Leading by Example

As strongly as Andrew Koppelman critiques What Is Marriage? (“More Intuition than Argument,” May 3), his own argument runs in strange symmetry with that of the three authors whose reasoning he rejects. For the authors of What Is Marriage?, homosexual people are unable to marry: “There is no bodily good or function toward which their bodies can coordinate.” The case is open-and-shut. But the same goes for Koppelman. Marriage, he says, “is not ‘essentially’ anything. It is a contingent cultural formation.” Now that Gallup has shown that 53 percent of Americans approve of same-sex marriage, it is time for a redefinition: marriage is “a practice which can be modified freely as our understanding of human needs change.” Again, open-and-shut. In both cases, for and against, we have marriage in the head (D. H. Lawrence famously complained against attempting to figure out “sex in the head”). Catholics have every reason to doubt the open-and-shut case on both sides of the argument.

Koppelman has written prodigiously on the subject of gay marriage, including an article in a Minnesota law journal eight years ago, in which he claimed the debate over gay marriage is “administrative.” The debate concerns “nothing as exalted as intrinsic value. It is the more mundane question of how resources should be allocated.” Take a head count about how to allocate resources, and we have a definition of marriage—at least for a while. But marriage is something. Vatican II called it a totius vitae communio, a communion of total life. The question is whether homosexual persons are able to live such a communion. We don’t need marriage in the head. We need the witness of virtuous homosexual people who over time will teach us whether their lasting commitments are marriages in the way that the lasting commitments of heterosexual couples are. Catholic theologian Rosemary Haughton showed the way ahead almost forty years ago, when she wrote: “Although truth itself, the eternal wisdom, is unchanging, the discovery of truth and wisdom by human beings is a long, strange, and unpredictable voyage of exploration, in which new kingdoms are discovered in every era. Old insights are added to new ones, modifying both and enriching the Christian heritage of each generation with new treasure. Yet the search is never over, the full wisdom is always beyond the reach of human language, however inspired.” When it comes to homosexual marriage, we are on that voyage of discovery. People of virtue will help us find the truth here.

William McDonough
Minneapolis, Minn.


What’s in a Name?

Paul Moses asks, “Why ‘Francis’?” and answers that the new pope’s choice of a title indicates “that he places humility and compassion for the marginalized at the heart of his ministry” (April 12). I ask: “Why not George?” Why choose any imperial throne name, be it Francis or Pius or Leo, over one’s baptismal name? How does this pretention of royalty serve as a sign of humility? How does the practice of adopting a regal title square with the teachings of Vatican II on the primacy of baptism? Have we Catholics become so accustomed to ecclesiastical titles that we are no longer able to sense their inherent incongruity? In his 1979 book The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, Raymond Brown wrote: “I wonder what impression a future pope might make upon being elected if he decided not to accept a special regal name but to retain his baptismal name by which he was sealed as a Christian and made known to Jesus Christ. That gesture would demonstrate the belief that an identity as a Christian is more important than an identity gained from authority.” I wonder how long we must wait for a bishop of Rome humble enough to keep his or her baptismal name.

William Hunt
Somerset, Wisc.


Shared Shame

Regarding your May 17 editorial “Broken Promises”: President Barack Obama recently addressed the hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, saying, “I don’t want these individuals to die.” But his promise to close that prison five years ago remains unfulfilled, and some will die. This prison is recognized around the world as a shameful place of torture, and as a symbol of America’s disregard for international law. Amnesty International called it a “toxic legacy“ for human rights. Guantánamo Bay prison shows how we have become like those we abhor. More than 100 of the 166 prisoners are fasting in protest of their desperate conditions and indefinite detention. Some are too weak to move. These are strapped into chairs and force-fed through a tube that runs from the nose into the stomach. Some have been imprisoned for twelve years; eighty-six were cleared for release but still remain imprisoned. Some have never been charged of any crime during their twelve years of incarceration. The facility costs $200 million a year to operate; it has become a recruitment tool for extremists.

Many people deserve blame for this open wound to our nation, beginning with former President George W. Bush, Obama, and Congress. A 2010 CNN poll showed that 60 percent of Americans favored keeping the prisoners there. Abraham Joshua Heschel, famous teacher of the Talmud said, “The prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” Our nation claims to be a beacon of light on a hill. We cannot claim the moral high ground as long as that prison remains open. Our leaders are guilty, but we are all responsible. 

(Rev.) Rich Broderick
Cambridge, N.Y.

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Published in the 2013-06-01 issue: View Contents
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