“The revolution of family” and the Catholic Response

The continuing spread of marriage equality (in Delaware yesterday, possibly continuing in Minnesota today and Illinois later this month) raised several challenges for the Catholic Church. Several leading churchmen have already spoken of support for civil unions, but the church also needs to think hard about the real nature of marriage itself, and to reflect on the damage that has been done by the intemperate language that has been used by some of its people in the campaigns against equal marriage.

French same-sex marriage protest

The Southern Cross, a weekly Catholic paper from South Africa, has some useful thoughts on this from the editor. First, an extract on the changing nature of marriage and the family:

In practice, the function of procreation has been diminished as the primary purpose of marriage, and not only in the West. It is within this context that the notion of same-sex marriage has become acceptable to so many people throughout the world.

These realities merit open and candid discussion as the Church seeks to formulate its response.

Some critics will reply that it is not “real” marriage that has changed, which is permanent and enduring. In this view, the changes in marriage are evils to be resisted, not something to be accommodated. That is simplistic. The reality is that the nature of marriage has changed constantly over the centuries, together with the church’s view of it. What is required now, is not a simple knee-jerk rejection in principle of all change to the understanding of marriage, but thoughtful, serious reflection on the deep, intrinsic meaning of marriage, what current changes are temporary or unhealthy, and what is likely to become permanent.

The Southern Cross continues with some observations on the harm done by some bishops in their opposition to marriage equality:

It may also be productive to study the effects of the tone in which Church leaders state their opposition to gay marriage. For example, have the more strident forms of rhetoric—on either side—precluded reasonable dialogue and compromise?

It must be acknowledged that in its engagement against gay marriage, the Catholic Church has inflicted wounds, and sustained some itself.

The Church has been accused of homophobia and hypocrisy. While opposition to same-sex marriage obviously is not intrinsically homophobic, some of the trenchant rhetoric has been interpreted as being hostile to homosexuals. Sometimes the lines between defending marriage and attacking homosexuals have appeared to be blurred.

Some intemperate protests from Church leaders have been hurtful to the LGBT community, in contrast with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which demands that homosexuals be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (2358).

Not all bishops have been guilty of this intemperate language, and some have expressed explicit recognition of the need to be more supportive and welcoming, and the importance of using language with care. Cardinal Dolan of New York, for instance, made headlines over Easter with his statement that the Church needs to be more supportive of LGBT Catholics, and the a report by the French Bishops’ Conference commission on marriage and family urged that both sides engage in courteous, rational debate, rather than hurling accusations at each other of homophobia, intolerance or animosity.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who himself has offered ferocious opposition to gay marriage, acknowledged this failing last month when he said on US television that the Church must ensure that its “defence of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people”.

He acknowledged, with admirable frankness, that the Church has not “been too good at that” and has failed to be consistently welcoming to gays and lesbians.

This failure to fully extend Christ’s embrace for all requires correction. The discussion about how to do this must begin now.

via The Southern Cross

And yet, and yet……

Even these voices calling for calm and reason have been unable to take their own advice. Cardinal Dolan has since shown himself singularly incapable of showing the support that he was speaking about, with his completely insensitive comparison of LGBT people with children with dirty hands. In France, shortly after the publication of their really helpful report , the bishops ignored their own words, standing by without raising any objection as protestx against the changes to the law turned violent, and some continued to use the inflammatory language their report condemned.


On the other hand, I’m not convinced that the “dirty hands” protest by some LGBT Catholics against Cardinal Dolan’s words was the most appropriate response, either. It is certainly true that Catholic leaders need to do much more to demonstrate a real welcome in church for all, including lesbian and gay Catholics – but we in turn need to reflect on the most constructive way to help them to get there, and how to accept and make the most of that welcome, when it is offered.


