Those Wacky Catholics

NOTE: I found this post in draft stage today. It’s apparently been sitting there since early 2004. It is just as relevant today as it was then.

Those Wacky Catholics: Bishop Raymond Burke of the diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin has issued an order that prohibits priests in his diocese from administering communion to Catholic representatives who have voted for legislation that allows individual choice on the subject of abortion (see article here).

It has often been said that Catholics in general do not know their Bible, and it seems to me that such a decree as this ignores the lesson of one of Jesus Christ’s parables, the lesson of which is “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” This parable, and this lesson, is included in 3 of the 4 Gospels (the exact verse in each case being Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25.

Now, it seems to me that the general principle established here by Jesus is that there are secular realms in which one has secular duties that do not in any way conflict with one’s sacred duties. Indeed, that principle is enshrined in the US Constitution, and is at the very heart of all the civic and governmental structures of our nation.

Officeholders, like Roman taxpayers, have duties to their constituents that are independent of their religious duties.

This despicable Wisconsin bishop has undone, in a stroke, all the progress that was made in the last half of the 20th Century in debunking the lie that Catholic lawmakers would be beholden to the Pope, rather than to those who elect them. John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president, and this was a major stumbling block for many voters. But his words and actions demonstrated that in his duties as civic officeholder, there was no conflict, as demonstrated by the words of Jesus himself.

Now, it seems that this is no longer the case. Roman Catholic officeholders must now shirk their civic duties and let their Church’s decrees rule their voting decisions, or face separation from the central sacrament of their church, and, thus, can never be fully in a state of grace.

The Pope has taken the same position on the issue of gay marriage, ignoring that the question being considered by officeholders worldwide is not a religious one, but a civic one, the question of the definition of civil marriage (which is distinct from religious marriage).

Roman Catholics always seem to want it both ways. When the Act-Up protesters disrupted mass at St. Patrick’s in New York City in 1989, this was seen as a dreadful intrusion into the religious space. Indeed, it was exactly that, but it came as a response to the Church’s intrusion into the civic realm. If the Church insists on trying to shape lawmaking, which has an impact on all citizens, Catholic or not, they open themselves to interference and disruption from outside, in just the same fashion as their own actions interfere with and disrupt the lives of those who are not under the authority of the Church.

Roman Catholics in the US need to learn that they cannot interfere in civic affairs without there being a corresponding reaction from non-Roman Catholic citizens. The result of the bishop of La Crosse’s decree and the Pope’s recommendations on gay marriage is that Roman Catholics are now disqualified from public office, as they are now under the kind of pressure from their Church that we as non-Catholic citizens can simply not expect them to endure. They now are required to have duel allegiance, and as voters, we cannot vote for any candidates whose allegiance is to anything but the consituency that elected them.

Gay Marriage and the History of Legalized Abortion

I was reading today about the state of Ohio’s newly passed law prohibiting gay marriage and partnership benefits and it suddenly occurred to me that in regard to the subject of gay marriage we may be in a period that corresponds to the time from 1965 to 1973 on the road to legalized abortion. In 1965, there was no legalized abortion in the US (though many European companies had already liberalized their laws), but by 1970, 16 states allowed it. That’s a big change in a very short period of time

In May, Massachussetts will have gay marriage, and several other states already have some form of civil unions (though Vermont’s is the strongest and most similar to full marriage rights). Over time, I forecast that more and more of the socially liberal states (probably the same ones that legalized abortion first) will gradually offer civil recognition of gay partnerships (either civil unions or full-fledged marriage), until there is a divide between states that have strong public policy against it and states that allow it, just as there was in 1973 when the Supreme Court took up the issue. When there are 16 or more states with gay marriage, there will start to be a problem, as we will be as a nation, once again, a house divided, with the rights of some people being significantly limited in some parts of the country, and equal in others. At some point, the issue will have to come before the courts and the US Congress. And, eventually, maybe by 2030, the issue will be settled in favor of gay marriage.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that the issues are identical, for there are significant differences. For one, illegal abortions were quite widespread before the laws began to be liberalized. Marriage is not something that can be entered into “illegally,” as it is in essence a legal construct in the first place, not an act. So, there’s no flouting of existing laws for pragmatists to point to as the basis for making legal what people are going to do anyway. Second, the constituency for liberalized abortion laws was very large, for unwanted pregnancy was something that affected a large majority of the population. Gay marriage has no such built-in majority constituency.

Nonetheless, I still think there’s an important parallel: attitudes on the subject are widely divided in the country, and the states are beginning to institutionalize that difference in law, in both directions, just as happened in the decade before Roe vs. Wade, when the Supreme Court stepped in and completely revamped the whole issue by finding a right to privacy in the Constitution that severe restrictions and prohibitions on abortion impinged.

I honestly do not wish for the Supreme Court’s interference, at least not until several decades in the future when it’s become clear from experience that gay marriage does not in any way endanger any thread of the fabric of society (this should be clear already, but some people are slow on the uptake). But I do think the swing has already begun, and might very well occur very quickly (though surely not as quickly as happened with abortion). I would expect 10 years from now that gay marriage will be common in the socially liberal states and that in 20 years, it will seem perfectly ordinary in all but the most conservative parts of the country (say, Utah), and 30 years from now, will be legal nationwide. And I also expect that, along with that, full equal rights will by that time have been accorded gay citizens since I can’t imagine gay marriage being sanctioned without it.

And then we will finally be able to say “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”