Bishops, Tilting at Same-Sex Windmill

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The Maryland Catholic Conference, summoning its flock to keep America’s original Catholic colony from adopting same-sex marriage, thanked “the thousands of Maryland Catholics who have raised their voices in
recent weeks in support of our society’s foundational institution – the
union of one man and one woman in marriage.” The problem for the bishops in Maryland and beyond is that most Catholics are on the other side of the issue.

Running the latest numbers from the General Social Survey, Darren Sherkat finds that American Catholics now support SSM by a margin of 47 percent to 35 percent. This margin is twice that in the country as a whole, which for the first time in 2010 tilted in favor of SSM. No wonder that leading Republicans did not go nuts when President Obama abandoned his defense of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act last week. They know when a wedge has lost its edge.

It’s all well and good for the National Association of Evangelicals to keep the anti-SSM faith. Evangelicals are by far the religious community most wedded to traditional marriage–possibly because their marriages end so much more frequently in divorce. But with their own rank and file off the reservation, what are poor Catholic prelates to do?

Presumably, as with contraception and liberalized divorce, they will subside into silence, or at any rate political quiescence. Here in Connecticut, where SSM is ensconced beyond dislodging, even the excitable Bishop Lori doesn’t waste his breath about how it is bringing civilization as we know it to an end in the Land of Steady Habits.

That said, it might be prudent for the church’s powers to give some real thought to establishing a principled difference between the social policy of the church and the social policy of a pluralistic society. I’m not a fan of the doctrine of Scandal, but it really does drag the hierarchy into disrepute when its views diverge widely from the consensus fidelium. At any rate, it’s more likely that the laity will accept the church’s views of marriage if they don’t think it wants to impose them on society at large. 

  • Jack B

    The bishops have exerted little influence on anything to do with marriage for four decades since Humanae Vitae (1968) was issued and soundly rejected by most lay Catholics and many clergy. It is odd for bishops to expect to impose their concepts of marriage on the general public, given their forty years of failure to do so with committed Catholics. (Humanae Vitae was actually addressed to “All Men of Good Will”, among others, but not many seem to have accepted it.)
    In Old Testament times, the priestly class reproduced itself in the tribe of Levi by human means. Nowadays, with celibacy mandatory for nearly all Roman Catholic priests, corporate and individual clerical understanding about marriage comes from academic studies, remote observation, and gleanings from confessions and counseling. None of these sources conveys the living essence of such a complex human relation, any more than it could about daily praying or stirring preaching. Until the authorities get a new reading of natural law or whatever else it takes, the chances that the “the laity will accept the church’s views of marriage” look slim.