Amid increasing worldwide initiatives to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions, the Vatican called on lawmakers to offer clear and emphatic opposition to such measures, which it said were contrary to human nature and ultimately harmful to society. In a 12-page document released on July 31, the Vatican expressed particular alarm at measures to allow gay couples to adopt children, which it said would be a form of violence against children and gravely immoral.
The Vatican document rejected arguments that failing to give gay unions legal recognition would be unjust discrimination. It underscored the unique social role of marriage between a man and a woman in continuing the human race and raising children. The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it, it said. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.
The document, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, coincided with a growing movement in Europe and North America toward granting gay couples some or all of the legal protections and benefits of marriage.
Massachusetts’ highest court was widely expected to rule in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages; similar legislation was enacted in 2000 in Vermont. In July Canada’s government proposed a draft bill to legalize same-sex marriage; Belgium and the Netherlands already have expanded equal marriage rights to homosexuals, and a number of other European countries offer gay couples civil-union rights.
Opposition to gay marriage, including opposition among white U.S. Catholics, has dropped significantly in recent years, according to a poll released in July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Just 41 percent of white Catholics today oppose legalized gay marriage, in contrast with 60 percent in 1996. Support for such measures among white Catholics has increased in the same period from 31 percent to 47 percent.
A day before the Vatican released its document, U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters in Washing-ton that White House lawyers were exploring ways to ensure that marriage remains legally defined as a union between a man and a woman. Some U.S. lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.
The Vatican’s document went further than those proposals by rejecting any extension of special rights or legal status to homosexual couples. It said cohabiting homosexuals could use general provisions of the law to protect their rights as persons like all citizens from the standpoint of their private autonomy.
Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions fulfill the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition, the document said. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society, especially if their impact on society were to increase, it said.
In a footnote, the document warned of the danger that granting legal status to gay unions could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality and even to seek a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law.
Noting that civil laws play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior, the document said granting legal status to gay unions would expose young people, especially, to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage, and thus could contribute to the spread of the phenomenon.
The document also condemned legislative moves to allow gay couples to adopt, saying that being deprived of having either a mother or a father has been shown to harm children’s normal development. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full development, it said. The document said gay adoption is not only gravely immoral, but also openly contradicts the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says consideration of the best interests of the child must be paramount.
The document offered special instruction to Catholic politicians, who it said were particularly obliged to fight efforts to legally recognize gay unions. When such legislation is first proposed, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral, it said.
In the face of already existing laws, the document said Catholic politicians must make their opposition known and work in the ways that are possible to repeal the law completely, or partially when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.
While the document called homosexuality a troubling moral and social phenomenon, it underscored church teaching that homosexuals must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity and that they should not be unjustly discriminated against. But, it added, the church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the documentfirst sent in June to bishops around the worldsaying its goal was to re-express the church’s teachings about the unique character of marriage. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., U.S.C.C.B. president, urged all people of good will to read the document with an open mind. Any attempt to legalize homosexual marriages not only weakens the unique meaning of marriage, it also weakens the role of law itself by forcing the law to violate the truth of marriage and family as the natural foundation of society and culture, he said.
Other U.S. bishops released statements welcoming the new document and underscoring its aim of defending the uniqueness of marriage and not of unjustly discriminating against homosexuals. Among them were the bishops of Connecticut, who said, Respect for the uniqueness of marriage does not imply disrespect for those who cannot marry.
In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony offered full support for the Vatican text and urged all Catholics serving in public office in the archdiocese to reflect carefully upon this teaching.
In Chicago, Cardinal Francis George used a homily on Aug. 3 to criticize a Chicago Sun-Times headline that read, Pope Launches Global Campaign Against Gays. The pope reaffirmed what every pope has taught for 2,000 years: Marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman who enter into a total sharing of themselves for the sake of family, Cardinal George said.
Cardinal George said the drive to legalize same-sex unions was because of morality based upon desires, supplanting a morality based upon the truth of things, and that those who oppose the unions are denounced as homophobic. Because of a concerted effort in movies and TV shows in recent years to shape public imagination and opinion into accepting same-sex relations as normal and morally unexceptional, obvious truths now are considered evidence of homophobia, he said.
Though released in late July, the document bore a signing date of June 3, memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions, who were martyred in Uganda in the 19th century for refusing a king’s homosexual advances. A Vatican official said the signing dates of church documents are usually carefully selected for their significance.
A note at the end of the document said it had been approved by Pope John Paul II, who ordered its publication. The complete text is available at the Vatican Web site, www.vatican.va.German Cardinals Debate Nature of Church
Three German cardinals have engaged in a written public debate over the nature of the Catholic Church in their country. Cardinals Joachim Meisner of Cologne and Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote articles critical of German church life and of the first ecumenical church assembly, or Kirchentag, held in Berlin for four days in late May. The head of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, used an article in a regional church newspaper to criticize the views of Cardinals Meisner and Ratzinger as being hurtful.