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Vatican Spokesman Accepts Legal Recognition of Same – Sex Unions

The orthotoxic Catholic blogosphere is in a frenzy over reports that Fr Frederico Lombardi has expressed some support for the legal recognition of same – sex unions. All refer back for their source, to an Italian blogpost by Rossoporpora, which leads one of these English language posters to say that he is sceptical of these stories, because he’s done an internet search, and could not find any further reports to confirm the statement – refers back to the same source.  I’ve also done a similar internet search – but using the Italian text quoted by Rossoporpora. I initially thought I had found the original report at Zenit – but in fact that is a later post, based, once again, Rossoporpora,

So here’s the key passage, first in Italian:

Da noi interpellato poi per una sua valutazione dell’approvazione parlamentare definitiva da parte dell’Assemblea nazionale francese della rivoluzione antropologica in materia di famiglia, padre Lombardi ha risposto che “è buona cosa che un bambino sappia che ha un padre e una madre”: si deve “chiaramente evidenziare che il matrimonio tra un uomo e una donna è un’istituzione specifica e fondamentale nella storia dell’umanità. Ciò non toglie che si possano riconoscere in qualche modo altre forme di unione tra due persone”.


Pay attention to the sentence highlighted: it’s absolutely crucial, but the English translation is not at all clear. After I initially published this story this morning, I began to doubt the accuracy of the translation and interpretations I had been seeing originally. I now have two conflicting versions – one supporting what has been an increasing move towards acceptance, one which completely contradicts and undermines that view. I am awaiting help with a reliable translation. Here are the two conflicting versions:

Rorate Caeli gives this translation:

“[I]t is a good thing for the child to know that he has a father and a mother”; [it must be] “made clear that matrimony between a man and a woman is a specific and fundamental institution in the history of mankind.This does not prevent that other forms of union between two persons may be recognized“.

but, the  Google translation appears to state the exact opposite. In the comment thread, a contributor to Rorate Caeli defends their translation over Google translate, in some detail:

“Ciò”: this, what has just been said (that is, the concept of marriage)

“non toglie”: does not prevent, is not an impediment

“che si possano riconoscere”: that [one] may recognize, the recognition

“in qualche modo”: in some way

“altre forme di unione”: some other kinds of union[s]

“tra due persone”: between two persons

The advice I have now received from a valued collaborator and skilled translator, is that this should read:

[When] we then asked him for his evaluation of the final parliamentary approval by the French National Assembly of the anthropological revolution in the family sphere, Father Lombardi said “it is a good thing for a child to know it has a father and a mother”: one has to “clearly show that marriage between one/a man and one/a woman is a fundamental institution in the history of mankind. This does not mean that one cannot recognise in some way other forms of union between two persons.

Quite apart from doubts over translation, there is still another reason to be cautious, because his acceptance is so heavily qualified.

Su quanto accaduto in Francia, padre Lombardi ha rilevato che “l’approvazione non lo rallegra”, evidenziando anche le competenze della Conferenza episcopale francese in materia (il portavoce dei vescovi Bernard Podvin ha espresso “profonda tristezza”). Per quanto riguarda eventuali reazioni papali, “è il Papa che deve parlare, lascio parlare lui”.


About what happened in France, Father Lombardi noted that “the approval does not rejoice”, also highlighting the skills of the French Bishops’ Conference on the subject (the spokesman for the bishops Bernard Podvin expressed “deep sadness”). With regard to possible reactions papal “is the Pope who must speak, let him speak.”

Cautious though they are, these words are still noteworthy and welcome, as being a part of a much wider trend towards acceptance of civil unions by increasing numbers of Catholic bishops, at increasingly senior levels of the Church

The reference to “the skills of the French Bishops’ Conference on the subject” is important. In their most complete and authoritative commentary, they were uncompromising in their rejection of gay marriage, but equally explicit (respecting scientific evidence on the nature of committed, loving same – sex relationships) in advocating for a strengthening of the existing PACS system of civil unions. This leads me to conclude, for now, that the translation and interpretation placed on Fr Lombardi’s words by Rorate Caeli and the like, probably are a better version than that coming from Google translate.

