A Tale of Two Bishops

Two bishops from opposite ends of our wide nation discussed marriage equality recently, and it’s interesting to note the different tones that each took in regard to this sometimes contentious Catholic issue.

Bishop Larry Silva

Bishop Larry Silva

Bishop Larry Silva of the Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii, made headlines by publishing an open letter to Catholics stating that opposing marriage equality is a “just” form of discrimination.  He wrote the letter after the governor announced that it was very likely that he would be a convening  a special legislative session to discuss a marriage equality proposal.

In his letter, Silva explains “just discrimination”:

“People with same-sex attraction are a part of our community, even our Catholic community, and they deserve dignity and respect. Unjust discrimination against them is not acceptable. However, not all discrimination – that is, making distinctions – is unjust. . . .

“To discriminate between heterosexual and same-sex couples regarding marriage is not, despite the hype on the streets, unjust discrimination.”

Surprisingly, the quotations above are not the worst part of Silva’s letter.  The worst parts, in my view, are when he speculates about the dangers that marriage for lesbian and gay couples might bring to society:

“If same-sex couples are given the legal right to marry under the pretence that discrimination that excludes them from marriage is unjust, why would people who prefer several spouses at the same time not be afforded the same right? Why would we taxpayers be exempt from paying for marital benefits for all those spouses? Why would there be discrimination against those who decide to marry their mother or father, brother or sister, so that they can gain spousal benefits for them? Once
we give in to the false notion that same-sex couples have a right to marry, how can we reasonably deny the same ‘right’ to anyone who chooses to enter a ‘marriage’ with a close relative, a minor (with consent)?

“If same-sex marriage becomes ‘norm’-alized, would parents be considered bigoted if they raised their daughters to be attracted to boys and their sons to be attracted to girls? Or must parents now be completely neutral in steering their children toward the choice of a mate?”

Polygamy and incest are natural results of same-sex marriage?  I think not.  Such speculation is ludicrous.   More ludicrous, however, is the second paragraph quoted above.  Does the bishop really think that parents can influence how a person’s sexual orientation develops or that they can decide on a marital mate for their son or daughter?  If that is his impression, he certainly needs more than a few lessons in parenting, sexuality, and relationships.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl

Cardinal Donald Wuerl

On the complete other side of the nation, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, recently wrote a blog post about marriage entitled “Caring For Those Who Disagree with Us on the Meaning of Marriage.”  His essay, however, does not fulfill the promise of its title (he never talks about how to relate to people who support marriage equality).  As might be expected, like Bishop Silva, Wuerl opposes marriage for lesbian and gay couples.   While his tone is somewhat more pastoral, Cardinal Wuerl’s post also contains some errors.  In one paragraph he states:

“The conflict usually arises when some insist that the Church change her teaching.  What is meant is that the Church should sanction and even bless homosexual activity as normative.  This the Church can no more do than it can sanction and bless heterosexual activity outside of marriage.  Regardless of sexual preference, those who are unmarried are called to a chaste life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2359).  However, neither can the Church give assent to so-called ‘same-sex marriage.’ ”

As I’ve mentioned before, none of the marriage equality laws enacted in the U.S. have insisted that any church change its teaching about marriage.  None of these laws have asked any religious institution to bless gay and lesbian couples.

Wuerl also claims that people have a view of marriage which coincides with his own:

“We all recognize that the word ‘marriage is now being used in many different ways.  All that civil government can do is address the legal consequences of any specific union it has chosen to call marriage.  But marriage itself will continue to be understood by most people as the coming together of a man and woman committed to living together with the possibility to generate and raise children. “

Clearly, his last sentence is not true.  Ask any of the thousands of legally married same-sex couples and the majority of Americans who favor marriage equality if Wuerl’s definition of marriage matches with theirs.  The answer is that it doesn’t.  Even before marriage equality became an issue, there were many different definitions of marriage present in society.  Not even all religions agree on one definition.

