'Tis the season...for marriage battles

Pope Benedict XVI used his important Christmas address to the Roman Curia, in part, to attack gains made by same-sex marriage advocates around the world, especially in the United States in November and to contribute to a debate raging in France.

From USA Today:


Gay marriage denies God and devalues human dignity, Pope Benedict XVI said Friday in his annual "state of the Church" address at the Vatican.

Speaking to the Curia, the bureaucrats who run the global church of 1.2 billion Catholics, the pope said opposition to gay marriage is a way of defending humanity: "Whoever defends God is defending man."

Benedict also quoted the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, who has written that promoting a right to same-sex marriage is an "attack" on the traditional family made up of a father, mother and children.

The Associated Press:

"People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being," he said. "They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves."

"The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned," he said.

Catholic News Services, meanwhile, covered the Pope’s remarks but left out any explicit mention of same-sex marriage:

The consequences of this attitude, the pope suggested, have included unethical biomedical practices: "The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned."

To reject the "pre-ordained duality of man and woman" is also to reject the family as a "reality established by creation," he said, with particularly degrading consequences for children: "The child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain."

Meanwhile, the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an article that compared the fight for same-sex marriage to past battles over communism. From Religion News Service:

In her L’ Osservatore Romano article, [Historian Lucetta] Scaraffia echoed and developed Benedict’s argument. To equate a traditional marriage between a man and a woman with a union between homosexuals amounts to a “negation of truth,” which would undermine “one of the basic structures of human society, family,” she wrote.

In the long run, she concluded, societies will end up paying “a very high price” for destroying family, “as it happened in the past with the attempts to create a complete social and economical equality.”

In the UK, Catholic bishops used the pulpit to offer the Magisterium’s position as marriage wars heat up there:

[Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols] added: "Sometimes sexual expression can be without the public bond of the faithfulness of marriage and its ordering to new life. Even governments mistakenly promote such patterns of sexual intimacy as objectively to be approved and even encouraged among the young."

He expressed frustration with the government’s process:

"From a democratic point-of-view, it's a shambles. George Orwell would be proud of that manoeuvre, I think the process is shambolic."

The Archbishop of Shrewsbury had this to say at Midnight Mass:

We think of the ideologies of the past century, Communism and Nazism, which in living memory threatened to shape and distort the whole future of humanity. These inhuman ideologies would challenge, in the name of progress, the received Christian understanding of the sanctity of human life and the family…I would appeal to our political leaders this Christmas to similarly glimpse these deeper issues where respect for the sanctity of human life and the authentic meaning of marriage as the foundation of the family are threatened.

It is puzzling to me why church leaders would muddle their opportunity at Christmas to proclaim the beauty of the Incarnation with incendiary language that will upset and alienate many people. The bishops’ views on marriage are quite clear, and as he does during each Christmastime, the Pope benefited from much media attention. But instead of focusing on his calls for peace in Syria, Africa, and the Middle East, we were once again reminded of the church’s stance on marriage, a view that many westerners, Catholics included, consider to be at odds with the moral arc of justice.

Each time I attend Mass at a parish with which I'm not familiar, including Christmas Eve while visiting family back home, I cringe as the homily begins, wondering if I'll be offered an uplifting, Gospel-inspired sermon or subjected to a political screed on marriage, abortion, or religious liberty. I search in vain for answers that will satisfy the legitimate questions my family asks during conversations at Christmas parties about the church's increasingly polarizing language. I try to lend a sympathetic ear as friends explain why they don't attend Mass, even at Christmas, like they once did. 

For those Catholics, and non-Catholics, too, who pay attention to the church or attend Mass only during the Christmas season, was this a lost opportunity for evangelization? Does the so-called “threat” of same-sex marriage merit such a lofty place in the church’s messaging? Is there room in the church for moderate or progressive voices that view this issue not as a religious debate, but one of civil rights?

Michael J. O’Loughlin

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
5 years ago
"I cringe as the homily begins, wondering if I'll be offered an uplifting, Gospel-inspired sermon or subjected to a political screed on marriage, abortion, or religious liberty." I travel some and frequently attend different parishes for Mass on Sunday locally. My guess is that I have been to Mass at about 20 different parishes in the last two years and have heard homilies from 30+ different priests. I have rarely heard anything that Mr. O'Loughlin seems to routinely hear and certainly not at Christmas. This Christmas our Kenyan priest at midnight Mass sang to us in Swahili during his homily as he related his African Christmas experiences to his experiences here in America.


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