Irrespective though, of this particular incident, it is clear that change is in the air. Fr Lombardi is of course not a bishop, but he is the official spokesman for the pope, and highly respected for the skill with which he conducts his task. (He was recently given a major professional award in recognition of this). The words quoted were also made in a formal press conference, where he was speaking on behalf of the pope. His response to the question will be widely interpreted as reflecting the thinking of Pope Francis himself, and will encourage many more bishops who up to now have been supportive but unwilling to speak out publicly, to do so. Others who have been unsure, will now be persuaded to come down on the side of support, either from conviction or from political prudence. And still more who have until now been publicly opposed to all forms of legal recognition, will find that in the changed mood in the Vatican, it has become more prudent to keep those opinions to themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, history shows that orthodox Catholic belief really does evolve, but glacially slowly (and usually in response to changes in popular thinking). In the secular world, the shift to popular acceptance of full marriage has been remarkable for its speed. Compared with the secular shift, Catholic bishops’ thinking has been excruciatingly slow – but compared with its usual reluctance to adapt, this shift has been equally remarkable – and once again, is a response to changes in the real world political balance. That balance will continue to shift in the years to come, and more and more bishops will have to deal with the simple reality of legally married same – sex couples in their communities, and in their congregations. Their thinking too, will continue to evolve. For now, there is an emerging consensus in favour of limited, hesitant acceptance of legal recognition of our relationships, but no more. Still to come, is serious consideration of the value of our relationships,  the importance and value of celebrating these unions not only with legal contracts, but in church.

Later, there will follow a more complete re-evaluation of the real meaning of marriage, going beyond the simple platitudes that are currently being spouted – and eventually, consideration of acceptance or celebration of full marriage equality.

The Pastoral Republican clearly does not like this development – but he is spot on in his interpretation of its significance:

Fr. Lombardi is the proverbial trial balloon. He knows that F. supports civil unions; is only preparing us for the pontifical announcement; and hoping that the outcry of the faithful and criticism of F. will have low decibels–more like a drop of a pin than the din of an explosion of moral heresy.

To what I just said above concerning civil unions, I might add that the next phase of this “renovationism” will be the end of priestly celibacy (which F. has described as not required). Then when celibacy is trashed, will homosexual priests be allowed civil unions?

It even becomes possible to imagine the following question and response:

“Should Catholic priests be allowed to marry?”

“Only if they love each other”.

(Update: since becoming aware of the conflicting translations after originally posting this, I have had several rewrites, to take account of the new information I was finding. The version above differs substantially from my earlier posting, but reflects the latest state of my knowledge on the matter).

Updated listing of supportive cardinals and bishops:


(links to Amazon.co.uk, UK)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994)412 pages

Comstock, Gary David: Gay Theology Without Apology

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage  (Seabury Books)

Heyward, Carter:   Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage(Univ of Chicago Press)

Moore, Gareth OP: A Question of Truth : Christianity & Homosexuality(Continuum Books, 2003) 

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality(Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival(Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con 

Vasey, MStrangers and Friends: New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible



(links to Amazon.com, USA)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994) 412 pages

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage (Seabury Books)

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The man jesus loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage (Univ of Chicago Press)

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality (Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Vasey, MStrangers and friends: A new exploration of homosexuality and the Bible

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Another Bishop Supports Legal Recognition for Same – Sex Relationships

A few years ago, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna made waves with an off the cuff observation that the time had come for the Catholic Church, in dealing with lesbian and gay people, to shift its emphasis from an obsession with genital acts, to the quality of their relationships. Other bishops soon followed, with similar remarks.

When the Portuguese bishops attempted to prevent the introduction of a marriage equality law, they proposed support for civil unions, instead. That was probably prompted by the established Catholic principle of support for the lesser of two evils when it is not possible to avoid both, but it is an approach that has been accepted since by an increasing number of bishops – sometimes as a positive good, not just the lesser of two evils.

