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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Where are We Going with Same-Sex Unions?

What Did the Pope Say?

“Lo que tenemos que crear es una ley de unión civil. De esa manera, están legalmente cubiertas.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way, they are legally covered.”

“La gente homosexual tiene derecho a estar en una familia. Son hijos de Dios y tienen derecho a una familia. Nadie debería ser expulsado o sentirse miserable por ello.”

“Gay people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God and have the right to a family. No one should be expelled or (made to) feel miserable about it.”

While we have long known that Pope Francis personally favored same-sex “civil unions” as an alternative to same-sex “marriages,” the recent citation in a documentary may force a change in praxis from the 2003 Vatican document that prohibited both. The pending matter here is not academic. Prudential judgment must not include an inner contradiction that ratifies or excuses mortal sin.  This is why I am of the opinion that such distinctions between labels are euphemistic; however, it is possible that a “tertium quid” might later be fashioned that would technically be permissible within the framework of Catholic doctrine, i.e. a publicly endorsed brotherly or sisterly union over one that denotes a genital-sexual bond.

It must be acknowledged that such a “third thing” or way would never find positive acceptance from organizations like New Ways Ministry or Dignity which promote as positive the exercise of intimate homosexual or lesbian relations.  Indeed, the latter organization goes to the extreme of excusing casual fornication.

What might be the eminent ramifications from all this sensationalism?

If gay relationships are to be judged as familial with all the associated rights, can Church authorities deny “spousal benefits” to gay partners?  Would we acknowledge formal rights to property ownership and inheritance?  Would our Catholic hospitals grant them the authority to make medical decisions for one another?  Can we continue to fire staff, as with musicians and teachers, who come out publicly as in same-sex bonds? 

Several years ago Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington and elsewhere (like Boston) terminated adoption services because changes in civil law required that we give consideration to grant orphaned children to same-sex couples.  It was the beginning of a fight over the Church’s “religious liberty.”  We argued that children had a right to a mother and a father.

While biblical and longstanding morality in the Church would target intimate homosexual acts as sinful; would the Church be able to bless unions and regularize couples who pledge a “particular” but “celibate” love for each other?  Is this practically feasible and if so, would they be placed under any greater scrutiny than married men and women who sometimes commit wrongful acts and bring them to the sacrament of penance?

The Meaning of Marriage & Love is Already Compromised 

Most of our religious and priests are heterosexual men and women who love the Lord and others but have chosen not to pursue erotic love or any form of genital affection.  This may be a teaching moment for a society that wrongly and immediately equates love with lust.  Many of our heterosexual marriages fail because of such confusion and immaturity.  Love inherently demands self-discipline and sacrifice.  Love is not about narcissism or manipulation.  The loving Christian, gay or straight, should look upon the beloved as one to nurture and protect.  As believers we would logically want those near to us to walk with the Lord and to be in a state of grace or holy. Any who would draw a partner into sin do not really love as they should.  Pope Francis speaks a great deal about accompaniment.  As always, this implies that we are all going in the same direction— toward the kingdom of heaven. 

What Can We Tolerate & What Can We Change?

The terms of salvation come from the sources of revelation:  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Politicians can change civil laws and popes can interpret the font of revelation; however, neither can rewrite what is right or wrong.  It is given to us by God.  Both divine-positive laws and natural laws remain binding and beyond our control.  We can legalize prostitution but we cannot make it right or neutral.  We can tolerate pharmacists selling condoms but we cannot condone their use.  We can allow the evil of divorce and interact with the courts in our annulment procedures, but we cannot turn a blind eye to adultery.  Our obligation as believers is to find positive ways of relating to one another and living according to divine providence. 

It is true that the Church must sometimes adapt her social and moral teachings to the current situation of a culture or society.  It is also true that there can be an organic development of doctrine as there was about slavery and possibly about capital punishment. However, such developments about the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life imply no explicit reversal of a commandment or the transposition of a vice or sin into a virtue.    

Not Conservatism But Rather What Does Orthodoxy Have to Say?

We must throughout the current debate take seriously the voices of shepherds on both sides of the divide, but particularly those who speak from the tradition.  Among these is Cardinal Raymond Burke who writes:

“It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions reported with so much emphasis by the press and attributed to Pope Francis do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church, as it is expressed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and is guarded, protected and interpreted by the Magisterium. Equally sad and concerning is the turmoil, confusion, and error they cause among the Catholic faithful, as is the scandal they cause, in general, by giving the totally false impression that the Catholic Church has had a change of course, that is, has changed its perennial teaching regarding such fundamental and critical questions.” 

Another shepherd weighing in is Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island who states: 

“The Holy Father’s apparent support for the recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples needs to be clarified. The Pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the Church about same-sex unions. The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However, the legalization of their civil unions, which seek to simulate holy matrimony, is not admissible.”

At face-value, it is as he says it is.  Such a matter is not judged on the same level as abortion or the murder of children which is a non-negotiable within the moral order; however, it is important as it breaches dialogue about the nature of marriage and family— the basic building block of a healthy society.  It is in the family where we develop a sense of identity— learning our prayers and first encountering Christ and finding witnessed the values that we will take with us into adulthood.   

What Constitutes Parents & a Family?

The Holy Father has previously sided with the argument that both a mother and a father are necessary in the home.  But because of divorce, death and abandonment this is often not possible. While the young should be raised in a household that witnesses the faith; it must be admitted that there are many homes with parents of two genders that suffer from abuse and dysfunction in communication.  The ideal can be hard to live out.  Further, have we not been forced already to rethink the definition of family when children are raised by one parent or by grandparents or an older sibling?  Regularly in the news are reports of great distress because illegal immigrant parents have been forcibly separated from their children.  No matter what side of the divide one might be on the question of border control and sovereignty, this touches the hearts of all decent people.  By contrast to the matter of this posting, why is this real threat to family life ignored or minimized? When it comes to the possibility of same-sex guardians we may have to give them the benefit of a doubt.  Might Uncle Ben and Uncle Jerry be able to raise a child and teach him his prayers?  Might Aunt Susie and Aunt Jenny be faithful at Mass and with insuring the faith formation of little ones?  Might they be capable of loving, providing for and protecting a child— from any and all who would take advantage of him or her? 

Alas, the scandal of errant clergy has forfeited much in the way of the Church’s moral authority so as to interact on such questions.