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Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 10, 2011

Catholic leaders often remind the public that while they are opposed to gay marriage, they affirm the dignity of all humanNichols beings, including gays and lesbians. They cite the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, number 2358, which states that, "they [gays and lesbians] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." This language is abstract, so what does being "accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" look like in action, and how does the church simultaneously uphold teaching 2357, which calls gays and lesbians "intrinsically disordered"?

Archbishop Vincent Nichols has come under fire from conservatives in England and Wales (and the US) for trying to uphold the church's teaching on marriage while also creating space for gays and lesbians to be treated with dignity and respect.

In November, Nichols, who heads the conference of Catholic bishops in England and Wales, affirmed the church's stance against gay marriage in response to the plan by Prime Minister David Cameron to push for legal recognition of same-sex marriage before 2015. Currently, gays and lesbians can enter into civil partnerships with the state. What irked conservatives were Nichols' comments about civil partnerships:

According to the English religious journal The Tablet, the archbishop [Nichols] remarked that “(w)e would want to emphasize that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship (and) a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision.”

Among those criticizing Nichols is the American George Weigel:

“In my experience in the United States, this notion of civil unions has always been a kind of half way house to so called ‘gay-marriages,’” he told CNA on Dec 7.

Weigel added that while a “humane state is going to make appropriate provisions for human relationships, particularly in moments of distress, … those issues can be dealt with without going down this road of saying there is something in the nature of a stable or unstable homosexual union that the state should honor and lift up.”

The Vatican published guidelines about civil partnerships in a document called "Consideration Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons." The church calls on civil authorities to reject any formal recognition of gay relationships, and concludes:

The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.

The codes I referenced above, which label gay women and men "intrinsically disordered" but then demand they be treated with dignity and respected is confusing, and Nichols seems to be responding as best he can to these dual claims. He has unabashedly upheld the church's teachings on marriage, which puts him at odds with most in his country. And yet he offers a pastoral response to those gay and lesbian individuals who wish for legal recognition and rights to ensure safety and stability within their families. Are those on the right who attack Nichols concerned more with ideological or theological purity than pastoral concern and love of neighbor? How, then, should pluralist and secular societies treat gays and lesbians? Should their relationships be offered any legal recognition? What about hospital visitation, taxes, and the myriad other rights and responsibilities heterosexual couples take for granted? Is there any way for Catholics to affirm what the church teaches about marriage while respecting other family structures and situations in diverse societies?

Michael J. O'Loughlin  

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Jim McCrea
12 years 4 months ago
David Smith:  I'm waiting for your response to #16 above.  And also @ dotCommonweal.

Thank you.
david power
12 years 4 months ago

What is your reading of his comment above?.
It is pretty cryptic to me.Perhaps he is not contradicting himself at all.  
 Although it seems he does like a good troll.
Chris Sullivan
12 years 4 months ago
Thanks Michael for a very good post.

I think we can and ought to support the rights of homosexual couples to state recognition of their relationships, hospital visitation and next of kin rights etc as long as this does not mean recognising homosexual relationships are the same as marriage.

I know there are fairthful and orthodox Catholic couples living together chastely (continently), some gay and some straight, and I think such stable and loving relationships deserve a degree of state recognition, while making cleart hat these relationships are not marriage.

This state recognition and support is due not because the couples concerned are in homosexual relationships but because they are in various stable and loving relationships of a range of different natures which are not marriage.

God Bless
Francis DeBernardo
12 years 4 months ago
      Michael O'Loughlin hits the nail on the head in pointing out the tension that exists in magisterial teaching on homosexuality.  Honoring the dignity of the humanity in which gay and lesbian participate competes with trying to uphold a sexual ethic based on the ability to procreate.  Theologians have tried for decades to move the magisterium to accept a sexual ethic that is based on the qualities of justice and mutuality that exist in a relationship, not on the biological activity which is performed.  Such an ethic would move our church away from act-centered morality, and into a morality that values the love bond between people.  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, of Australia, has pointed out that if we base our sexual ethic on the Gospel, we will observe that Jesus did not preach about any sexual acts, but He did preach constantly about honoring and valuing right relationships among people.  Such an ethic would help all people and relationships.
       Archbishop Nichols' statement on civil unions is not without precedent in the British church.  In 1979,  the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Social Welfare Commission, under the leadership of Cardinal Basil Hume, offered this advice to pastoral workers in a document entitled An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People: ''The pastor may distinguish between irresponsible, indiscriminate sexual activity and the permanent association between two homosexual persons, who feel incapable of enduring a solitary life devoid of sexual expression. This distinction may be borne in mind when offering pastoral advice and establishing the degree of responsibility….''  Nichols' statement is certainly within the same pragmatic and compassionate tradition.
         The tension in teaching that O'Loughlin points out requires the bishops not only to pay attention to theologians, but to listen to lesbian/gay Catholics, too.

