Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Sheep Ain't Sheep Any Longer

Archbishop John Myers of Newark

Archbishop John Myers of Newark came out (pardon the pun) against the legalization of same-sex marriage in a “pastoral letter” issued this weekend and said that Catholics who disagree with Church teaching on this issue should refrain from Holy Communion.  To be fair to His Excellency, let me first reprint an account from the Associated Press that was carried by newspapers this past Tuesday, Sept 25.

More than 1 million Roman Catholics in northern New Jersey are being urged to vote "in defense of marriage and life."

Newark Archbishop John Myers released a pastoral statement today that calls on Catholics to examine how political candidates stand on abortion and "a proper backing of marriage."

Myers also says Catholics who disagree with the church's teaching on marriage should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

Myers says his statement is not intended as an endorsement for either political party. The archbishop says he's been thinking about issuing a statement on the subject for about a year because he believes there's been a lack of clarity.

The diocese includes churches in Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union counties.

Garden State Equality, the state's largest gay rights organization, notes recent polls have shown the majority of Catholics favor "marriage equality."

Now, first let us distinguish what is legitimately meant by “disagree with the Church’s teaching on marriage.”  The Church’s competency for definitive teaching is faith (doctrine) and morals.  It certainly may have opinions on other matters—history, law, education, sociology, anthropology, etc. but its area of competency to bind the faithful is faith and morals.  The Church has the right (and obligation) to instruct the faithful on matters of doctrine and of morals.  That the sacrament of Matrimony is contracted between one Christian man and one Christian woman each of whom is free in the eyes of the Church from previous marriages, who intend fidelity in their marriage, and who is open to the creation of new life through their marital love, is well within the Church’s competency.  Furthermore, to teach that sexual relations are gravely wrong outside the context of a marriage that conforms to the Church’s ideals of marriage (not only sacramental matrimony,  but of what the Church teaches that marriage itself is—namely the freely-entered committed-until-death  relationship of one man to one woman, neither of whom are bound by previous marriages and both of whom are committed to fidelity and open to the transmission of life) is also in the Church’s competency, though no one should be surprised when non-Catholics take a different understanding, especially when it concerns their marriages.  But it is not in the competency of the Church to declare that Catholics must hold that the civil law should enshrine its doctrines or its moral stances in the civil law.  It is not the role of the civil law to incorporate into its code the doctrinal or moral teachings of any particular religious body.  That is not to say that members of a particular religion should not be free to evangelize within their society to win a consensus of the citizenry to their point of view but few people want the opinions of any particular religious group to be imposed on a disagreeing citizenry.  In other words, my read on this issue is that while we Catholics are bound to a particular doctrine on Matrimony,  we have no obligation to support laws that impose that understanding on the larger segments of our society. A Catholic cannot be compelled to vote against a candidate or a party that supports a different understanding of marriage than that which the Church teaches.  In fact, the Catholic Church in the United States has always accommodated itself to civil marriages that do not meet its doctrinal norms and Catholics have not been punished in any way for upholding such laws.  Catholic judges not only issue decrees of divorce but often preside at marriages in which one or both parties have been previously married.  Catholic judges and other Catholic civil officials sometimes preside at marriages of Catholics who are choosing not to marry in the Church.  Why is this only a problem when the marriage is between two parties of the same sex?  Why do we want to hold Catholics to a different standard of behavior in this question?  Is it bias?  It could be.  Is it pandering to certain pressure groups?  It could be.  Is it—like the “Fortnight for Romney”—a less than subtle political endorsement?  It could be.  The one thing it is not is influening the Catholic-in-the-Pew whom the polls show are in disagreement with the Bishops on this and many other issues.  I am not saying that the bishops are wrong, I am only observing that the sheep aren’t following.  There is a need to rebuild Episcopal leadership in the Catholic Church from the ground up.   

But there is still the question of whether those who disagree with the Church’s teaching itself—not only with the matter of enshrining the Church teaching in civil law—should refrain from Holy Communion.  That is for next time.  

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