A look at marriage equality from a historical perspective

Debate over same-sex marriage is raging these days in the United States, be it in the courts, the media, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and even among one’s friends and family. Deep beneath the breakers runs a broad stream of little-known history that might bring some calm.

 

A Roman funerary relief

 

By Thomas M. Finn

The biblical view

For most of us, marriage has been shaped by our culture, largely founded on the Book of Genesis and developed over centuries of tradition. God created humans male and female — Adam and Eve — to be partners who cling to each other to carry out the mandate to increase and multiply. After the fall, the rest of Genesis recounts the results: The descendants increase and evil multiplies. God determines to make a new start: the flood, Noah and the family ark, a covenant that guarantees God’s protection. But the mandate to increase and multiply remains.

And so it goes for the centuries recounted in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, with marriage as a primary institution. To fulfill the mandate, husbands have many wives; family members marry each other; masters impregnate slaves, sometimes founding a new people (Abraham, Hagar and the Ishmaelites); boys marry at 14 and girls at 12 — all to ensure the continuity of households. In this long process, the mandate is well on its way to fulfillment, but a cloud hangs just over the horizon: What to do when the mandate is fulfilled?

Early Jews and Christians

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Adopting Genesis and the rest of the Bible as their own, Jews and Christians in antiquity adopted the institution of marriage as defined in its pages. Yet marriage was also an institution of the world in which they lived, a Roman world, where true marriage — matrimony — was a partnership in which a couple consented to live together with mutual affection and respect and to raise a family. For pagans, Jews and Christians, mutual consent was legally and literally the heart of the matter in their Roman world, and from which a series of laws and customs flowed, including their distinctive ways of getting married.

As Christians spread westward, becoming more numerous — by mid-fourth century 30 million of a population of 60 million in the Roman Empire — some early Christian thinkers began to worry about the cloud on the horizon: Heaven was already too full. Indeed, St. Augustine, the celebrated bishop of Hippo in Roman Africa from 395 to 430, thought the cloud had already moved from the horizon to the center of his Mediterranean sky, overshadowing, indeed threatening, his “City of Man.”

Commenting on the Book of Genesis, Augustine reasoned that after the fall from paradise, Adam and his descendants were bound by the precept to increase and multiply until it had been fulfilled by Abraham and his descendants, the patriarchs. Now fulfilled, he concluded, the mandate to increase and multiply had been replaced by a concession: allowing couples to have intercourse without the mandate to procreate. Indeed, St. Paul had proposed a remedy that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

Augustine saw that marriage was here to stay, offering three important social benefits — fidelity, offspring and a sacred union. By fidelity, he meant the commitment to have sex only with one’s spouse; by offspring, having and raising children; and by a sacred union, a bond signifying the indissoluble union between Christ and the church described in the Letter to the Ephesians (5:31-32).

As time passed and the population grew, Augustine’s thinking about marriage gradually changed. Tutored by his Roman world and his pastoral life as a bishop, he came to see what made marriage marriage: mutual consent to a life together characterized by marital affection and respect. The importance of offspring, so prominent a reason for marriage, gradually receded in his mind, for his pastoral life brought him face to face with countless childless marriages he considered true marriages.

Medieval Christian view

Augustine’s thinking about sex and marriage has been at the root of the traditions about sex and marriage in the West, because he was the only church father to write extensively about sex and marriage. Christian thinkers and writers for centuries have been deeply beholden to Augustine. With the rise of universities in the late 12th century, for instance, their masters — the early Scholastics — sought to determine how marriage in their secular world fit into their sacramental world. A sharp debate arose among them about what constituted true marriage. One group argued that it was at the point of sexual consummation true marriage exists, because consummation embodied the union between Christ and the church. A second group argued that it was consent given in the present to live together as equal partners with mutual affection and respect that embodied the union. By the end of the century the “consentist” position had won the debate, largely because its architect, the prominent Parisian theologian Peter Lombard, had written a textbook that became the theology text for the next 400 years.

A contemporary view

Thus, for some 1,600 years, what made a marriage a true marriage was consent, from which its three benefits — fidelity, children and sacred union — flowed. Whether a couple could have children was, like sexual attraction, nature’s call — not what makes marriage marriage. Although same-sex couples can have a child by adoption and nurture the child in a home characterized by mutual affection and respect, they cannot beget a child of their own. That same situation often is the case for an opposite-sex married couple who adopt and nurture. Neither couple can be said to contravene the law of nature by marrying.

Given the percentage of people for and against same-sex marriage, more than 60 percent of our citizens, including Catholics, seem to agree with what our Western predecessors concluded about what truly constitutes marriage, whether for an opposite-sex or same-sex couple, namely, consent to a life together of partners infused with affection and respect constitutes true marriage, from which the social benefits flow.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis reaches out to gays, says he won’t judge gay priests

Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked.

Francis in the airPope Francis urged young Catholics to shake up their dioceses and get out and preach during his trip to Rio de Janeiro.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

Francis’ remarks came Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.

He was funny and candid during his first news conference that lasted almost an hour and a half. He didn’t dodge a single question, even thanking the journalist who raised allegations reported by an Italian newsmagazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a scandalous gay tryst.

Francis said he investigated and found nothing to back up the allegations.

Francis was asked about Italian media reports suggesting that a group within the church tried to blackmail fellow church officials with evidence of their homosexual activities. Italian media reported this year that the allegations contributed to Benedict’s decision to resign.

Stressing that Catholic social teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized, Francis said it was something else entirely to conspire to use private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.

