive debate both in this country and within the global church) Catholics have generally accepted the understanding that sacramental marriage is, among other things, effectively a subset of civil marriage within the larger society. All of our sacramental marriages are recognized by the civil authorities, and have access to the rights and privileges of civil marriage in this nation. In addition, there are many (most!) civil marriages that do not meet our Catholic definition of sacramental marriage---and those marriages (of opposite-sex couples, of whatever faith or no faith) also have access to the (numerous) rights and privileges of civil marriage. Again, for the most part, we Catholics are/have been at-the-least tolerant of that.So, something like your observation @3/10, 3:08 am, is not far from what I think I'm saying. As a matter of prudential judgment (if nothing else), perhaps it's well for the Church in the United States to think of, and treat, civil same-sex marriage as being pretty similar to civil opposite-sex marriage.What limited evidence we have---it's been less than a decade since the Goodridge decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court---seems to suggest that, at least as a matter of civil law, there are many good reasons to conclude that gay and lesbian marriages have much in common with straight marriages.

Luke,I appreciate your comments. I too believe that it is possible to discuss and even disagree with others without caricaturing them.I wonder if you've considered the difference between the sex acts that are done in homosexual unions and those in heterosexual marriages. I think the Church's inability to bless homosexual unions really comes down to the sexual act itself. The question isn't whether a homosexual couple is neighborly or pleasant, etc., but whether their sexual activity accords with the natural law.

I'm glad to see a few words in favor of big tent Church -sometimes(many times?) I wonder here.Notions of marriage, family, position of women in the relatuionship have changed over time and now we are looking at the issue of gay relationships quite differently.Children are important but i haven't seen any proof that gay couples don't love and help most children brought into their families.The nub of the issue is the traditional Augustinian view that procreation is a primary goal of marriage and that every act should be open to (whatever that means beyond avoiding "artifical" interfernce).Meanwhile mature loving capacity has more and more been recognized as essential and now seen by some as really the heart of the matter.Even in my lifetime shotgun marriages, while thought to be problematic, were often supported.Arranged marriages were and in some places are still common.Woman's place was secondary to the man of the house and problems of violence were hardly given the attention that they are today (but perhaps not much in the Church.)Our understandings do move forward and just as our understnding of the physical universe has grown by leaps and bounds to cxhallenge us" so in the current times, our knowledge of persons, problems of relaionships etc. have been thrown into sharper focus than just looking back over thousands of years when much was taken for granted. )IMO some downplay the role of the social sciences as a way of not confronting these issues.)Comments then on the"natural" need some sophistication that resonates experientially.Hence the argument here will go on and on.

Since the Pauline privlege came up., canoniss created a way to make Paul;s justification of divorce acceptable long ago, despite Jesus stern insistence on the new(eschatological)?) covennat view that marriage could not be brokenSo now the whole notion of divorced/remaried ctaholics approaching the table is raised by many -quite rightly in my opinion.Paul was being pastoral in his day, but canonists are stuck in defending legalities.Somewhere in this whole discussion, the real problem of change in the Church keeps rising up -as it always has in some ways - but change is hard for many if they are deeply imvested in the notion that change is impossoible in ths or that.

