Monday, September 30, 2013
From the Huffington Post:
The marriage took place among friends and family who were encouraged to "blow kisses to the world" after she exchanged rings with her "inner groom", My Fox Phoenix reports.
"I feel very empowered, very happy, very joyous ... I want to share that with people, and also the people that were in attendance, it's a form of accountability," Nadien Schweigert told Anderson Cooper
A few posts over at The Volokh Conspiracy at the end of last week raised some good questions about the basis for, and going-forward import of, the Supreme Court’s invalidation of DOMA in United States v. Windsor. In two posts (so far), Neomi Rao has probed the Windsor majority opinion’s use of “dignity,” while Dale Carpenter has provided a different take on the basis for Windsor. And Will Baude has written a post analyzing Friday’s New Jersey trial court ruling that New Jersey must extend the designation of “marriage” to its civil unions (which in New Jersey provide the same legal benefits under New Jersey law as marriage). These posts highlight the confusion that Windsor has spawned by its lack of a clear legal basis. (But see Ernest A. Young, United States v. Windsor and the Role of State Law in Defining Rights Claims, 99 Va. L. Rev. Online 39, 40 (2013) (“[T]he trouble with Windsor is not that the opinion is muddled or vague; the rationale is actually quite evident on the face of Justice Kennedy’s opinion.”).)
Some of this confusion stems, in my view, from Justice Kennedy’s description of state marriage law as conferring “dignity and status of immense import” upon those authorized to marry by state law. This understanding locates in the State much greater power than it possesses in a limited government. Properly understood, the State can undermine or promote human dignity through its laws (and in many other ways as well), but the State does not “confer” dignity. Once one assigns to the State a power that it is neither authorized nor suited to exercise, the boundaries that one then seeks to place around exercises of that power risk being arbitrary. (A similar dynamic comes into play when one assigns an attribute to the State that it does not, properly speaking, possess. Perhaps for this reason, the confusion surrounding Windsor resembles something of the confusion surrounding the Supreme Court’s use of “dignity” in its sovereign immunity jurisprudence.)
Whatever the sources of the confusion in Windsor, it is becoming increasingly clear that Windsor itself is a significant source of confusion for courts trying to figure out its legal import. This is apparent in last Friday's ruling from New Jersey, Garden State Equality v. Dow. The court in Dow ruled that the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution requires New Jersey to extend the designation of "marriage" to same-sex couples that previously were eligible for civil unions in the state. The court's ruling rests on an interpretation and extension of the New Jersey Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Lewis v. Harris. In that case, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the same state-law rights and benefits provided to married couples in New Jersey must also be provided to same-sex couples eligible for domestic partnerships. The problem with the domestic partnership scheme at issue in that case was that domestic partners received fewer state-law rights and benefits than married couples in New Jersey. The court in Lewis held that there was no fundamental right to marry, but that the state constitution's equal protection guarantee protected against discrimination in the form of fewer benefits for same-sex couples.
Following Lewis v. Harris, the New Jersey legislature enacted civil union legislation that provided same-sex couples in civil unions with identical state-law rights and benefits as enjoyed by married couples. This appears to have remedied the state-constitutional equal protection violation found in Lewis v. Harris. And that is where matters stood until Windsor.
After Windsor held the federal DOMA unconstitutional, various agencies of the federal government determined that same-sex couples who were married under state law would receive federal benefits as married couples under federal law. But these agencies did not treat state civil unions like marriages. Accordingly, same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were not entitled to the same federal benefits as same-sex couples in marriages in other states that recognized same-sex marriage.
Friday's ruling in Garden State Equality v. Dow holds that, in the wake of Windsor, New Jersey must allow same-sex couples to marry under New Jersey law in order to be entitled to the same federal-law rights and benefits as married couples, as required by the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution as construed in Lewis v. Harris. Here is how the Dow court summarizes its reasoning:
Under the New Jersey Supreme Court's opinion in Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006), same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples. The Lewis Court held that the New Jersey Constitution required the State to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples. The New Jersey legislature chose the latter option when it adopted the Civil Union Act. Since the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, __ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples. Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State.
The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts: civil union partners who are federal employees living in New Jersey are ineligible for marital rights with regard to the federal pension system, all civil union partners who are employees working for businesses to which the Family and Medical Leave Act applies may not rely on its statutory protections for spouses, and civil union couples may not access the federal tax benefits that married couples enjoy. And if the trend of federal agencies deeming civil union partners ineligible for benefits continues, plaintiffs will suffer even more, while their opposite-sex New Jersey counterparts continue to receive federal marital benefits for no reason other than the label placed upon their relationships by the State. This unequal treatment requires that New Jersey extend civil marriage to same-sex couples to satisfy the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis. Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.
