A March 20–24 CBS News Poll showed that 53% of Americans support same-sex marriage, 39% oppose it, and 8% are undecided. The same poll also indicated that 33% of those Americans, who now think same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, say they once held the opposite view and have changed their opinion.
Already in November 2012, election exit polls showed that 83% of American voters believed that same-sex marriage would be legal throughout the country within five to ten years.
American Roman Catholic bishops, however, see things differently.
New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said on two morning talk shows on Easter Sunday that the Roman Catholic Church should be more welcoming toward gays and lesbians despite its opposition to same-sex marriage. That was the headline story. The fine-print story, however, was the same old refrain: “But we also know,” stressed Dolan, “that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”
Joe Murray, Executive Director of the Rainbow Sash Movement dismissed the Cardinal’s comments as delusional and out of touch with reality.
Edward Peters, a legal advisor to the Vatican and a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, claims: “Catholics who promote same-sex marriage act contrary to Catholic law.” These aberrant Catholics, Peters stressed in his blog: “should not approach for holy Communion.” Allen Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, agrees wholeheartedly: “This sort of behavior,” Archbishop Vigneron asserted, “would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.” Perjury? How strange……There must be some kind of mind-distorting virus in the clouds above Motown.
Back to New York…… Nicholas Coppola, a 47-year-old retired construction worker, and his husband David have been effectively kicked out of the St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, NY, where Coppola had been serving as a religious education instructor, lecturer, and visitation minister for homebound members of his church. He also served as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul. Parishioners had known for years that Nicholas was gay; and they never found it problematic.
After Nicholas and David got married on October 27th in 2012, a concerned Catholic sent an anonymous letter to the local bishop, informing him about Coppola’s involvement.
On April 4th, 2013, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Coppola attended a special liturgy at St. Anthony’s. Afterwards, he was summoned into the office of his pastor, Father Nicholas Lombardi, where he was told that the anonymous letter complaining about his sexuality had been sent to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese, which includes St. Anthony’s Parish. Lombardi then informed Coppola that, on Bishop Murphy’s orders, Coppola would be banned from all of his parish duties because he had entered into a civil same-sex marriage in violation of church doctrine.
Sometimes I think far too many of our bishops keep trotting down the super highway of contemporary life, in horse drawn theological buggies. Their understanding of human sexuality and theological ethics is rooted in a static nineteenth century outlook that rejects human change and development as aberrant behavior. These horse and buggy bishops really ought to know better. Or perhaps they flunked their Vatican II final exams. They certainly need remedial sexual and theological education. They need to understand and speak from a credible and informed Catholic sexual ethic.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic theology has shifted from a primary static worldview to an historically conscious worldview that recognizes human reality as particular, dynamic, evolving, and changing.
I really don’t have unkind thoughts about our bishops. As the old saying goes, some of my best friends are bishops. I went to school with a number of bishops; and a number of my former students are bishops today. (And a few other very good friends, like Ken Untner, from Saginaw, Michigan, are now bishops RIP.) Nevertheless, I am amazed and dismayed at the theological ignorance and archaic understanding of human sexuality displayed by some of our episcopal leaders. They have smart phones and iPads but operate within a closed-world Morse code mentality. An historical critical understanding of our Scriptures and Tradition totally escapes them. Change, growth, and development in our understanding of what it means to be a woman or a man of Faith today seems like something alien and unspeakable.
As required reading for every bishop, and a good number of church lawyers as well, I strongly recommend two books: Sexual Ethics: A Theological Introduction
by Creighton University’s Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler and Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Margaret Farley, who taught at Yale.
Theologians Salzman and Lawler contend that there is a disconnect between nineteenth century absolute sexual norms and intellectual, theological, and ethical developments recognized and endorsed in our Catholic tradition, especially since the Second Vatican Council.
Not all bishops like the theological ethics of Salzman and Lawler. The USCCB Committee on Doctrine, chaired by Cardinal Donald Wuerl has strongly condemned their book for “applying a deficient theological methodology” which leads the authors to “reach erroneous conclusions on a whole range of issues, including the morality of pre-marital sex, contraception, and artificial insemination…..readers of the book could be confused or misled, especially since the book proposes ways of living a Christian life that do not accord with the teaching of the Church and the Christian tradition.”
Margaret Farley’s book proposes a framework for sexual ethics whereby justice is the criterion for all loving, including love that is related to sexual activity and relationships. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has denounced her book because it presents a theological rationale that could justify same-sex relationships, masturbation, and remarriage after divorce.
But I would remind all critics of Farley, Lawler and Salzman of what Cardinal Dolan so strongly asserted on ABC’s “This Week” on Easter Sunday 2013: “We try our darndest to make sure we’re not anti-anybody.”
So gentlemen do your theological homework and let GENUINE DIALOGUE really begin!