Bishop Cupich's Message of Compassion Should Become a Message of Justice

Bishop Blaise Cupich

In his blog on the National Catholic Reporter  website, Michael Sean Winters rightly praises Spokane’s Bishop Blaise Cupich for a rare, and perhaps unique, bit of civility from a member of the Catholic hierarchy in discussing marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.   While praise is certainly due to Bishop Cupich for his compassionate approach, his way of dealing with the issue also highlights that what is still missing from the Catholic hierarchy in their dealings with LGBT people is the message of justice.

Winters writes:

“I would like to call readers’ attention to a pastoral letter read at all Masses this past weekend in the Diocese of Spokane from Bishop Blase Cupich. Washington State will have a referendum on same sex marriage this November, even though Washington State already has civil unions that confer all the rights that attend to marriage on same-sex partners. The debate has generated a lot of strong feelings and, in his letter, Bishop Cupich addresses those feelings:

Admittedly, the conflicting positions of this issue are deeply held and passionately argued. Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it. As a result, supporters of the referendum often speak passionately of the need to rebalance the scales of justice. This tends to frame the issue as a matter of equality in the minds of many people, a value that is deeply etched in our nation’s psyche.Likewise, many opponents of the law redefining marriage have close friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too recognize the importance of creating a supporting environment in society for everyone to live a full, happy and secure life. Yet, they also have sincere concerns about what a redefinition of marriage will mean for the good of society and the family, both of which face new strains in our modern world. They are asking the public to take a serious and dispassionate look at what a radical break with centuries of marriage law and practice will mean.

“What is remarkable about these paragraphs is that Bishop Cupich does not demean those whose views are different from his own. He does not distort or mischaracterize those views. Indeed, he recognizes that, seen from a certain point of view, these attitudes are entirely understandable. I dare say that any proponent of same sex marriage would have to allow that the bishop’s words are not only not incendiary, they are the fruit of a desire to understand, evidence of a stance of primordial respect for all people.”

I, too, want to praise Bishop Cupich for inserting some reasoned compassion into this contentious debate.  His statements, however, also serve as a reminder that what he said is not really enough at this time.  Catholic supporters of marriage equality already know what motivates their passion for the issue.  But hearing their motivations characterized by someone who opposes their position is not completely satisfactory, especially when the motivations are characterized as simply having soft hearts.

Catholics who support marriage equality indeed are motivated by compassion, but they are more strongly motivated by justice.    Marriage equality is not simply a matter of feeling sorry for people, but about the passion for justice that the Catholic social justice tradition has burned into their hearts.  Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they want to see human dignity protected, families strengthened, and equality promoted.

More importantly,  Bishop Cupich’s statements beg the question:  If he understands that marriage equality supporters have sincere motivations for their positions, why doesn’t he and other bishops meet with such supporters to dialogue about their deeply-held and faith-filled ideas?  Catholic marriage equality supporters don’t need or want acknowledgement from bishops that their ideas are valid.  They already know that. What they want is an opportunity to share those ideas with church officials in adult conversations, guided by both faith and reason.

Winters concludes his blog post on Bishop Cupich’s statement by praising the model of civility and compassion that the Spokane bishop offers, particularly in reminding all Catholics that the magisterium condemns discrimination against LGBT people:

“He then goes on to cite a document issued by the bishops, Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination, which in turn cites both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This last is especially bracing given the usual media narrative that the Catholic Church hates gays.

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.

“Sadly, too many Catholics, on the blogosphere, in the pulpit, and at the water cooler, do not echo these words from the CDF, still less that kind of language found in Bishop Cupich’s truly remarkable letter. I am not a fan of the culture warrior model, but admit there are times when I wonder if the culture is not moving in certain ways that are so hostile to the Church, that such a model will become unavoidable. But, now, when I despair that such may be the case, I can re-read this letter to the Catholics of Spokane and take heart. We can be faithful and reasonable, faithful and respectful, faithful and persuasive. We must, as Catholics and as Americans, care about our culture, but we don’t have to dress up as warriors to express our concern, and Bishop Cupich has shown the way.”

Again, while I would like to join in the praise of the bishop’s even-handedness, I take exception to Winters’ analysis of it.  Catholics who support marriage equality do not want or need “kinder, gentler” bishops whose compassion for LGBT people can be used to more persuasively argue against justice and equality for LGBT people.  While we certainly need fewer bishops who are culture warriors, we don’t need any whose compassion can be used as a persuasive tool to win people over to positions which are unjust.

What we do need are bishops who will open their minds and hearts to the Catholics who disagree with them.  We need bishops who are not merely defensive, but proactive in seeking out solutions that respond to the active faith of all Catholics.  We need bishops who not only feel sorry for LGBT people, but who respect their consciences and their faith journeys.  We need bishops who respond positively to Catholic people crying for justice, instead of identifying such people as enemies.

