With same-sex marriage imminent in New York a couple of months ago, Timothy Dolan compared the Empire State to China and North Korea. In ascending to the See of Philadelphia a month ago, Charles Chaput pronounced SSM to be “the issue of our time.” Subsequently, Baltimore’s Edwin F. O’Brien wrote Gov. Martin O’Malley pleading that he not use the power of his office to promote a policy “that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of society.”
So what is it about SSM that makes bishops’ blood run cold? With all due respect to Dolan, Chaput, O’Brien, and their friends in the natural law biz, but I don’t think it’s fear for the future of society at large. It’s fear of scandal in the church. Make that Scandal in the Church. Those guilty of committing such sins as artificial birth control, abortion, and even divorce can show up for Mass and participate in parish life without other parishioners being any the wiser. Same-sex married couples, not so much. In the eyes of the authorities, their very presence damages the virtue and integrity of the community, providing unashamed public witness to what doctrine condemns.
A hint of the problem surfaced last year in controversies in Denver and Boston, regarding attendance in parochial schools by children of same-sex couples. Chaput, as archbishop of Denver, made sure to keep them out. Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley presided over the development of a policy of non-exclusion. Chaput and O’Malley are, to be sure, entirely different characters, but it is not irrelevant that Massachusetts recognizes SSM and Colorado does not. Archbishop Sean was under real pressure from his own people to take the inclusive route.
In short, once a civil jurisdiction like Massachusetts makes SSM legal, the pressure on clergy and laity to make a place for same-sex couples (and their children) becomes well nigh irresistible, whatever the bishops say. And the bishops know it.