The court's reasoning is confusing. If the Civil Union Act remedied the violation of New Jersey's equal protection guarantee by ensuring identical state-law rights and benefits, then how does the new availability of federal-law rights and benefits to those who are married under federal law because married under state law affect the requirements of the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution for couples who do not have a state-constitutional-right to marry? The court's reasoning seems to conclude that the New Jersey Constitution requires access to the federal law benefits enjoyed by married same-sex couples in other states. But if the only reason that those couples are entitled to those federal-law benefits is because the state in which those couples were married has chosen to confer the dignity and status of marriage on those couples, then why should a different state's constitutional equal protection guarantee require entitlement to federal-law benefits when that state has not chosen to confer the dignity and status of marriage on those couples?
Further, consider the following:
- "Under the New Jersey Supreme Court's opinion in Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006), same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples." But what "same rights and benefits"? Under state law? Federal law? Both? It is hard to believe that Lewis v. Harris required the New Jersey legislature to provide same-sex couples with the same benefits under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.
- "The Lewis Court held that the New Jersey Constitution required the State to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples." All the same rights and benefits under state law? Under federal law? Both? Again, it is difficult to imagine that Lewis v. Harris required the New Jersey legislature to provide same-sex couples with the same benefits under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.
- "The New Jersey legislature chose the latter option when it adopted the Civil Union Act." Since the Civil Union Act did not do anything to provide same-sex couples with the benefits of marriage under federal law, the New Jersey legislature chose a system in which same-sex couples could obtain all the same rights and benefits under state law that are available to opposite-sex married couples. So when the court says that Lewis required a choice between same-sex marriage and "a parallel structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples," that parallel structure was measured by reference to state-law rights.
- "Since the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, __ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples." But same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were not previously entitled to all of the same rights and benefits under federal law as opposite-sex married couples in New Jersey. And that did not violate the New Jersey Constitution. Same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were entitled to the same rights and benefits under state law before Windsor, and they remain entitled to the same rights and benefits under state law after Windsor.
- "Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State." WIndsor held unconstitutional the refusal of federal-law marriage benefits to those upon whom the state conferred the dignity and status of marriage. Same-sex couples in New Jersey are not couples upon whom the state has conferred the dignity and status of marriage. Wasn't that the basic function of the Lewis court's distinction between interpreting the New Jersey Constitution to require "marriage" on the one hand, versus interpreting the New Jersey Constitution to allow civil unions with identical rights and benefits as marriage under a different label, on the other?
Predictably, my agreement here on MOJ with Germain Grisez's trenchant criticism of Pope Francis's already-hallowed interview has generated some spirited, often misguided, and sometimes even angry correspondence. That goes with the territory, although the anger really isn't becoming or intelligent.
What should not go unnoticed, though, is this. Many of my correspondents are quick to find fault with me (and others) for criticizing a journalistic INTERVIEW given by the Pope. These same correspondents and their ilk, however, are frequent self-styled "dissenters" from magisterial teachings taught authoritatively in official Church documents. The interview is "sacred," but the actually sacred and officials teachings of the magisterium remain always ripe for "dissent." The sophistry and inconsistency are patent.
This is a good opportunity to share something I heard John Haldane (the first Catholic Professor of Philosophy in the University of St. Andrew's since the Reformation) say the other night in a fine and moving talk about being a Catholic intellectual today. According to Haldane, the time is overdue to stop dividing the Church along lines borrowed from politics. We shouldn't talk about "liberal Catholics," "conservative Catholics," or the like. This is a view I've long held. As Haldane stressed, what matters are othodoxy and orthopraxy. And these come by living the whole Tradition, not by any other means. Politicizing the internal life of the Church only blocks the all-importance of being united in Christ in all essential matters.
Those who seek to live the whole Tradition will be eager to be docile in the face of authoritative teaching and governing by Pope Francis, and they will devoutly hope to be sanctified by his example and ministry in order to become more docile and obedient in matters of orthodoxy. They will be prepared to be "surprised" by his evangelical example and to be vivified by it. They will, however, be intelligent if they deny that an "interview" is beyond criticism, and they will resist the suggestion that criticizing the interview represents a refusal to be "challenged" by the new Pope. For the reasons given by Grisez, we Christians cannot responsibly build our lives around ambiguities of the sort Pope Francis irresponsibly throws around in the medium of a journalistic interview. There are clearly inspiring and sound points in the interview, but they do not elevate the piece as a whole to a text from which one could, if one were so inclined, "dissent." One can intelligently disagree with an interivew, no matter which mortal gives it.