Unlike, Silva, however, Wuerl seems more inclined to see this issue as a pastoral one, not just a political one.  In one paragraph, Wuerl states:

“We are followers of Jesus Christ, so our message must be what he proclaimed.  The teaching of the Church is one of equality.  The Church does not propose different standards of sexual morality depending upon sexual inclination.  Instead, Catholic teaching on homosexuality is the same as it is for all, which is to love God and love one another in truth (Matthew 22:36-40; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 1:27; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 24; Caritas in Veritate, 1-2; Familiaris Consortio, 11 et seq.). Thus, it is simply false for anyone to accuse the Church of discrimination, bigotry, or hate speech when it comes to those with a same-sex attraction.  Instead, the Church welcomes and embraces them. “

While I think Wuerl is sincere in his welcome, I don’t think he is aware that because of statements from people like Silva, many LGBT people do not feel welcomed by the Catholic church.  I think this makes it more incumbent on pro-LGBT Catholics to be even more welcoming in their relationships with LGBT people.

One last detail from Wuerl’s piece.  Although he doesn’t say it by name, he seems to indicate an openness to civil unions or domestic partnerships:

“Unions of people who choose to live together for any number of reasons are one thing and these might even be sanctioned with civil effects that provide for everyone in the union.”

Both bishops would benefit greatly by talking and listening to lesbian and gay couples and single people to learn more about the reality of their lives.  Such sessions would help them avoid the errors they have made in discussing marriage equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

PinkNews:  Bishop of Honolulu: Equal marriage could lead to polygamy and incest

The Advocate:  Hawaiian Bishop: Banning Marriage Equality Is ‘Just Discrimination’

LGBTQNation: Religious leaders in Hawaii call for passage of marriage equality bill

16 replies
  1. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
    Fran Rossi Szpylczyn says:

    You know, when a bishop starts appealing to his flock on the basis of things like “Why would we taxpayers be exempt from paying for marital benefits for all those spouses?”

    What the what?

    Why would we taxpayers??? *sigh* We as taxpayers? Why would we pay for others? If there is some theological or canonical element in there, it is not clear or obvious to me.

  2. pjnugent
    pjnugent says:

    Bishop Silva is so out of touch or deliberately ignoring our use of language as to be silly. “Marriage” is commonly used for relationships other than a genital relationship between one man and one woman. How often does our financial press describe the joining of two business enterprises as a “marriage”. And the same of nature writers similarly describe the confluence of two rivers. Often one reads of the marriage of ideas or ideologies. It seems that it is only Catholic bishops who are ignorant of the broad use of the term “marriage”.
    Furthermore, it seems to me that Silva’s choice in permitting discrimination opens a broad permission of discrimination. If discrimination against GLBT people is acceptable then discrimination against all sorts of people we don’t agree with is permissible. And it seems that discrimination contains an element of contempt for the person we discriminate against. How does this fit with “love your neighbor”?

  3. Frank McKown
    Frank McKown says:

    I read the Bishop’s “open letter” earlier this week. Once you read Bishop Silva’s letter, you’ll realize he has done more for Hawaii’s same sex marriage prospects than if he had stayed silent. Most thinking Catholics (and non Catholics for that matter) will view it as the hate-filled, uninformed, homophobic rag that it is. With this inept diatribe, he has virtually assured the passage of Hawaii’s same sex marriage law. Bravo, Bishop Silva!

  4. Larry Quirk
    Larry Quirk says:

    About two years ago, I attended with my partner a “Marriage Forum” sponsored by a large Catholic Church here in NJ. Unfortunately, the forum was just propaganda. There were three speakers but all were aligned to the same conservative theme, approaching it from different perspectives and no audience participation was allowed. And what was the new theme? That gay marriage would lead to polyamory so that trios or quads of folks could marry each other at our expense! Again, seeing their old arguments losing force they had to come up with some new horror to try to rattle the flock. This theme pops up in Bishop Silva’s diatribe since he has decided to include anything he can think of to oppose gay marriage. I agree with the writer above that he is the best case for passing marriage equality in Hawaii and across the nation.

  5. Dr Jerry Baumeister, PhD
    Dr Jerry Baumeister, PhD says:

    Bishop Silva’s letter is so full of theological error its hard to take him seriously. If he truly believes what he wrote then I feel sorry for him. He is another example of too much sun and tanning lotion.

  6. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
    Fran Rossi Szpylczyn says:

    It just hit me as I read the comments here- the Scriptures for this weekend have such a powerful focus on humility. Our bishops in general show so little of it. Bishop Silva, whether intentionally or not, remarkably little.

    How sad. Canon lawyers and careerists, when we need pastors and poets. *sigh* God have mercy on all of us. I’d never want their jobs, and don’t claim that I could better, but it all seems so off.

  7. