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+Cordileone and the Defense of Marriage

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone spoke at a rally organized by the National Organzation for Marriage yesterday. His appearance there provoked controversy even before the event happened, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging the archbishop, who is also he local ordinary in Sam Francisco, not to attend the event.  

The first thing that must be said about the controversy is that Archbishop Cordileone is to be applauded for at least one thing he said yesterday. He told the crowd:

Yes, this is a foundational truth, and one to which we must witness by lives lived in conformity to it, and which we must proclaim with love.  Love for those millions of loving single mothers and fathers who struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives and succeed in creating loving homes for their children – they need and deserve our love, affirmation and support.  Love for the husband struggling with fidelity, for the woman who feels abandoned and pressured into abortion, for the teenager struggling to believe in the heroic vision of love that makes sense of chastity, for the single person who cannot find a mate, for the childless couple trying to cope with infertility, for the wife who finds herself nursing a sick husband in her marriage bed, for the young person trying to navigate through sexual identity issues and may feel alienated from the Church because of it, maybe even because of the sort of treatment received from those who profess to be believers.  To all of you, I say: know that you are a child of God, that you are called to heroic love and that with God’s help you can do it, that we love you and want to support you in living your God-given call.

And let us not forget: we must also proclaim this truth especially with love for those who disagree with us on this issue, and most of all, for those who are hostile toward us.  We must be careful, though, not to paint our opponents on this issue with broad strokes.  There is a tendency in our culture to do this to groups of people the powerful don’t know and think they don’t like.  We must not do that.  We must recognize that there are people on the other side of this debate who are of good will and are sincerely trying to promote what they think is right and fair.  It is misdirected good will.  But even those from whom we suffer retribution – and I know some of you have suffered in very serious ways because of your stand for marriage – still, we must love them.  That is what our ancestors in faith did, and we must, too.  Yes, it is easy to become resentful when you are relentlessly and unfairly painted as a bigot and are punished for publicly standing by the basic truth of marriage as a foundational societal good; it is tempting to respond in kind.  Don’t.  For those of us who are Catholic, we just heard our Master command us in the gospel proclaimed at Mass the day before yesterday: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).  We must not allow the angry rhetoric to co-opt us into a culture of hate.

I know, I know. The second paragraph ends up in a strange self-pity. And, it should not be remarkable when a bishop of the Catholic Church calls upon people to show love for their fellow man. But, there is no denying that in the first paragraph cited above, the archbishop recognized that there are many challenges facing Christian marriage today, not just the prospect of more courts and more referenda enacting same-sex marriage laws. When Pope Francis calls us Catholics to go to the peripheries of life, he is calling us to go to those +Cordileone mentions, the struggling couple, the unwed mother, the youth struggling with issues of sexual identity. And, if you are familiar with some of the attitudes and antics of the pro-marriage brigade, the reminder to love is a necessary reminder. Archbishop Cordileone should be applauded for providing it.

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The second thing that must be said is that +Cordileone should not have been at the rally in the first place. In saying this, I do not wish to indulge in a variety of left-wing McCarthyism. Guilt by association is an ugly charge no matter its ideological source. No, the reason not to have attended a rally organized by the National Organization for Marriage is that the group is dedicated to a strategy that is not only counter-productive, which is bad enough, but a strategy that is profoundly un-Christian.

I have never bought into the narrative that sees same-sex marriage as an existential threat to our Catholic beliefs about marriage. In my conversations with gay and lesbian friends who want to get married, they understand the differences and the similarities between their relationships and their heterosexual counterparts. They most certainly are not trying to “destroy” marriage or even to “re-define” it. They tend to what the legal protections that civil marriage affords. They want to be respected, and to have their love for one another respected. In the event, I cannot see how the Catholic Church can develop its doctrine on marriage in such a way that it gets to where the gay marriage advocates want it to be. But, I also do not see anything in our Catholic understanding of marriage that requires us to be all bothered by the fact that gay people want civil recognition of their relationships with all the benefits, legal and otherwise, that accrue therefrom.

Alas, this stance is not what you find at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Their president, Brian Brown, spent time strategizing in Russia, encouraging that country’s parliament to enact harsh anti-gay laws that do not reflect the kind of love Archbishop Cordileone called for in his speech yesterday. The Uganda parliamentarian, David Bahati, who authored that country’s truly draconian anti-gay laws acknowledges the influence of U.S.-based groups in encouraging him and helping him, including the shadowy “Fellowship.”

NOM’s stateside efforts are not much better. They are smart enough to know that promoting a law that would call for killing gays is a non-starter. But, they apparently are not smart enough to recognize that the great threats to marriage in our day have nothing to do with what gays do. Among the great threats to marriage is a hook-up culture that is to human love what laissez-faire economics is to the world of commerce and finance, a libertarianism in action which, like all that flows from that “poisoned spring,” as Pope Pius XI termed it, devastates the Gospel. The casual manner in which people sign pre-nuptial agreements, not even recognizing that such agreements contradict the very vows the couple will exchange at their marriage ceremony, is another such threat. The diminished social capital in many, many neighborhoods in this country was rightly identified just last week by sociologist Bradley Wilcox when he addressed the USCCB, but one does not hear any strategy to rebuild social capital emanating from NOM. They are a partisan organization, pure and simple, which is one reason the archbishop should not have attended, still less addressed, yesterday’s rally.

NOM’s stateside efforts are also, quite obviously, fruitless. They have lost the debate. Now, I understand that we Catholics are called to be martyrs for our faith, but we are not called to be fools. Having pursued a costly strategy of trying to “defend marriage” by fighting same-sex marriage initiatives at the polls and in the courts, and failed, maybe we should think of what we can and should be doing to assist those who are actually struggling in their marriages, the people Archbishop Cordileone mentioned in the first paragraph quoted above, and forget about the politics. But, that won’t happen because there is a cabal of conservative activists and fundraisers and campaign strategists and advertising consultants, all of whom want some of NOM’s money and do not really care if they win or lose, so long as they get paid.

Finally, if the leaders of the Church are to become credible again on the issue of marriage, they cannot simultaneously insist that they are not motivated by anti-gay bigotry and then give speeches at rallies organized by bigots. This is not guilt by association. It is recognizing that such participation is a counter-witness to the Gospel. Archbishop Cordileone’s comments about loving those who do not share the Church’s teachings on marriage are, I am sure, sincere, but he betrays his own words when he demonstrates common cause with the architects of draconian laws that seek to deny the human dignity of gays and lesbians. This is obvious to the rest of us. One wonders why it was not obvious to +Cordileone. 

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