The Scandal of SSM

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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.

  • Jack B

    Another aspect of legalizing SSM may account for the extraordinary intensity of the bishops’ reactions. Civil legalization of same-sex marriage is one more step, and a big one, in the ongoing “normalization” of multi-faceted homosexual life in our culture and law. Each such step makes it more difficult to fend off eventual unveiling of the prevalence and activity of homosexuality in the Roman Catholic priesthood.
    A year ago, Pope Benedict declared to his interviewer that homosexuality is incompatible with the priesthood. At the same time, the world watched pictures on the Internet of gay priests around town blocks from the Vatican.
    The stark conflict between the Pope’s official public posture and what is known from reports and videos cannot withstand the public scrutiny of the clergy that will follow in time if civil homosexual life becomes further absorbed into society as more-or-less accepted and not noteworthy anymore. Thus, trying to keep the spotlight focused on the laity may appear to some bishops to be a reasonable diversionary tactic worth high effort.

  • just as good as you

    Re: “it is not irrelevant that Massachusetts recognizes SSM and Colorado does not”
    The soi-disant “Defense” of Marriage Act explicitly EXEMPTS ITSELF from the Full Faith & Credit Clause of the Constitution. How can ANY law that does that be considered ‘Constitutional’ in the first place?