When Archbishop Nichols of Westminster last year stated his opposition to British plans for equal marriage, he softened his stance by stating that he could see “some value” in civil unions. Recently, the French Bishops’ Council on Marriage and Family and Cardinal Paglia, have similarly expressed direct support for alternative kinds of legal recognition for same – sex marriage. Episcopal support for civil unions and the like almost seems set fair to become the new Catholic episcopal orthodoxy for gay relationships.

In the video below, Scicluna repeats the standard bishops’ line that marriage “is” between a man and a woman, for the purpose of procreation, but gives implicit support to other forms of legal recognition of same – sex relationships, with the words,

We do not need to change the definition of marriage, to give legal recognition to other forms of relationship which are not between people who are heterosexual.

(Thanks to Frank DeBenardo of New Ways Ministry, whose post at Bondings 2.0 alerted me to this useful video)

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Breaking News: Anglican Church Will Accept Gay Bishops

Church of England rules gay men in civil partnerships can become bishops

The Church of England has agreed that gay clergy in civil partnerships can become bishops so long as they remain sexually abstinent, a decision that looks set to reopen one of the church’s most bitter internal debates.

The decision was taken in mid-December by the House of Bishops, the section of the General Synod which is responsible for church teaching.

A summary of the meeting was placed on the church’s website on 20 December but the change to policy was buried within the text.

The statement notes that House of Bishops members had considered an interim report from a group led by Sir Joseph Pilling, a retired civil servant commissioned early last year to look into the church’s attitudes to sexuality.

While the bishops said they would not issue more guidance on civil partnerships before the final report, they indicated that being in a civil partnership was not necessarily a bar to becoming a bishop.

The summary read: “[The House of Bishops] confirmed that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate.”

via  guardian.co.uk.

Very sadly, I just do not have time for more on this, right now.

I will, definitely, return to it later.


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Catholic Bishops’ Response to Equal Marriage Proposals: Don’t do it

“In the interest of upholding the uniqueness of marriage as a civil institution for the common good of society, we strongly urge the Government not to proceed with legislative proposals which will ‘enable all couples, regardless of their gender to have a civil marriage ceremony’”.

That’s what the letter from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales says.

Of course they say more than this in their detailed formal comments.

Their response covers a broad range because the consultation focused just on the practical details of what the legislation for same sex marriage should cover, but it didn’t consider the principle of whether permitting same sex marriage is a good idea.

It is of serious concern to us that this proposal, which has such immense social importance for the stability of our society and which has significant implications for the unique institution of marriage and of family life, should be proposed on this basis and with such limited argument. These are issues of great magnitude with far reaching consequences for how our society sees itself well into the future.

What’s marriage and why we have it

They start with saying everyone shares a common idea of what marriage is – a voluntary exclusive union of man and woman that’s for life.

Marriage, and the family life which is integral to it, has and continues to form a real unit which must be protected by society because together they constitute the living nucleus of the succession (procreation and education) of human generations.

Marriage and the Common Good

It is vital for the common good of society, quoting Pope Benedict:

“marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet.”

What this ignores is that there are no plans to abolish marriage. These benefits will continue for people who choose to marry and society will also continue to enjoy the benefits of procreation and the education of its new generations, through the existing marriages of around 241,000 couples, if the same sex marriages proposals go ahead. 

Where’s the proof and public discussion on the merits of same sex marriage for society?

Same Sex Marriage Debate chart

Click here to read full size same sex marriage debate chart


UK Gay Marriage (1): Backed by 60% of “People of Faith”.

Gay marriage is top of the British news today, with the government consultation set to end later this week. With their hysterical submission released this morning, with bizarre claims that gay marriage represents the greatest threat to religion since the Reformation, the Church of England bishops  have joined Catholic bishops and Muslim leaders in denouncing the proposals. But research also released today, illustrates how far out of touch they are with their own people: a major Yougov survey for Stonewall, found overwhelming support for legal same – sex marriage, including support by 60% of “people of faith”.

Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall said: “Recently we’ve heard senior clerics distressingly compare marriage for gay people to polygamy, bestiality and child abuse. This polling holes below the waterline the suggestion that they speak for the majority of Britain’s faith communities and vindicates years of campaigning by Stonewall to change public attitudes.”

The survey results were released only a few hours ago, and I have not yet seen a full statement of results or methodology, let alone complete cross -tabs, but piecing together the reports published so far, and comments I heard in a radio discussion this morning by Ben Summerskill (chief executive of Stonewall), some key findings emerge:

  • 71% of British adults support plans to allow same – sex couples to marry. The same proportion want provision for churches to conducting gay weddings, if they choose to do so.
  • Supporters include almost three out of five “people of faith” (58%), demonstrating that the church leaders are simply not speaking for their own members.
  • Younger people are particularly supportive – and “younger” here means under 50. My memory of the interview is that Summerskill quoted a figure of 85 % of people under that age in support.
  • The question directly addressed the current government proposal:

Respondents were asked to what extent they supported the idea: “The Government intends to extend the legal form and name of civil marriage to same-sex couples.” 71 percent were in favour of the move.

-Pink News

The survey did not restrict itself to the marriage issue, but also examined some other matters of concern to the LGBT community – particularly homophobia and bullying. If they seriously attempted to speak for their members on these issues, religious leaders would be putting their energies into combating prejudice, not campaigning to preserve discrimination.

79 percent of the people of faith surveyed who believed that prejudice against gays and lesbians existed said it should be tackled. 58 percent believed gay people should be able to marry in civil ceremonies (emphasis added).

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Pope’s envoy tells Bishops: ‘get tough on gay marriage’

The Pope’s link-man to the Bishops of Great Britain, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, had a tough message for English and Welsh Bishops from the Pope about gay (and heterosexual) marriages. He gave the same lecture the Pope gave the US Bishops.

“Particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defence of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complimentarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation.

British Marriages by Civil and Religious DenominationSexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.”

Importance of beliefs to Catholics - opposing gay marriage only matters to 35% of Catholics

opposing gay marriage only matters to 35% of Catholics


More Catholic Bishops speak about gay marriage

Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster said, responding to claims that Cardinal O’Brien was homophobic in his Sunday Telegraph article, “The Church is not our creation.” It is worth noting that the Bishop ignores the homophobia accusation and deflects it by implying the Catholic Church does not make mistakes, because it was established by Jesus, who put St Peter in charge.

James Nickoloff, a gay Catholic theologian, disagrees and argues the Church sins in its mistreatment of lesbians and gay men

Tablet magazine cover featuring gay marriage discussion

Tablet magazine cover featuring gay marriage discussion

The Lancaster Bishop went on:

“The mercy of God is there for everyone, and, ultimately, people have to abide by their conscience,” he said. “But we feel that the proper road for a man and woman is in marriage. Anything else undermines marriage, and it will be at a cost to society.”

He added, “[Marriage is] not something we can bargain over or simply change as we see fit to go along with the spirit of the age. This is no reflection on those people of a gay orientation; we are not out to condemn; we are not in the business of condemning.”

Carefully chosen words

These comments are more evidence of the carefully chosen words coming from some of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. Without quite saying so, he tells the public that lesbians and gay men have a place in the Catholic Church as much as anyone else, and everyone should follow their conscience on this (rather than being bullied into opposition by Cardinal O’Brien, he implies). He uses only 13 words to outline the official Church opposition to civil marriage equality, and ends by emphasising that the English and Welsh bishops are not condemning lesbians and gay men, and he almost apologises for opposing gay marriage equality (‘this is no reflection on those people of gay orientation’).

Strong, stable, socially sanctioned relationships are good for everyone and the whole of society.