Pope Francis can do better, I hope.
I had this contribution, "Legislative Prayer and Judicial Review", to the symposium on the Town of Greece case that the folks at SCOTUSBlog are hosting. (Go here for a list of all the very-worth-reading contributions.) Here's a bit:
. . . In my view, the court of appeals got it wrong and the Town’s before-meeting prayers are permissible solemnizations rather than an unlawful establishment. What is happening in the Town of Greece is consistent with what has been happening at public meetings since our country’s – and our Constitution’s – beginnings. “Establishments” of religion do exist in the world, but this is not one. Town officials did not purport to draft, let alone to enforce, a religious creed and the government inviting voluntary “chaplains of the month” to pray at a meeting is not very much like the government imposing a prayer-book on churches. “Coercing” religious activity is unconstitutional and unjust, but to characterize the Town’s policy as “coercive” is to expand the both the idea of coercion and the power of judges dramatically and unmanageably.
The Town of Greece case, though, is interesting not only for what it could tell us, going forward, about the Court’s First Amendment doctrines and precedents, about the place of religious expression in the public square, and about the extent to which secular governments may acknowledge their citizens’ religious convictions. The case also provides, I think, a good opportunity for reflection about the role and power of the Supreme Court and about the nature and practice of judicial review in a constitutional democracy like ours. . . .
A friend sent me something important that the distinguished moral theologian Germain Grisez, thoroughly a man of the Second Vatican Council, has written about Pope Francis's much-discussed interview and the thinking and attitude that it reveals. I'll preface Grisez's devastating criticism with the considered observation that the "dialogue" between the Church and the world so much pressed by some Catholics today, including Pope Francis himself, is a literally hopeless novelty. The term dialogue appears some 28 times in the documents of the Council, but, to my knowledge, the term had never appeared -- not once -- in earlier Church documents. There was transcendent reason to prefer the Church Militant to "dialogue." What happens in such "dialogue" is not that the world is converted, but that the world finds some of its *own* reasons for agreeing with *some* of what the Church teaches. But that sort of worldly-sculpted agreement elides the one necessary moment for which the Church must be working with respect to every available soul, viz., conversion. I would suggest that when the New York Times applauds its favorite, humble Pope, it's not because the Times or some poor soul has been converted. It's because the Times sees an image of its not-humble self in what the Pope has said. Grisez's critique should put a welcome end to certain myths about the value of the Pope's interview. The relationship between the Church and the world cannot be like that among "friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine" (Cf. John 16).
Here is what Grisez wrote:
Dear Dr. Moynihan,
Insofar as I understand what Pope Francis had to say, I can agree with him, but he said some things that I do not understand, and that have already been made bad use of by the secular media. Take the following passage:
"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow."
The teachings of the Church certainly are not all equivalent. There is a hierarchy.
But what is the point of saying that the Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a "disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently"? Making this assertion suggests, unfortunately, a caricature of the teachings of recent pontificates. I assume Pope Francis would reject that reading. But where, then, is the state of affairs that needs to be overcome?
Proclamation in a missionary style does focus on essentials. But the new evangelization cannot proceed as if the Gospel has not been already preached, and either understood or not, but in either case, rejected. Still, I agree that what is central needs to be presented more clearly and forcefully than has generally been the case. Unless people believe that Christ has risen and will come again and gather into his kingdom all who are ready to enter, and unless they hope to be among those ready to enter, there is no use trying to instruct them about what they need to do in order to be ready to enter.
But what is meant by “moral edifice of the Church”? Many people mistakenly think that the moral truth the Church teaches is a code she has constructed and could change. If that were so, it could collapse like a house of cards. Perhaps Pope Francis means that the moral teachings, though they are truths that pertain to revelation, will collapse for the individual who lacks hope in the kingdom to come. But who knows what he means? The phrase is impressive. It reverberates in one’s depths. But if it was suggested by a spirit, it was not the Holy Spirit, for it is bound to confuse and mislead. [emphasis added]
I’m afraid that Pope Francis has failed to consider carefully enough the likely consequences of letting loose with his thoughts in a world that will applaud being provided with such help in subverting the truth it is his job to guard as inviolable and proclaim with fidelity. For a long time he has been thinking these things. Now he can say them to the whole world — and he is self-indulgent enough to take advantage of the opportunity with as little care as he might unburden himself with friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
The New York Review of Books has made available part (but not -- not yet -- all) of Garry Wills's review of a book that sounds fascinating -- it's called Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J.F. Powers, 1942–1963, and it's edited by Katherine Powers. Here's a bit from the opening paragraphs:
A hotbed of the Detachment movement—people detaching themselves from the commercialism of the modern world—was in Minnesota around World War II. Eugene and Abigail McCarthy were part of it. So were their good friends the writer J.F. (“Jim”) Powers and his wife Betty. So were their East Coast friends Robert (“Cal”) Lowell and his wife Jean Stafford. All had been part of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement. They were adherents of what was known, in mid-twentieth-century America, as the Catholic Renaissance.
