In Part One of this series of two, I spoke about the official reaction of the Catholic Bishops to Judge Walker’s decision that Prop8 in California is unconstitutional. On August 4th, the very day of the decision, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angles wrote a strong post in opposition to Judge Walker’s decision.
In his blog, the Cardinal presented a different perspective on the issue of gay marriage and the Court’s ruling. Early in his post, the Cardinal says, “There is only one issue… Is Marriage of Divine or of Human Origin?” Mahony mentions and defends “traditional” (one man-one woman) marriage referring to it as of Divine origin, “instituted by God,” to carry out “God’s Plan,” God’s “revelation,” etc.
He continues and implies that knowledge of the “fact” that marriage between one woman and one man is per se nota. Here is what he says,
Every single religious faith community in our known history has held this belief [that marriage is only between one man and one woman] since recorded history began. Every indigenous group discovered through history also understood this belief about marriage, and carried out cultural practices to sustain that belief. Marriage is of Divine origin, and that belief is embedded deeply into the heart and spirit of human beings—also described as the natural law for the human family.
In this article Cardinal Mahony makes a very clear Faith Statement. He believes, as many, many other Catholics do, that marriage is of Divine Origin (although that may mean different things to different people). He believes that God just puts this understanding, “into the hearts and spirits of human beings.” He says that this belief resides in us “… as the natural law of the human family.” This statement implies, if not outright claims, that the “Divine Plan,”" “God’s will” is identical to the natural law. To demonstrate, outside of a faith context, that God’s Will and natural law are identical would be an extremely difficult task, if it is possible at all. There are others who use the term “natural law,” but in no way believe that it is identical to “God’s Plan.”
The Cardinal contrasts his understanding of the “objective truth” of his position with what he believes to be the limited and subjectivist position of Judge Walker; Cardinal Mahony says,
Judge Walker , “focused solely upon individual testimony on how Prop 8 affected them personally….[He] pays no attention to this fundamental issue, and relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society “feel” about themselves…. [He] chose to listen to anguished voices about their perception of marriage, rather than plumb the depths of the origin of this divinely inspired institution. Judge Walker assumes that the institution of marriage is of human and civil origin, and therefore that “marriage” can mean anything any person wishes to ascribe to the institution.
My observations on Cardinal Mahony’s blog.
- I don’t know, but I hope the Cardinal was just very upset and “shot from the hip” when he wrote this post.
- The Cardinal insists on making the fundamental issue revolve around whether or not the origin of marriage is Divine or human. Raising the issue this way might be theologically acceptable, but it certainly isn’t an argument that can be raised in a civil court procedure. One can use religious beliefs to explain the motivation of a person to act, but it can’t be used to declare a law or court ruling to be true or false.
- Mahony claims that “every single society in recorded history understood that marriage has always been a man-woman affair.” That statement, just isn’t true! The universality of his statement, “every single society…” can be his religious conviction, or a deductively generated statement, but history and social science not only can’t confirm that principle, it can demonstrate that empirically it is not true.
- Cardinal Mahony and other bishops and right-wing Christians, hardly ever define “traditional family.” Often times their leaders define the “family” as a heterosexual couple who make a public statement and life-time commitment through a public ritual to live together and usually to bear children. Often people imagine a married couple with two kids living in a single-family home from which daddy goes to work as the breadwinner, and mom keeps house, cooks and takes care of the children. If it ever existed in real life it’s time frame was from the just after World War II until the middle 1960s. In fact, today the 2000 Census Table 2 reported that only 23.5% of households contained a heterosexual married couple with children living at home. What is needed today, rather than an overly universalized, abstract definition of a particular family type, is a nuanced and historically accurate understanding of “Marriage” and family as they actually existed and changed.
- Cardinal Mahony seems to assume that Judge Walker based his judgment primarily on his own emotional and subjective understanding of the the issue, as when he says the Judge, “…relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society “feel” about themselves” or “…chose to listen to anguished voices about their perception of marriage…” Does the transcript of the trial bear out the Cardinal’s line of argument? I do not know, but the Appeals Court proceedings may well clear up this issue. I hope and trust that Cardinal Mahony, has not knowingly or unknowingly played off the universalist, objectivist understanding of life against the particularistic, relational view. Some of the best moral theology today has clearly demonstrated that the human experience of individuals and communities must taken into account as constitutive of the moral decision-making process.
In summary, I can reiterate that my main point is not to call into question the substance of the idea of gay marriage. My purpose has been to show that the Bishops’ approach to defending their legal position on gay marriage is unhelpful at best and, at worst, will only deepen the chasm between the the institutional Church and those who are characterized by a “modern” or “post-modern worldview". Thomas Aquinas discovered how to express the Faith in ways which his contemporaries could understand it. Today, we do not need “a” new Thomas Aquinas. Rather we need to listen to our best theologians, pastors, and ordinary people who are actually living out these “issues” in their lives.