But Shrewsbury Bishop prefers overblown rhetoric

Catholic Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury uses overblown rhetoric against gay marriage equality, unlike the measured words of the Bishop of Lancaster.

Bishop Davies said, “What the government now proposes to legislate into law constitutes nothing less than a seismic shift in the foundations of our society. We face a mindset which sees progress only as a continuous shifting of our society further and further from its Christian foundations until we have nothing left for family and society to be founded upon (other) than changing political fashions of thought.”

Bishop Davies suggested that “by attempting to redefine marriage for society, politicians will find they have not only undermined the institution of marriage, but obscured its identity for generations to come. For politicians of Christian conscience, this will be a moment to resist the leadership of their own political parties together with every parliamentarian who recognizes the Judaeo-Christian foundations on which our society rests. Yet this will also be a moment for our own voices to be raised in defense of marriage.” He said that this was necessary “in order to proclaim the God-given meaning of marriage, not only for the sake of this generation, but for the sake of all generations to come.”

Why the Bishop thinks civil gay marriage is a ‘seismic shift in the foundations of our society’ when we have had civil partnerships for over six years, he does not bother to explain. Christian sacramental marriage is completely untouched by the civil marriage equality proposals, and England and Wales has been celebrating civil heterosexual marriages since 1837, with no visible harm to ‘family and society’.

Is he really arguing our society must ignore all changes in public opinion and attitudes?

Public opinion has already redefined marriage, since most people now talk about lesbian and gay couples as ‘married’, not as ‘civil partnered’. Marriage’s meaning is certainly not being ‘obscured’, but shared more widely by making it available to all.

Pretending sacramental marriage is the bedrock of society is just ludicrous when 67% of British marriages are civil ceremonies without religious elements. Churches remain in full control of the “god-given meaning of marriage’ within their own organisations; they have no power or right to impose their restricted view on everyone else, when opinion polls show the majority of the British population supports civil marriage equality.

Catholic Bishops like Mark Davies in Shrewsbury really need to produce some coherent arguments that don’t insult people’s intelligence and ignore the facts.


I’m on Mumsnet! (A Warning to Bishops From Catholic Mothers)

How respectable, family values can you get? When I first saw the backlink to Mum’s Net , I assumed it was something to do with my defence of gay marriage, for the sake of the children, or perhaps a punt by my ever supportive daughter, the Woolly Thinker.

But no, this was from a general discussion by (presumably Catholic) mothers, on their response to the English Archbishops letter on gay marriage:

Catholics, what are your thoughts on this mornings Bishops letter?

The bit that referred to my site, was in reponse to this. I give you both:

The problem I have is thta I have dismissed the views of the more bigotted ends of teh church and the ‘churchianity’ as you put it for a long time. I thought I always would be able to do this as well as it’s not as though it has been easy to reconcile my attendance at mass with the actions of the catholic church over the past few years as I am sure you all know. 

But this has touched a nerve. I don’t see how I can marry in the catholic church following that letter that reduced the institution of marriage to genitals and babies. 

I cohabit and always felt this was ok but today the pope has suggested they are about to come down hard on that and getting married in the catholic church may not be something I am able to do in future. 

I feel very devalued as a member of the laity today.

and, in reply,

“I feel very devalued as a member of the laity today.”

Me too. 

I went to mass today and I cried. I don’t want to leave the church but I don’t know if I can stay either. I had a meeting about 1st communion tonight and I felt like so much a part of a community and it was just lovely. We talked a lot about the failings of the church and how to reconcile faith and conscience. I don’t know what to do. I have written to the Archbishop, the Bishop of Southwark and my own Bishop, joined a FB group ‘Catholics for gay rights’ and I have found a counter petition online 


I also found this website queeringthechurch

How about that?