On July 3 Cardinal Meisner wrote an op-ed piece for The Catholic Tagespost, a daily, in which he criticized various aspects of modern German church life. In the article, he called for a return to the Sunday Eucharist as an essential point in the lives of Catholics. Cardinal Meisner said holding the closing ecumenical service on a Sunday was an example of how the ecumenical Kirchentag has sent out a great wave of disorientation and confusion to our communities. Some 200,000 people attended the service, and Cardinal Meisner said he feared Catholics were being led astray. He also expressed concern that the kind of ecumenism practiced at the Kirchentag will end up in a kind of religion of sentiment, of which there are enough offered in our society.
On July 22 Cardinal Ratzinger said in an interview with The Rhein-Zeitung newspaper that he had found the Kirchentag without clarity.... It was more a self-celebration and self-enjoyment, he said. The face of Christ the crucified, calling us to discipleship and leading us to resurrection, did not appear enough. Cardinal Ratzinger also called German lay organizations bureaucratic and said they showed no sign of the joy of faith.
Although neither cardinal named the individuals they felt were responsible for what they saw as dangerous developments, Cardinal Lehmann referred to Cardinals Meisner and Ratzinger by name when he responded to their attacks with an article published in the August edition of a regional church newspaper. He said neither cardinal wanted to see the many-layered truth.
Noting that neither of the cardinals had attended the Kirchentag, Cardinal Lehmann, one of two homilists at the ecumenical closing service, denied that the assembly had been shapeless. The Bible workshops, services and other events, which were not on television or in the media, gave evidence of discipleship, of the cross and of the joy of faith which Cardinal Ratzinger correctly requires, Cardinal Lehmann said.
Answering Cardinal Meisner’s criticism, Cardinal Lehman said the bishops had ensured that many Berlin churches offered Sunday Masses before the ecumenical service. He described the accusation that the Kirchentag had caused disorientation and confusion as inappropriate and to a certain extent hurtful.
The Catholics responsible for the Kirchentag had struggled with the issues, he said. They did not create confusion, they made [existing confusion] visible. I find it is personally hurtful to me and many others to ignore this fact from a distance,’ he said. Five cardinals and 40 Catholic bishops participated in events at the Kirchentag.News Briefs
Speaking at press conferences and on the Senate floor, Senate Democrats decried what they said was a campaign to portray them as anti-Catholic because of their opposition to the nomination of Attorney General William Pryor of Alabama to a federal judgeship. Pryor is a Catholic whose statements on some issues, including abortion, echo teachings of the Catholic Church. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, said Democrats’ use of terms such as deeply held beliefs in describing some of Pryor’s positions are a de facto religious test for office. The four Catholic Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted against Pryor.
Boston’s Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley has stated that Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should of their own volition not receive Communion, but the church does not deny Communion to people approaching the altar, presuming they do so in good faith. The Boston Archdiocese issued a statement on July 29 outlining the new archbishop’s position in response to an article in The Boston Globe.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington met with high-ranking church and government officials during a trip to China in late July. The Chinese press reported that Cardinal McCarrick, in meetings with a bishop of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, discussed improving ties between the Vatican and China. According to the Chinese Xinhua News Agency, Cardinal McCarrick also met with Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu during the trip.
The United States disregarded international law when it published photographs of the dead bodies of the sons of Saddam Hussein, according to an editorial on July 25 in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
The struggle to defend the forests of Honduras took a bloody turn when a Catholic activist was shot to death by three unknown men. Carlos Arturo Reyes, 23, a staff member of the environmental ministry of the Diocese of Juticalpa, was killed on July 18 on the patio of his home in El Rosario one day after he and other Catholic activists from the province of Olancho held a press conference in the capital, Tegucigalpa, warning of renewed threats against environmentalists.
After a brief trip to Canada from the United States, the Rev. Emil Salayta, a Jordanian-born priest of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, was detained at the Toronto Airport by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on July 20 when he tried to return to the United States. He was interrogated for five hours by U.S. immigration officials, questioned under oath, fingerprinted, photographed and searched. Although Father Salayta carried a valid five-year multiple-entry U.S. visa, he was denied re-entry, and his visa was revoked at the border. The inspector insisted that I’m violating the laws with my public speaking, presentations and raising funds for the Holy Land Christians, said Father Salayta. He has previously traveled to the United States 20 times to attend various official meetings.
Boston’s new archbishop thanked victims of sexual abuse by clergy for attending his installation on July 30 and once again apologized for the harm done by priests and bishops. Victims have done a service to the church in exposing the clergy sexual abuse problem, said Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley at his installation Mass.