Francis was responding to reports that a trusted aide was involved in an alleged gay tryst a decade ago. He said he investigated the allegations according to canon law and found nothing to back them up. But he took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying the allegations concerned matters of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children.

And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives but forgets.

“We don’t have the right to not forget,” he said.

The directness of his comments suggested that he wanted to put the matter of the monsignor behind him as he sets about overhauling the Vatican bank and reforming the Holy See bureaucracy.

Speaking in Italian with occasional lapses in his native Spanish, Francis dropped a few nuggets of other news:

— He said he was thinking of traveling to the Holy Land next year and is considering invitations from Sri Lanka and the Philippines as well.

— The planned Dec. 8 canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will likely be postponed — perhaps until the weekend after Easter — because road conditions in December would be dangerously icy for Poles traveling to the ceremony by bus.

— And he solved the mystery that has been circulating ever since he was pictured boarding the plane to Rio carrying his own black bag, an unusual break from Vatican protocol.

“The keys to the atomic bomb weren’t in it,” Francis quipped. Rather, he said, the bag merely contained a razor, his breviary prayer book, his agenda and a book on St. Terese of Lisieux, to whom he is particularly devoted.

Complete Article HERE!

Not just a new Pope, but a new Church!

Let that be our rallying cry!

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.

Anthem - Leonard Cohen

Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex in the Catholic Church (Book Review)

I am delighted to repost an insightful review of my book that recently appeared in the Quest Bulletin, no. 65 (Winter 2012-13). It now appears on their site, questgaycatholic.org.uk.

By Rev. Dr. Bernárd J. Lynch

Richard Wagner. Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex in the Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest. ISBN 978-1-61098-212-2

SS&GS_CoverJesus tells us “The truth shall set you free.” What he forgot to add ‘It shall also crucify you.’ Richard Wagner would have done well to know this before he set out on the perilous and dangerous study of Gay Catholic Priests: A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance. I have been aware of this study from the early eighties. Nothing had been published before then (1981) concerning the sexual attitudes or behaviours of Catholic priests serving in public ministry. The veil of secrecy surrounding this vocation, as well as the presumption that priests are celibate, has provided a camouflage for the sexually active priest. As this study illustrates, this situation is not without its negative consequences. The sexually active priest is faced with a paradox. The same circumstances that guarantee secrecy also perpetuate the need for secrecy.

There is a sizable segment of the clergy population that is gay and these men are forced to live duplicitous lives of repression in secret. This often creates an atmosphere of extreme isolation and loneliness that can and does drive these men to desperate measures to find emotional and moral support they should be receiving from their Church. These men love their Church, but hate what it is doing to them. As bad as the situation was back in the early eighties, it is worse today.

Richard Wagner’s groundbreaking research broke the code of silence surrounding this delicate topic. The Church’s single minded effort to quash the emerging story and silence him by getting rid of him is what he writes about in his book Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex in The Catholic Church. The latter part of the book is given over to the actual study that led to what he calls his “systematic destruction as an Oblate priest.” If other priests started coming out of the closet and demanded to be treated with dignity and respect it would certainly undercut the entirety of Catholic sexual moral theology – there is no place for non-reproductive sexuality within that paradigm.

The irony is of course that as Father Wagner was being hounded out of his Religious Order an unimaginable scandal, involving hundreds of Catholic priests, Cardinals, Bishops and Religious Superiors worldwide were and are involved furtively shuffling paedophile priests from one crime scene to another. They were, and still are, involved in a massive corporate cover up of their own crimes and those of their brother clergy. This cover up as has been well documented goes right to the very top and involves the present occupant of the throne of Peter.

The double irony is that the expulsion of Wagner was done “to try and protect the Church from scandal”: THE SCANDAL OF THE SIN OF HONESTY. Honesty about one’s sexuality seems to be the only sin the institutional Church will admit to! The public panic and shameful silencing and worse among Church officials towards openly gay priests – is in stark contrast to the apathetic and anaemic response to the systematic sexual abuse of children that now engulfs the Church.

When Church magisterial teaching about who we are and what we do as LGTB people is based on a lie, then, is it any wonder that the domino effect is disaster. Honesty by Catholic priests about their gayness is punishable by job dismissal. Secrecy lies and deceit are rewarded. The thing that sours all relationship is secrecy. Secrecy eats at the soul. Some people are surprised that religion is so corruptible. They should not be. When secrecy is used to protect a ‘higher order of knowledge,’ it can make the keepers of the secret think of themselves as a higher order of human being. ‘Corruptio optima pessima,’ goes the old saying. Blight at the top is the deepest blight. Most of the hierarchy of the Church are more interested in the Church’s image than the truth in Christ. Twenty years ago I founded a support group for gay Catholic priests and religious here in London. The group is in existence to the present day. We have had well over a hundred priests pass through our doors in that time. Despite numerous efforts and a personal letter from our secretary to the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Westminster we are ignored and refused any publicity of our services by the ecclesiastical authorities. As far as they are concerned ‘we do not exist’ just like the abuse of our most vulnerable children.

Lesbian and gay children until very recently had no models of how to be fully human in an anti-gay world. While in western democracies this is becoming easier, it is not so in the Catholic Church. Our gay priests who by vocation should be ‘alter Christus’ are by force and choice models of the ‘great lie’ . . . When Father Richard Wagner came into the truth of who he is in God’s eyes is it any wonder that a Church that models lies and deceit with regard to its LGBT children casts him out into the wilderness? A wilderness that I hope he finds is alive and flourishing with the freedom of the daughters and sons of God…

Full Review HERE!