The silence of the lambs

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I’ve been waiting around for some reaction to the Proposition 8 decision from my friends at bien-pensant Catholic blogs like America‘s In All Things and Commonweal‘s dotCommonweal and the National Catholic Reporter‘s NCR Today, but so far to almost no avail. Michael Sean Winters did issue a critique of Judge Walker’s decision, based on a misunderstanding of what the judge meant when he wrote that “a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.” The issue is not whether, as Winters asserts, “there is nothing ‘private’ about Catholic moral views.” It’s that, as Walker wrote, “[t]he state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose.” And the defenders of Proposition 8 failed to demonstrate such a purpose.

Be that as it may, what are we to make of the silence of all those others on a subject that has engaged no little Catholic rhetorical and political action? What I’m inclined to make of it is that, like most American Catholics, they are actually in favor of same-sex marriage–at least as a right in civil society–and so can’t bring themselves to stand with their bishops. But on the other hand, to do anything else would subject them to intolerable abuse from the Catholic right–abuse that (as David Gibson points out over at dotCommonweal today) even that paladin of right-wing Catholicism Archbishop Charles Chaput characterizes as meaner and more vitriolic than anything on the other side.

I’m not suggesting that these moderates come right out and tell the bishops they don’t know what they’re talking about. Rome has spoken pretty plainly on the issue. But there are issues of prudence and even principle that might usefully be raised. Such as that the church is going to have to prepare itself for the day when, as with birth control and divorce, it accepts same-sex marriage as a normal feature of a civil society whose moral legislation is not its own. And that just because the Magisterium now teaches that same-sex marriage is in violation of the natural law, it could be the case that, as has happened with other moral issues in the past (slavery, for example, and usury), a fuller understanding of the nature of things casts a different light on the matter.

Update: Over on Beliefnet, reader Bryan Comes comments that I missed one of those moderate voices I was looking for–his own, over at U.S.Catholic. And a good post it is. Thanks, Bryan! 

  • Eugene Pagano

    Do you mean Michael Sean Winters?

  • Mark Silk

    Whoops, yes. I’ve corrected it.

  • Alice Slattery

    For the best defense of the Catholic teaching on the meaning of marriage and on the outreach of the Catholic Church to those people who are desiring to get out from under the grasp of same-sex sexual attraction, please let our priests and lay leaders know about Dr. Janet Smith’s talk at the Courage Conference at Mundelein Seminary in IL over the weekend of July 29-Aug.1.
    The daughters of St. Paul taped the talk and it can be ordered from the Pauline Books and Media stores. The title is:”Pastoral Seminar for Clergy and Persons Engaged in Pastoral Ministries” by Dr. Janet Smith. It is vitally important that those responsible for defending the teaching of the Catholic Magisterium on the issue of homosexuality and the true meaning of marriage, learn how to address these issues with their parishioners. Dr. Janet Smith’s work is a tremendous gift at this very vital time.

  • hi, you can read my column at NCR on ‘not a witch hunt, but a treasure hunt,’ about gays. Personally think it has to be an ongoing issue to cover, not just when MSM breaks news of the moment. Thanks for your blog
    dr.clarissa pinkola estés
    Columnist: El Rio Debajo Del Rio, The River Beneath the River, at National Catholic Reporter, online.
    Managing editor of political newsblog