The bishops, and supporters of the letter, would do well to stop a minute, and read the full discussion. Some contributors agreed with it, and possibly signed the petition – but a high proportion had been angered by, even to the point of considering leaving the church. This not an LGBT website, remember, but one for mothers (most of whom will be straight), in a discussion specifically addressed to Catholics. (more…)

Pope tells Bishops to fight gay marriage to ‘safeguard the good of humanity’

Pope Benedict last week told a group of visiting Bishops how they should fight off plans for gay marriage. “The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure [for marriage equality] calls for a reasoned defence of marriage as a natural institution,” which is “rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation,” he said. “Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage,” the Pope said.

The Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark follow this Vatican script in the pastoral letter read from English and Welsh church pulpits this weekend.

“Safeguarding the good of the entire human community”

What was missing from our Bishops’ pastoral letter is any explanation of how keeping marriage for heterosexuals only is “safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike”, which the Pope claims is why the Church needs to block gay marriage equality.

So let’s see whether there IS any evidence of actual harm caused by gay marriage equality.

Joke pie chart showing what will happen if gay marriage is legalised

Gay people will get married. That's all that will happen. Move along now.

Where’s the evidence of harm from gay marriage?

A California federal court recently had to consider evidence of the harm gay marriage is supposed to cause in California, before the Judge made his decision. The judge ruled that the gay marriage ban inserted into California’s Constitution violates lesbian and gay citizens’ US Constitutional rights, by treating them as second class citizens for no good reason. There was no real evidence that marriage equality does cause harm.

The Pope claims that restricting marriage to heterosexuals only is required to ‘safeguard the good of the entire human community’. If there really is harm being done you would think he, the Vatican and Bishops would be quick to point everyone to actual evidence. It should be easy for the Pope to find lots of evidence by now, because gay marriage has been legal for about ten years, is now celebrated in seven European countries, in three other countries on other continents, and in six US States. Additionally the UK has had civil partnerships for the last six years.

The Pope and Bishops should also be able to get lots of help from other Christian churches and other faiths, especially in the USA, where anti-gay marriage and conservative Christian groups are very well funded and highly active. In the USA dire warnings of harm are very common, with extremely well-funded election campaigns to put gay marriage bans into the laws and constitutions of many States.

But whether it’s the Pope, Bishops or others making a big fuss about the harm that would be caused by gay marriage, none of them tell us exactly what that harm would be. Or if they do give examples, these are of no real substance. For example the website catholic.com has a big page devoted to answering lots of questions about gay marriage.

The only harm is that allowing any gay marriages would push up the divorce rate of heterosexuals. Keeping gay people unmarried is what keeps all the heterosexual married couples together.

The ‘harm’ is a vague fear monster that is regularly dragged out to scare people and maintain inequality. No-one has produced any academically reliable and testable evidence to prove any harm.

California trial of the Constitutional ban on gay marriage

We saw this lack of evidence of any harm ruthlessly exposed in this recent California court case.

The legal team against gay marriage had almost limitless funding from the gay marriage ban’s backers, Christian churches and other conservative organisations. They could afford to call all the expert witnesses they wanted and use the best legal counsel money could buy. They pulled out all the stops to keep the gay marriage ban.

The case was dramatised, using the court transcripts and interviews, in a play called ’8′ [named after Proposition 8, the California-wide ballot which added the anti-gay marriage ban to California's constitution]. A YouTube video of this is on the American Foundation for Equal Rights website (the website says it will be removed on Saturday 11 March at midnight on the west coast, but it was still up when this was posted). The dramatisation had an all star cast, with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Martin Sheen and Jane Lynch.

Most of the statements of evidence by various witnesses were simply a lot of outraged but vague waffle. It may be impressive sounding rhetoric but it is threadbare on facts and testable evidence.

No significant evidence for any harm was produced by any of the witnesses who agreed to testify under oath.

Most of the witnesses only made sworn statements but then, during the trial, refused to testify and be cross-examined under oath. Refusing to testify and be cross examined demonstrates that those witnesses realised their evidence would not survive critical examination. And the evidence of the main ‘expert’ who did testify under oath, was later rejected by the judge as ‘unreliable’.

