Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dissent Is Not Always Dissent

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has come out and said that Catholics who support same-sex marriage should refrain from coming to Holy Communion.  I am searching for the Archbishop’s statement so that I can quote it exactly, but from news reports the Archbishop’s point is that Reception of the Holy Eucharist signifies acceptance of Catholic Church teaching and as the Catholic Church teaches that Marriage is a bond between one man and one woman, dissent from that teaching makes receiving Holy Communion something “akin to perjury.”  Archbishop Vigneron seems to be taking his guidance from Canon Lawyer, Edward Peters who teaches at the Detroit Seminary and who for a long time has argued against pro-choice Catholic politicians being given Holy Communion.
There is one fatal flaw in the Archbishop’s argument.  Church teaching, at least binding Church teaching, concerns the Sacrament of Matrimony (or Marriage) not the reality of Marriage in Civil Law.  The Church may have strong preferences about what the civil law should say but it can’t bind the Catholic faithful to agree.  The Church can say that such and such is contrary to our moral principles; it can even declare something to be unjust or inherently wrong.  To that we must agree.  That is what the doctrine is. The Church can—and should—remind us that the civil law must be just.  But that we Catholics have to concur that the civil law must reflect Church doctrine is beyond the authority of a bishop, of a conference of bishops, or even of the Holy See itself.  It exceeds the definitive authority of the Church which extends to matters of faith and morals.  To say that a Catholic should seriously examine himself or herself before coming to Holy Communion and give serious thought to refraining from the Eucharist if they disagree with Church teaching is legitimate.  To say that a Catholic who disagrees with Church teaching in matters of faith or morals should refrain from Holy Communion is legitimate.  But to say that a Catholic who disagrees with the opinion of a Churchman, even their own bishop, on a matter of civil law is going way too far and to deny such a Catholic Holy Communion would be a serious—and I believe sinful—abuse of ecclesiastical power.  Now as far as I can determine, Archbishop Vigneron did not say that those who differ from his opinion on civil law should be denied Holy Communion.  It seems that the Archbishop left the final decision to the communicant to act responsibly and in good faith.   Nevertheless, I don’t believe the Archbishop is acting in good faith—or at least with the grave discretion such matters require.  I say that because the Archbishop does not suggest that the civil law should bar others whom the Catholic Church declares are not eligible to enter into true marriage from marrying civilly.  Once the Catholic Church recognized the civil reality of divorce and the subsequent civil marriage of divorced people, it lost its ability to say that others whom the Church deems ineligible for marriage should not be granted the legal benefits to marriage offered by the civil law.  Had the Church stood fast against civil divorce in the nineteenth century, it would be in a better position to argue against legality of same-sex marriage in the twenty-first century.  In Catholic teaching partners of the same sex cannot contract a valid marriage.  No problem.  But Catholic teaching also says that a man and a woman, one or both of whom have been previously married and have a surviving spouse, cannot enter a valid marriage and yet treats their marriages as a legal reality.  There is no logical reason to grant the benefits of civil marriage to one religiously ineligible couple but not to the other.   There is the matter of homophobia—but as homophobia is a blind prejudice directed against individuals with no culpability for their situation that is something that hopefully is beneath the holiness of a pastor of the flock.   

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