Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Media headlines throughout the world have been trumpeting Ireland’s recent acceptance of same-sex “marriage” as the coming of age of Catholics in today’s world. There are 19 other countries that have previously accepted the proposition that equality for gays and lesbians means redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. Among them are such traditionally Catholic countries as Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal and Uruguay. But, Ireland, which is 85 percent Catholic, has the unique distinction of being the first country ever to overwhelmingly approve to redefine marriage by a popular vote.
Within the last decade, the acceptance of same-sex unions has become widespread. There are some notable exceptions. Seventy-seven percent of black Protestants and 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants still stand strongly in favor of defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But, the mainline Protestant churches do not. Many churches, such as the Presbyterian, the Episcopal, the Evangelical Lutheran and the United Church of Christ already accept same-sex unions.
Furthermore, recent polls indicate a rather high number of Catholics who either accept or tolerate same sex unions. According to a 2014 Pew research poll, 57 percent of American Catholics and an amazing 75 percent of Catholics age 18 to 29 support gay marriages. These numbers are significant. Ireland’s recent vote is merely indicative of the changing attitudes even among Catholics and especially among the young.
When polls are taken of Catholics, these surveys include both practicing and non-practicing Catholics, both those who attend Church regularly and those who infrequently or never attend Mass. Nonetheless, the number of regular church-goers who support same-sex unions is only slightly less than those who are Catholic in name, but do not practice. Society has wholesale bought into the view that same-sex unions should be accepted as marriages. Even Catholics. Why?
First of all, the advocates of gay marriages have cleverly framed their arguments in terms of equality and tolerance. And, no one wishes to be labeled unjust for denying others their rights. Did we not settle that issue by overturning slavery in this country? After all, everyone should be equal. And, who wants to be labeled a bigot by opposing someone else’s personal happiness?
However, the insistence on the rights of two individuals to form a same-sex union and become a family patently ignores the rights of children to have a mother and a father. It is the same line of thinking that insists on the right of a woman to control her own body and thus allows her to end the life of her child, even days before birth. Any true discussion of rights must be wider than just an individual’s rights. The welfare of society as a whole is at stake.
Second, the campaign to promote gay marriages has had such a quick acceptance, because society no longer accepts the view of a natural law. Once you deny that there is a Creator who designed the world with a purpose and an order (natural law), then you are free to remake even the institution of marriage that has been universally held as a union of man and woman for millennia. The recent movement towards transgenderism is part of this same denial.
Third, among Catholics, there has been, unfortunately, a serious lacuna in teaching the faith. To be honest, we must confess our failure in the last two generations to pass on the faith in its fullness and with proper explanation. Humane Vitae was a watershed in the Church’s understanding of human sexuality. Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has provided a rich and profound understanding of this teaching. We are just beginning to hand on these teachings to the young.
Fourth, the numbers of Catholics who attend Mass on a regular basis is less than 25 percent of all Catholics. Rarely do they hear from the pulpit an explanation of the Church’s teaching on marriage. Sound teaching on the beauty of human sexuality has practically disappeared from the Sunday homily. For whatever reason this has occurred, the effects are now being felt. In our current pre-marriage preparation, there is a greater emphasis on explaining not simply what the Church teaches, but why. But, is this coming too late?
Fifth, the question of same-sex unions must be seen in the context of society’s acceptance of sex outside of marriage. Cohabitation, pre-marital sex and artificial contraception have played a major role in divorcing the intimate, sexual expression of love between a man and a woman from its divinely-given orientation to procreation. Human sexuality is no longer seen as intrinsically ordered to the family. Once again, one can only wonder how many Catholics today truly have been taught and understand the beauty of human sexuality as given to us in the Church’s teaching.
Sixth, the reality of original sin and sin in general has been lost. No longer is there thought that the original plan of God for us has been disfigured by the sin of Adam and Eve. No longer is there acceptance of the fact that there are inclinations and disorders within each of us that go against what is in our best interest for life in this world and the next. No longer, for some, is there even the idea of sin in terms of sexual activity outside of marriage. God’s will, not polls, determines morality.
Last of all, one must ask if believers today give any validity to Sacred Scripture and its clear teaching on the nature of marriage from the very first pages of Genesis. Is it right to pick and choose only those parts of divine revelation and the Church’s consistent teaching that are sanctioned by the views of the majority in our present age? Do polls and trends define what is right in God’s eyes?
While we respect others and never engage in hate speech or bigotry against those whose views differ from ours, we cannot shrink from teaching and living our faith that comes from the Lord. And, perhaps we have! Ireland’s recent gay marriage vote is truly a wake-up call to know and understand what the Church teaches in the name of Jesus. No matter what society may choose to believe or accept, the Church and her faithful members can never dismiss nor change the teaching of Jesus on marriage. No matter what lifestyle others may adopt, we do not stop loving them. Neither do we stop offering them the truth that sets each of us and society itself free.