Bishop Cupich has certainly taken a first step in these directions, and he rightly deserves praise for his efforts.  I hope that he will be encouraged to take bolder ones in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

10 replies
  1. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    The fact that Bishop Cupich 3 times refers to the “redefinition” of marriage shows that, in the final analysis, he is still in the camp of the Pope and NOM and Mormon church officials in their crusade to oppress Catholics and non-Catholics nationwide. Cupich and others reveal their core bigotry whenever they refer to the extension of existing civil marriage rights to all citizens as a wholesale “redefnition.”

  2. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    I agree that despite the gentle tone of this letter, the bottom line is that the Catholic position is bigotry against gays. I am a straight 56 year old woman. I do not have a gay child. I can see that this is the most significant civil rights issue in our times, and I am shocked that people do not see this. Why is the Catholic church aligned with those who seek to deny justice to an entire group of people? This is counter to all the church teaching I embraced my entire life–social justice teaching. It is as if the Pope and bishops notice that Vatican II cut into their absolute power, and want to reign it in. But to do so they are aligning with those who are the antithesis of Catholicism. When I see news stories who lump Catholicism with everything Far Right, my heart sinks. Is there a place in the Catholic church for those who think social justice is what we are called to do? How can the voices of these social justice Catholics become heard?

  3. Casey Lopata
    Casey Lopata says:

    Your point — compassion without justice is inadequate — brings to mind the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. Like for the widow, perseverance will bring justice.

  4. Anton
    Anton says:

    The bishops said it well, though they don’t seem to remember:

    Catholic Bishops on the Economy
    38. God is described as a “God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18) who loves justice (Isaiah 61:8, cf. Psalm 11:7; 33:5; 37:28: 99:4) and delights in it (Jeremiah 9:23). God demands justice from the whole people (Deuteronomy 16:20) and executes justice for the needy (Psalm 140:13). Central to the biblical presentation of justice is that the justice of a community is measured by its treatment of the powerless in society, most often described as the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger (non-Israelite) in the land. The Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament all show deep concern for the proper treatment of such people [8]. What these groups of people have in common is their vulnerability and lack of power. They are often alone and have no protector or advocate. Therefore, it is God who hears their cries (Psalm 109:21; 113:7), and the king who is God’s anointed is commanded to have special concern for them.
    In modern times “the king” is the President, the government, the governing body – and ALL citizens are the concern for these, even when the churches and other religious institutions fail in this endeavor and are actually UNjust to them! As in granting civil rights to ALL citizens, regardless of who they are or claim to be. We can add gays, lesbians, transgender and bi-sexual persons to the “powerless in society” for whom the civil government is commanded to have special concern.

  5. Chuck Reichert
    Chuck Reichert says:

    Well, folks, as meager as the encouragement might be, this thoughtful prelate gives more than token olive branches to the LGBT Community. I remember the outrageous and hateful attitude of Cardinal O’Connor of NY in the ’80s. Archbishop O’Connor delivered nourishing homilies from the Ambo of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They were road maps of how faithful Catholics should live their lives and treat their fellow humans. Except when it came to LGBT community. He was very mean in dealing with that community.

    Bishop Cupich has the compassion and empathy to become a powerful ally. Cultivate him. Encourage him. I may be a straight guy, but I support those I love, no matter their sexual orientation. I can understand intolerance of criminal behavior and the practice of hatred of groups of people because of differences which do no harm to others. What is reprehensible is hatred of people who are shunned for who they love, what they think and who they associate with.

  6. Jim Spear
    Jim Spear says:

    Without question, this man seems to be a kinder and gentler discriminator but that only candy coats the reality. this is not a question for religion. If it were, Catholics would outlaw divorce or a divorce would need the blessing of a church or synagogue. Neither is required because the right of marriage is granted by the state, a non-religious entity by design. If this bishop or the pope or the church at large does not agree with a gay man or woman’s right to marry, that is their right as a religion. It has nothing to do with the right to marry or the collateral rights assigned to this contract, legal contract. When Catholics for Gay Marriage march, they are saying just that. Some would argue that gay men and women are not welcome in our ceremony of marriage and those of us who have been allowed to marry would not force that issue. We do not want inclusion in a hateful religion, one that refuses to acknowledge our right to even exist, love who we choose or marry that person. We want only what our brothers and sisters, parents, family and friends have, permission to marry.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] outreach, encounter, and accompaniment of LGBT people. We’ve suggested, as she does, that justice needs to be added into the equation of outreach. Simple friendly gestures do not […]

  2. […] Both Cupich and Murry are considered Francis followers. Cupich was chosen last year to lead the U.S.’ third largest diocese and, the Crux article noted he was one of the few new archbishops given a private audience during last June’s Pallium Mass in Rome. He made headlines in December for calling on the church to support protections for all families, continuing more measured and respectful tone exhibited while bishop in Spokane. […]

  3. […] equality. When Washington State was debating a referendum on marriage equality in 2012, the bishop called for a more civil and honest conversation about Catholic positions on equality. While not perfect, he was praised for advocating a […]

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