"Why not a human and a dog? Why can a person not marry himself or herself? Why not bring back polygamy or bring on polyandry "David S. --As I see it, it boils down to the nature of friendship, of which marriage is the ultimate form. Marriage is (or seems to be) a union of people who love and respect each other so much that they are willing to commit their lives to the good of the other as well as to their own good. The good of their children is closely related.But people are such that they cannot focus intently on more than one thing at a time (that is just a characteristic of our consciousnesses), and so they cannot concentrate their love fully on more than one person at a time, and so they can't have more than one best friend -- with three or more involved in a triangle somebody is bound to be short-changed. Yes, many not-very-mature men would like a marriage with many wives, but the obverse is not true. Women don't want to share their husbands -- and they also don't want to have their own children sharing their father's wealth. (Selfish? Not really.) Oh, the Mormons claimed differently, but I think they've learned that there are better ways. Oh, sure, menages a' trois are still tried, but have you ever heard of one that was satisfactory to all three people? Loyalties and interests inevitably become divided because you can't give your full atttention to two people at the same time, and the full unity that characterizes a good marriage is lost. (Which, by the way, seems to be one of the reasons parenthood is so difficult -- parents must often divide attention between more than one child, and children often hate this. We even have a name for it -- sibling rivalry.) Of course, some people ask so little of life that they're willing to take whatever they can get, and end up sharing mates. Some women even tolerate adultery, but I've never known one who really accepted it. And marriage is a search for the best a person is capable of.Also, as Aristotle remarked over 2000 years ago in very different circumstances, friendship is always between equals. True, it is only in recent centuries that this aspect is being seen very clearly -- women officially, at any rate, were seen as inferior to men. But we all know that in the best romantic relationships this has never been true -- just look at the best of love poetry. It is about two people who do not look down on each other. Inequality of potentials is the reason there is no friendship with a dog or cat (at least no truly deep friendship -- you can't really tell a dog everything and expect to be fully understood. And never ask them for advice -- they'll say "Let's just go out and play" every time :-) Cats, actually have brains with highly developed afffective regions, and they seem to understand people's feelings much more easily than dogs do -- some even seem to understand people more easily than some people undeerstand each other's feelings. I'd say this is their most winning characteristic. But they are totally incapable of even loyalty, much less love of anything that doesn't contribute to their own comfort. Dogs do manage loyalty very well, but that's about ti. As to the Eiffel Tower, that way lies madness. Who would get the dog?How come this spinster is so sure of all this? Mainly because I lived with parents whose marriage was a fine one. Granted, they lucked out finding each other. Also it seems that all my gtandparents were particularly well-married. (One grandmother told me she fell in love with my grandfather at the age of 12 and never loved another man. And she was an extremely popular girl, with many admirers, including a gay one who seems to have made an exception about her.) The result was, I think, that all their children learned what a good marriage can be, and married well. I don't mean that in the sense of marrying money/status, but of finding a true love, making a committment and most of the time, though not always, putting the other first.

Arguments pro and con. Take your pick.In the end, up to Sacramento Catholics to decide if they will give financial support to their parishes and diocese.Take it out on the poor in the name of so-called "orthodoxy".Orthotoxy continues in this decision by the bishop.

I just want to point out that the Diocese and Bishop of Sacramento probably have more charitable causes they would like to support than money to do so. I highly doubt that they are taking the money which would have gone to Francis House and using it to throw parties. I'm sure its being redirected to different charities which also serve the poor.

Here's a way to look at the marriage debatemarriage = friendship + opposite sex + sexual relationship + progenygay Marriage = Friendship + same sex + sexual relationshipBoth types have an element of friendship defined as a life-long, committed, cohabitating, and monogamousMarriage has a relationship with a person of the opposite sex, who by definition thinks and acts differently helping each to be more fully human, since men and women think and act differentlyGay marriage has a relationship with someone of the same sex, who by definition cannot broaden your horizons as much since they will not think and act as differently as someone of the opposite sex.Heterosexual sex joins together complementary bodies which may or may not produce childrenHomosexual sex is shared by bodies of the same type and can never produce childrenMarriage can produce children who benefit from having a mother and a father and who also grow from the relationship with their child. Society also benefits from new humanityGay marriage can never produce children, any children they raise are deprived of one parental type, and they live under an explicit lie: you have 2 mommies or 2 daddies.So what I see, is that the only similarity between these 2 states of life is that the people involved share a deep committed friendship.