A window into that distant world is opened by the letters of Jim Powers, published by his daughter, along with excerpts from his occasional journals and from his wife’s diary. The editor briefly adds memories of growing up in what Powers called “the Movement.” That movement had four main strands. . . .
It appears that "neo-medievalism" and "ruralism" were two of those strands. In any event, if anyone has a link to the full review, please e-mail it. Or, if anyone has read the book, please let us know!
Saturday, September 28, 2013
A few days ago I suggested that I would return to a brief comment on Pope Francis's recent interview on which others here at the Mirror of Justice have previously commented. I think that the pope's words have a bearing on the law as it is a system of rules or precepts. Interestingly, some commentators have focused on what the pope called "small-minded rules," but then not all rules, not all laws--be they of God or of Man--are small-minded. The pope also reminded priests of the need to offer in their homilies the need to address what he calls "the first proclamation": salvation. In view of these points, here is a homily for this weekend that brings together particular messages from sacred scripture and the pope's words:
Amos 6:1, 4-7
Wasting, self-indulgence, and complacency—while not necessarily evil—are not good attributes for any person to pursue. This is something about which the prophet Amos reminds us. This is one way to the road to sin, and sin exiles as from God as the prophet further suggests. In sin, we fall from God’s grace because we become absorbed in our own interests that may not be the things of God. Sin leads to a fall, a fall that damages the soul because we engineer a chasm between ourselves and the God of mercy and forgiveness. Yet there is still hope…
I was reminded of the significance of the fall and of hope on Friday morning as I was attempting to cross Michigan Avenue near the Chicago Water Tower. Intent on reaching the pedestrian light before it was too late, I did not realize that my left foot caught on the uneven pavement, and I was destined for a bruising fall. Here I was a sinner whose mind was on other matters but falling once again; yet, I was pulled from a more painful experience by three kind souls who were attentive enough to realize a fellow pilgrim in distress. The fall was broken by the hope displayed by those who came to my aid and helped save me from more serious consequences.
This episode of a modest form of a kind of salvation history recalls Saint Luke’s account of the rich man Dives and the chasm he established between himself, Lazarus, and Abraham. Dives was not intentionally cruel to the poor Lazarus or to anyone else. He simply did not see anyone else, including God. Lazarus is not real to the rich man because of the self-indulgence with which Dives surrounded himself. His whole life centers on himself.
The world of Dives can be summarized in this fashion: It is all about ME! The great chasm, the separation, is self-inflicted by Dives. He does not quite get the picture: no one forced him to do this. He chose this path himself. Abraham reminds Dives of this. Then Dives begins to wonder and worry about his five brothers—will they share the fate of Dives? It seems that Abraham is callous to Dives request to help the brothers. But this is not correct, for Abraham is telling Dives that they have had and continue to have warnings about the proper way to live one’s life in this world. All they must do is pay attention.
Hence the reference to Moses and the prophets: those who are inclined to sin nonetheless have warnings. All they need to do is pay attention to them, but do they? Will they? The answers to these questions depend on their openness to the God’s mercy and forgiveness. But first they must realize that they alone are causing themselves to sin. This realization was at the very core of Pope Francis’s candid interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro a fellow Jesuit. Pope Francis returned to the reality of his own sinfulness.
But unlike Dives, Francis turns to the mercy and patience of God to receive what the pope calls the “spirit of penance.” Pope Francis, unlike Dives, realizes that even for the sinner—one who acknowledges his intentional wrongdoing before God and man—is the recipient of salvation.
Unlike Dives who was self-centered, Francis has shown the way that Christ, the One who came to save us from our sins, is and must be at the center of human existence.
What gets the human person back on track to God by turning from self-indulgence is thinking with God and His Church—God’s holy people. Francis warns that this is not thinking with the misguided populism that often captures the minds of those who live in the present moment; rather, it is thinking and acting in accord with those who seek the path to greater holiness and, therefore, proximity to God in their lives.
