Guest Blogger

Sexual Diversity & the Catholic Church: Ecclesiological Questions Arise

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 03, 2011 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Catholic bishops, Catholic church, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, sexual diversity, Yale Divinity School

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Matthew Vogel is a joint J.D./M.A.R. candidate at Yale Divinity School and Yale Law School.

Almost three-quarters of lay Catholics support the legal right of same-sex couples to marriage or civil unions, more than any other Christian denomination in the United States.

"Same-Sex Marriage and the Catholic Church: Voices from Law, Religion, and the Pews," a recent conference at Yale Divinity School, catholic-jesus.jpgbrought to the school's Marquand Chapel academics and activists, lawyers and parish workers, and clergy and laity to examine Roman Catholic teaching on sexual diversity and the bishops' response to the legalization of same-sex marriages in Connecticut and elsewhere in the United States from legal, ethical, and pastoral perspectives. A rich mix of voices from people committed to both the Church and their faith made clear that this is an issue that transcends doctrine and exposes burning ecclesiological questions such as the place of the laity in the Church and the role of the hierarchy's voice in the public square.

Michael Perry and Pamela Karlan, law professors from Emory and Stanford law schools respectively, opened the gathering--the third in a four-part series of "More Than a Monologue" conferences--with this religion in the public square question. Their exchange examined the legalization of same-sex marriage from human rights and U.S. constitutional law perspectives. Perry argued forcefully that the right to religious liberty, as enshrined in human rights law, requires the recognition of same-sex marriage and Karlan cautioned that a foundation of liberty alone would not suffice, that, in order to truly find any stability in the U.S. constitutional context, same-sex marriage must also be grounded in our country's fundamental notions of equality.

It's a Question of Ethics ...

Patricia Beattie Jung, of Saint Paul School of Theology, and her chief interlocutor, Joan Martin from the Episcopal Divinity School, undertook the day's ethical investigation. Jung articulated a cogent and deeply Catholic ethical framework supporting same-sex marriage, and, in response, Martin issued a series of strong challenges for those who would try to think and act ethically regarding issues of human sexuality and sexual identity in today's world. Surfacing the important religious and ethical issues swirling around same-sex marriage and setting them in stark relief, they pushed participants to take seriously and think critically about the words of Psalm 68, "God sets the lonely in families"

The case at hand: Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health

A late-morning panel brought together a former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice, a renowned Catholic ethicist, a Catholic layperson, and one of the couples who were plaintiffs in the 2008 Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health Connecticut Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage in Connecticut. They discussed that court decision and the Roman Catholic hierarchy's response to it. Justice Joette Katz, who was in the majority that decided the case, led us through the court's reasoning, which was largely based on the very notions of equality Karlan had earlier urged. Catholic layperson Michael Norko and Kerrigan plaintiffs Janet Peck and Carol Conklin each spoke movingly and forthrightly about the anger, pain, and anguish they have experienced as a result of the Connecticut bishops' critical response to the decision and the Church's teaching more generally.

Are the Bishops and Laity out of step with one and other?

Throughout the day commentators referred to a statistic first drawn out by Boston College ethicist Lisa Sowle Cahill. She observed that, according to a report released in March by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority - almost three-quarters - of lay Catholics support the legal right of same-sex couples to marriage or civil unions, more than any other Christian denomination in the United States. For Cahill, as for many at the conference, this statistic, particularly in light of recent statements from Pope Benedict XVI and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan about the importance of Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage, illustrated not only the degree to which the Catholic hierarchy are out-of-step with ordinary, in-the-pews U.S. Catholics, but also the extent to which Catholics filling the pews have been apparently largely content to passively follow the bishops.

This concern with the role of the laity in the Church and engagement with those who do not support same-sex marriage marked the afternoon breakout sessions . . Designed to address a series of topics specifically with respect to same-sex marriage - parish ministry, campus and youth ministry, the role of the laity in the Church, and Scripture - these conversation-driven gatherings opened up a space for everyone, whether long-time expert or relative newcomer to the issue, to share questions, concerns, reflections, and plans for the future. In these discussions the concern for and commitment to the Church was palpable, as was a yearning for a Catholic Church that listens to and welcomes all people of good will - and for ways lay Catholics can make that happen. I couldn't help but think that perhaps conferences such as this will help lay Catholics find their voices so that within the Church there truly can be more than a monologue.

Other conferences related to the overall initiative, "More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church," were held at Fordham University (Sept. 16) and Union Theological Seminary (Oct. 1) and on Oct. 29 at Fairfield University.

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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 3, 2011 11:01 AM

"Are the Bishops and Laity out of step with one and other?"

Some of us are old enough to remember the huge debates in the 1960's after Rome re-affirmed traditional dogma outlawing artificial contraception, ignoring recommendations of its own commissions with significant lay participation.

Despite pronouncements about "Sensum Fidae", the idea that the views of the faithful should be consulted in questions like these, Rome's view has constently been that when the heiarchy and lay people differ, it's the latter who are out of step. Is anyone really surprised that this is also the case with marriage equality issues?