Expert’s evidence: ooops! it supports gay marriage

Under firm cross examination the principal expert witness who testified on oath against gay marriage, David Blankenhorn, waffled, struggled but eventually conceded:

“I believe that adopting same sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.” “The studies show that [the lesbian and gay] adoptive parents …, because of the rigorous screening process they undertake, … outstrip biological parents in terms of providing care for their children.”

Then from David Blankenhorn’s own book, the ‘The Future of Marriage’ these two sentences helped finally sink the case for keeping the ban on gay marriage.

“I believe that today the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons. In that sense, in so far as we are a nation founded on this principle [of equal rights], we would be more American on the day that we permit same sex marriage, than on the day before.”

So Blankenhorn noted that marriage would benefit same-sex couples and their children, would reduce discrimination against gays and lesbians and would be “a victory for the worthy ideas of tolerance and inclusion.”

Despite the multitude of benefits identified by Blankenhorn that would flow to the state, to gays and lesbians and to American ideals were California to recognize same-sex marriage, Blankenhorn nonetheless testified that the state should not recognize same-sex marriage.

Blankenhorn reasoned that the benefits of same-sex marriage are not valuable enough because same-sex marriage could ‘conceivably weaken marriage as an institution’.

He did not produce any evidence to back up either his claim that the benefits of same sex marriage were not valuable enough, nor could he produce evidence for his claim that same sex marriage might weaken marriage as an institution.

The Judge later ruled that he was not qualified as an expert witness to give these opinions and that his testimony was “unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight.”

Pope’s Proof?

Can the Pope do a better job than the California experts and prove his claim that banning gay marriage is essential to ‘safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike’? It seems really unlikely the Pope will ever succeed if the best experts and lawyers money can buy lost the case in California.

The Pope’s and Bishops’ words are just empty high-flown blather without substance or evidence behind them.

The Catholic Bishops problem facing those supporting equal marriage rights

The problem facing Catholics and others supporting civil gay marriage is that the Pope and Bishops will carry on making these statements, we can ask all we like for their evidence, but no one can force them to prove their claims before an independent court or tribunal. Nor can they be forced to submit their claims and evidence for publication in an independent academic journal, where it could be reviewed and checked by independent academic experts.

They continue to act as their own judge and jury: all power with no responsibility or accountability to lesbian and gay Catholics.

However it is just a temporary storm along the path of reform. We know from experience that after civil partnerships became law the British Bishops stopped making a fuss. And once equal marriage rights become law all the noise and fury will also pass.

However the Bishops and Pope will have lost a bit more credibility and moral authority as people notice society continues to function very much as before. A few more Catholics will pack up and leave in exasperation.

More information

Pope’s words to US Bishops on gay marriage, permissiveness, pre-marital sex and similar problems in the Catholic Herald

Pastoral letter to English and Welsh Catholics against gay marriage equality

American Foundation for Equal Rights website for viewing the YouTube video of the dramatised reading of “8″

Court transcripts – see day 11

Catholic Answers deals with gay marriage. In Part III it discusses the ‘threats to [heterosexual] marriage’. Allowing gay marriage ‘weakens the meaning of marriage, which would cause more divorces.’ Apparently the number of divorces will explode because heterosexuals need gays to stay unmarried because unmarried gay people are part of the glue that holds heterosexual relationships together. I’m not making this up, they are very serious and earnest at catholic.com. And that’s the only threat to heterosexual marriage they identify.

The US Family Research Council has a leaflet listing the top ten harms from gay marriage (.pdf file). They are 100% serious but truly scrape the barrel with their 10 spurious harms.

Chris Morley

Chris was raised Catholic, attended a junior seminary for five years, survived and emerged gay. He has 30 years experience in community social care, supporting vulnerable and excluded people both at the Citizens Advice Bureau and in leading HIV charities.

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