Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More on “More than a Monologue”

Readers of the Mirror of Justice will recall that I have previously written [HERE, HERE, and HERE] on the four-institution project sponsored by Fordham University, Fairfield University, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary. Although the conveners of this project asserted that they wanted “to change the conversation about sexual diversity and the Catholic Church” by presenting “the variety of viewpoints on issues of sexual diversity among Catholics,” the Archbishop of New York and the Bishop of Bridgeport expressed their concerns to the heads of two of the convening institutions regarding the appearance of the program that dissent from rather than support and defense of Catholic teachings was the nature of the presentations. However, these bishops were assured that “the conferences, while sensitive to the experiences of the participants, will not be a vehicle for dissent.”

As I indicated in a previous posting, I heard most of the presentations delivered at Fordham, Fairfield, and Yale, and it was my initial conclusion that these conferences were, in fact and whether intended or not, a criticism or questioning of the Church’s teachings on critical matters dealing with faith and morals. One of these presentations concentrated on same-sex marriage and was billed as a keynote address, and its content justifies and intensifies my earlier conclusion.

Although the speaker claims to be Roman Catholic, she noted her “wrestling” with the Church’s teachings on homosexual activity (not orientation). Her substantive disagreements with the Church’s teachings in the context of sexual activity and marriage are patent and were presented in three parts.

The first part argues that homosexual activity is moral, and this conclusion directly conflicts with the Church’s fundamental teachings; moreover, the author acknowledges this contradiction. However, she defends her case by arguing that homosexual couples can be and are open to the gift of life from God—just in a different way than heterosexual couples. But if one disregards this crucial difference, then, according to the keynoter, homosexual persons are on the same plane as pregnant and postmenopausal women and infertile men. The biological distinction of male and female enters neither her imagination nor her reasoning. A major point of her argument here is that couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, can be open to the gift of life through adoption—and as we have seen, this constitutes another conflict with Church teachings regarding whether same-sex couples should adopt children.

But the keynoter continues: the sexual relations that can exist between all couples, regardless of their orientation, provide the physical satisfaction that can sustain any “kin-like tie[] and childrearing partnerships.” She takes to task “the bishops” who are not open to “the truth of human sexuality” through “the sexual experience of faithful Catholics of all sexual stripes.” But experience is not the same as truth about the nature and essence of the human person.

Still for her, homosexual activity “can be open to and serve life in precisely the same way that the biologically infertile, heterosexual activity” is because “the biological openness to the possibility of procreation is not essential to good sex” and “love-making need not be inseparably connected to potentially baby-making activity in order for it to be morally good.”

In an effort to buttress her argument, the keynote speaker insists that homosexual activity is complementary—not as it is with opposite-sex couples’ sexual activity without artificial contraception but as it is with opposite-sex couples who do practice artificial contraception. This is a problem in regard to Catholic teaching. But it is not a problem for the keynoter because for her the notion of complementarity must be understood not in the context opposite sex but in the context of apposite sex—that is, sex that is apt for love-making and “forging bonds through the mutual sharing of sexual delight.” This, too, is a problem.

The speaker then combines the “moral” and “complementary” arguments to substantiate her first part claim by concluding that homosexual acts are normative because they are natural—natural if natural means anyone can do anything with anyone else and call it normal, natural, complementary, and moral. It is clear that the objective reasoning that undergirds the Church’s teachings is absent in the keynoter’s position. What is present in her position is nominalism, subjectivism, historicism, and relativism.

The second part of her presentation is that “official Catholic teaching” about same-sex marriage (SSM) is wrong. In large part her perspective relies on that assertion that since SSM is being accepted and adopted by some temporal authorities, the Church’s position must be in error. She further suggests that since the Church has been complicit in allowing same-sex civil unions, it is in no position to oppose SSM. Yet, civil unions are also new and have also been opposed by the civil authorities for a long time as they have by the Church. There is implied but unproven in her argument that the Church looked the other way regarding civil unions, but in fact the Church did not ignore them; it opposed them as well. The keynoter also contends that differential treatment by the Church for “queer folks” did not begin until 1992. Yet she is mistaken because she fails to mention what the Vatican said in 1983 in the Charter on the Rights of the Family regarding marriage and sexual union. Moreover, she fails to acknowledge that the first civil unions (not marriages) for same-sex couples were not available until the year 2000—long after the Church and some civil authorities expressed their concerns about them. Furthermore, up until very recent times within the last dozen years, both the Church’s teachings and the civil norms regarding marriage were comparable, a point she overlooks. Nor does she acknowledge the passage of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act which became the law of the land in 1996.

While the marriage question is a most important issue for the Church in the present age, so are all issues that attack authentic human dignity and the common good; consequently her claim that the “Pope has identified the marriage equality movement as more dangerous to life than hunger, war and tyranny” is a claim that cannot be substantiated.

One further argument she makes which I will tackle today is that “marriage equality will not unduly violate religious liberty.” With the Defense of Marriage Act presently under court challenge and with Judge Vaughan Walker’s unsettling remarks about religion in the context of the Proposition 8 litigation, methinks that the keynoter needs to revisit her insecure claim that the SSM campaign and all its associates, whatever they may be, are not a threat to religious freedom and libertas ecclesiae. If wedding photographers and justices of the peace can be brought to heel on these matters, it is just a matter of time before the members of the Church and the Church herself are also brought into legal and political forums to account for their opposition to SSM. The keynoter would do well to become familiar with the recent discussion presented by Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty [HERE] on what is happening to religious liberty today including the SSM context.

The third and final part of the keynote address is that marriage equality is good because it promotes the common good by encouraging love and mutual assistance. This would be accomplished by marriage equality reducing “the social stigma and internalized shame associated with being gay.” But she fails to take stock of the Church’s teachings which make the important distinction between just and unjust discrimination; moreover, she overlooks the positions taken by the Church nationally and universally regarding the sinner who is loved and the sinner who persists in sinning. The key to her third part is that for marriage equality to become “normalized,” the Church’s teachings will have to change. Otherwise “homophobia” and “heterosexism” will remain. So, once opposition to SSM withers, love and the “common good” will prevail. However, this will necessitate that today’s dissent from Church teachings and the heterodoxy that accompanies dissension will have to replace the Church’s views and moral teachings. In essence, what is heterodox must become orthodox, and what is orthodox must become heterodox.

While the organizers of this conference assured two bishops that the Church’s teachings would “be clearly stated and articulately defended” in “More than a Monologue”, something happened in the execution of the plan. Thus, the Church’s teachings were not presented in a convincing way; moreover, the revealed truth upon which they rest was put aside. The promised dialogue did not materialize. What did materialize was a direct challenge to the Church’s teachings.

As Desi Arnaz would sometimes say in his role as Ricky Ricardo, “There’s gonna be some explainin' to do!”

 

RJA sj

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