Francis’s words about “small-minded rules” have been misinterpreted and misappropriated. These “rules” have been confused with fundamental teachings of the Christian faith that are inextricably tied to human salvation. We need to be mindful that first and foremost Christ has come to save us from our sins and sinful tendencies. What leads us to this realization is not “small minded” in any fashion. To intensify the significance of the centrality of this principle of faith, Francis spoke of the importance of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. Our good confession must be handled by a good confessor—not one who is too rigorist and not one who is too lax. With exuberant rigor, we may miss the mercy of God; with laxity, we may miss the fact that we have sinned and, like the woman in John’s Gospel who had sinned, that we are asked by God, through the confessor, to go and sin no more. The sacrament is not designed to condemn; rather, the sacrament was established to reform so that we sin less and less and seek authentic holiness more and more.
As Pope Francis properly noted, the sacrament of confession is not a “torture chamber” but a place that incubates and intensifies holiness. When we realize that our free will is better suited to directing ourselves to what we ought to do rather than to what we want to do, the mercy of God to absolve us from any defiance we have committed becomes all the more clear. The chasms we have generated by sin become crossable by the grace of God and His tender mercy. But when we ignore God’s mercy and beckoning to Him, we become like Dives separated from God and His holy people by the deepening chasm of sin. But the gulf can be forded when we acknowledge the wrongdoing that seemed at one time so attractive and excusable.
This is the message of salvation that Christ brought into this world; this is the reality of God’s self-gift and His suffering for our sins. All that is needed for the salvation to become complete is the redirection of our human will to embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness and to sin no more. But even if we cannot absolutely guarantee that we will sin nor more, may we at least seek to sin no more by not forgetting to ask God’s help to thwart whatever temptations come our way!
All that is needed is faith and adherence to what God asks. With that as our disposition: God will surely help us with the rest. For as the Psalmist reminds us: blessed are those who keep the faith, who hope in God, and who exercise caritas. Then will God’s protection and salvation be at hand!
Friday, September 27, 2013
Robert Christian is the editor of the Millennial blog, which is a rising voice among young-adult Catholics, and a fellow with Democrats for Life of America, where he edits and contributes to DFLA's "Everyday Life" blog. Today he writes at the Washington Post's "On Belief" page, on whether the re-sets in tone and priorities suggested by the Pope's recent statements could "help end the culture wars." He writes that the "commitment to all life," the unborn and those vulnerable in other ways,
is partly responsible for [Francis's] call to rebalance church teaching, to move it away from a legalistic focus on a handful of moral teachings, including abortion, at the cost of proclaiming the Gospel and welcoming new faces into the church. . . .
Pope Francis warns, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.” This new balance does not entail an abandonment of church teaching on abortion, but a full embrace of the moral and social teachings of the Church, and a recognition that Catholicism is about more than a political agenda or even its understanding of justice in the contemporary world.
I think Robert does an excellent job of reflecting on the priorities the Pope is reemphasizing. It's undeniable, to me, that some of those embroiled in the culture wars have wrongly prioritized other matters over the core of the Gospel. (Of course Christians of many theological and political stripes have done that over the centuries.) Consider Cardinal Burke's recent interview with The Wanderer, where he states that the homosexual-rights movement is "a lie about the most fundamental aspect of our human nature, our human sexuality, which after life itself defines us." [ADDED: HT on the Burke interview: Michael Sean Winters] I can appreciate the importance of complementarity, but ... sexuality is right after life in defining us? When the interviewer asked "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?," the Pope answered, "I am a sinner." It seems Cardinal Burke might answer, "I am a male." I understand that Galatians 3:28--in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female"--obviously does not eliminate the relevance of sexual nature in all respects. But I don't think Cardinal Burke's response quite reflects the prophetic content of that verse.
Before we are men and women, conservatives or liberals, we are all sinners--redeemed, we hope and pray, by grace. Living mindful of that fact can help us treat each other with respect and charity even when we disagree, or when the other person has erred. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln could conclude with the call to "bind up the nation's wounds' and care for the widow and orphan"--"with malice toward none [and] charity for all"--in significant part because he had just acknowledged that both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God"--suggesting that the North had its role in slavery as well.
So yes, I agree, an emphasis like the Pope's on the core of the Gospel--"I am a [redeemed] sinner, serving others out of gratitude"--can help temper the culture wars.
With that said, it's crucial to remember that many people want the Church not just to reprioritize its beliefs on sexuality, but to give them up, under state pressure if that's necessary. Catholic and other traditionalist organizations could spend massive amounts of time and money helping the poor--they do, of course--and some on the other side of the culture wars will still keep pressing to marginalize those organizations by means of regulation, the denial of tax exemption or other general government benefits, and so on. So while, as I see it, traditionalist Christians have gotten their priorities very wrong in many instances, changing those priorities won't make the culture war go away entirely. The other side won't abandon it.