Vatican releases comprehensive reply
By Stephen Tardiff
to same-sex unions
On July 31, 2003, the Vatican released its most direct statement concerning
same-sex marriage to date. The document, Considerations Regarding Proposals
to Give Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, contains no
new teaching: rather, it is intended for bishops, offering them "arguments
drawn from reason", and Catholic politicians, outlining for them "approaches
to proposed legislation … which would be consistent with (a) Christian
conscience". Highly readable and surprisingly concise, it is an impressive
summary of complex reasoning, presenting the position of the Roman Catholic
Church in a way that is both accurate and accessible: articulated as
simply as possible, but no simpler.
This document marshals an impressive array of evidence, drawing not
only from scripture and tradition, but also from anthropological, social,
legal, and philosophical sources. Thus, the insights offered in the
Vatican's Considerations, are by no means confined to those of the Catholic
faith. Since the nature of marriage is itself a truth written on the
human heart "which no ideology can erase", it is apt that many of the
arguments offered in defense of marriage rely on reason, rather than
revelation. As such, the Vatican's arguments and observations are, likewise,
compatible with the beliefs of many religious denominations: Christ's
words in the Gospel are particularly relevant, "He who has ears, let
him hear". (Mt 13:9)
As the issue of same-sex "marriage" now commands the full attention
of the public mind, these new Considerations of the Vatican - and their
dissemination among lay Catholics - are intended not only for the faithful,
but for those who seek to understand the opposition to same-sex "marriage."
At a time when oversimplifications of mass media threaten to frame the
debate, it is essential that complex issues not be reduced to clichés.
For example, advocates of same-sex "marriage" contend that failing
to recognize homosexual unions is in a form of discrimination. The Vatican,
addressing this very issue, maintains that "the principles of non-discrimination
cannot be invoked to support legal recognition of homosexual unions".
Furthermore, as the focus of the debate sometimes shifts from the devaluation
of marriage to the affirmation of rights, the position of the Church
is, again, completely clear: "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".
But the most pointed and controversial aspect of the document is not
the education of its flock, but its exhortation of politicians: "If
it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition
of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a
particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians".
As a vote upon this very issue in the House of Commons seems imminent,
the Considerations offered by the Vatican are certainly not comfortable
reading for the many Catholic politicians who seek to limit their religious
convictions to the sphere of private life, so that the demands of their
religion will not influence their political careers or public policies.
Catholic politicians who do not explicitly dismiss the Church's guidance
often assert that the opinions of their constituents trump any pangs
of conscience they may (or may not) suffer. The Church's statement,
however, is unambiguous: "To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the
common good is gravely immoral".
Yet some Catholic politicians still seek to maintain what Fr. Raymond
DeSouza calls "a wedge between their beliefs and their acts". In a column
which appeared in the National Post on August 1, 2003, he observed that
"a politician cannot profess something as wrong according to his conscience,
and them promote it in his legislative acts".
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, Prime Minister Chretien, and leadership
frontrunner Paul Martin, all Catholics, are nonetheless willing to redefine
marriage to include homosexual unions, insisting that their private
convictions cannot influence their public activities. Speaking for Cauchon,
Tim Murphy said: "his personal beliefs are not the issue". Thoren Hudyma,
a spokesman for Prime Minister Chretien, noted that "on several occasions"
Chretien said, it "is important that there is a division between church
Canadian Alliance MP Jason Kenny, in a reaction to the Vatican document,
commented that the "Catholic Church is a voluntary community of common
beliefs". Kenny, a fellow Catholic, puts the matter succinctly: "If
people reject the teachings of the community, they reject the community".
Politicians who reject Church teachings on marriage and abortion may
be good Liberals, but they can no longer claim to be good Catholics.