Liam Richardson
12 years 4 months ago
It should be noted that the closure of Catholic adoption agencies was not required by law as such; it's just they would not be eligible for public funds. The Church had the choice to operate them without public funds, and chose not to do so.
Crystal Watson
12 years 4 months ago
I don't know if there's a way for Catholics to both approve same-sex marriage and follow Catholic teaching, but they can decide for themselves that the teaching is wrong, as most have .... http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2011/03/22/survey-catholics/

Other Christians are affirming gospel values while at the same time approving same-sex marriage ... the Episcopal Chruch, the United Church of Christ, some Quakers, and I just read an article by a Lutheran bishop .... "Gay marriage - a Lutheran leader's plea to Catholic bishops"  ... http://www.startribune.com/opinion/otherviews/135202698.html

david power
12 years 4 months ago
I know I am not exactly a beacon of civility but I hope that this does not descend into a slanging match.
The question is very delicate and I would appreciate some constructive comments from the posters here many of whom  such as Brett and Karl can give a good insight into things. 
I agree with Brett's comments at NO.3 but it does not really resolve the question proposed by Mr Loughlin.How do we do it?
Is it just a question of diplomacy?.A catholic version of "Don't ask ,don't tell"?As previous commentators have pointed out the teaching is not worth a whole lot on the practical level.
We are left in limbo.One thing I am sure of though and that is homosexuals are a lot more than a sexuality or a sexual practise.Reducing them to that is something that both the lobbyists and some christians do too.Anyway, I am getting away from my point which was the question posed above.
Barry Hudock
12 years 4 months ago
Mr. O'Loughlin did make one significant mistake in his post, which certainly affects the point he is trying to make. Contrary to what he says, the Catechism does not ''call gays and lesbians 'intrinsically disordered.''' It gives that designation to homosexual activities, not to those who practice them.  The context of the entire paragraph makes this quite clear, because there are several sentences which clearly refer to such acts.  See here:  http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2357.htm.

This difference goes a significant way toward resolving the ''confusion'' O'Loughlin speaks of.  It may be difficult to figure out how to treat with dignity and respect a person whom one considers intrinsically disordered with dignity. It is far less difficult, it seems to me, to treat them such when it is simply some of their actions that one sees as intrinsically disordered. 

We do it all the time, don't we, both in our laws (and try to change those laws which fail to) and in our personal relationships? 

I'm not suggesting this solves the question that Archbishop Nichols and his critics are grappling over, but it does reduce some of the tension Mr. O'Loughlin suggests resides in Catholic teaching.

Craig Hanley
12 years 4 months ago

Rick Fueyo
12 years 4 months ago
I still have never understood why the Church can claim the right to weigh in on what constitutes civil marriage, other than in the most generalized First Amendment sense.  The institution of civil marriage is parallel but quite different from that of a marriage recognized by the Church, appropriately so.  The Church recognizes marriages according to its own dictates, but I don't think it's fair to then claim that it should also use Church precepts to define what should be defined as a civil marriage, with legal rights flowing therefrom.

One can use all of the talking points one wishes to say that the Church is the victim in this regard, but I cannot agree, And I find that somewhat Orwellian. The issue was simply whether homosexuals can have their unions recognized by the state, and obtain the same legal rights that heterosexuals would. I don't see any way we affirm their dignity when we tell them that their unions are not worthy of state recognition, and that they are not entitled to the equal protection of the laws.
david power
12 years 4 months ago
I am truly sad that many of the good commentators could not rise to the challenge set by Michael Loughlin here.
David Smith restated the question pretty concisely above.
Are we no longer capable of discernment ?
Is compassion just a gateway to relativism?  
Is America only capable of heated dialectic?.
Christ transcends,that is the entire story of the Gospels.
He is as much a challenge to homosexuals as he is to homophobes. 
But nothing here.13 comments is paltry.
If the article by Mr Loughlin invited a free for all then we would have hit the 100 mark by now.
It was an invitation to think humanly and in a christian way and nobody is interested.
What does that tell us?
I am the least insightful of Christians and so am dependent on others of a wiser character.What do we get here but an itchin for an ideological tussle.That is depressing.Nobody could see or was interested in what would Jesus do.People go to Mass every morning but the words of the Holy Gospel do not seem to enter.Maybe I am right to stay in bed for an extra hour before work.     
12 years 4 months ago
This topic makes me think deeply of the parable of the wheat among the weeds.
Jim McCrea
12 years 4 months ago
David Smith:  here at America you are defending the bishops' prerogative to slap away at the gays.
 But over at Commonweal, where there's a discussion of the bishops' pronouncement on economic issues, your position is that when they make pronouncements on "social issues," it's good for us to listen, but we're not obliged to take them seriously.
 Then when Luke Hill asked you  what you mean, you replied, "Luke, when someone’s speaking outside his competency, one always takes what’s said with at least one grain of salt, no?"
 Based on that, I’ll ask you:  "David, when the bishops pronounce on marriage and on gay relationships, are they speaking outside their competency?"

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