Bruce --What you say might be true if the only good that hetero couples produced were being good parents (granted a major good). But there are many other goods produced in marriage -- AND not all marriages produce ALL of them. It simply isn't true that hetero spouses themselves do not also flourish *as individuals* because of the contributions of their spouses to their lives apart from the kids. You assume that the homosexual spousal relationship is totally unlike the hetero one. Given the couples of various sorts I have known, that is not true. In the best committed relationships there are personal commitments, appreciations, sacrifices, shared enjoyments, etc., etc., that are simply not available in ordinary friendships, or at least not available to the same degree nor in such a unified way. You also assume that all gay people of their respective sexes are all alike and therefore there is no complimentarity. That is also patently false. Their differences might be *different* differences from purely sexual differences (we are getting metaphysical here :-), but still things like complementary personalities are real and valuable, just as they are in hetero marriage. And sometimes the intensification of likenesses can be a big plus. For instance, when both spouses appreciate the same music, books, or NFL teams :-) those common interests can be extremely rewarding. And in some cases they benefit the community. A trivial instance: if both garden and share plants with the neighbors. Or when two highly artistic gay men provide the understanding of their art aims that a same-sex person could not.I think your trouble is you've never *known* a solid gay couple.I would be the first to grant you that the matter of children is a huge difference. But having children is not the only way to live a meaningful life. Even the Church -- and Freud -- grant that.

Bruce,What you leave out of your marriage equations is the most important part of all: love. Basing your definition of what constitutes a marriage on sex deprives marriage of its true significance and leads to a materialist worldview, depriving both partners of their humanity and turning them into the equivalent of livestock, whose purpose is solely to reproduce.I simply don't believe that the defining characteristic of marriage is sex. (And I doubt anyone who's truly happily married would define their marriage primarily as a sexual relationship. My guess would be they'd define it by love.) Bender, All the above goes for your even more extremely genitally-fixated understanding of what constitutes a true marriage Now look, Bruce and Bender, I assume you're both from a different generation than me*, but for those of us who've grown up with openly gay friends and witnessed their loving marriages, to deny them the right to marry is nothing less than immoral.*based on the fact that you have aol e-mail accounts.

"...those of us whove grown up with openly gay friends and witnessed their loving marriages..."Matt--Not an expert, but I think the Church's teaching is that what you've witnessed is friendship, not the total gift of self, open to the transmission of life, which is reserved to marriage.

Matt, I know and have worked with many openly gay people only a few of whom I would describe as friends. Your comment reminds me of something my son said to me when I complained that he was wearing his pants too low. His response was 'Dad, people's waists are lower this generation' Of course, as an anatomical matter, that was patently false. I think your observation is heavily influenced by social convention which is quite frequently a poor indicator of morality.

Bender --Cardinal Newman said of his friend Ambrose St. John;s death, "I have ever thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband's or a wife's, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or any one's sorrow greater, than mine."[87] He directed that he be buried in the same grave as St. John: "I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St John's grave and I give this as my last, my imperative will."[88]" (Wikipedia, Cardinal Newman)According to you, that was impossible.

"What you leave out of your marriage equations is the most important part of all: love. Basing your definition of what constitutes a marriage on sex deprives marriage of its true significance and leads to a materialist worldview, depriving both partners of their humanity and turning them into the equivalent of livestock, whose purpose is solely to reproduce."Yes, so many arguments on this, including the Vatican document forbidding civil recognition of same-sex unions, are based on a radical forclusion of love. Love is not mentioned because it is fatal to their argument.

"I think the Churchs teaching is that what youve witnessed is friendship, not the total gift of self, open to the transmission of life, which is reserved to marriage."Even though we are a bit long in the tooth anymore (married for 40 years), my partner and I have always been open to any transmission of life that God chose for us. And if anyone has given themselves to each other totally, after 40 years we have!And you continue to conflate marriage with matrimony. Ain't so.

I think we should be asking the question of why the agency new director finds it appropriate to speak of gay rights and or same sex marriage?Clearly his job is not that but the care of the town's homeless and mentally ill and NOT something else!Perhaps he needs to be shown the door?

"And you continue to conflate marriage with matrimony."I stand accused. What's the difference?

P.: Because there is freedom of speech in this country. And the agency director is not Catholic. Neither is the agency. By the way, she's a she.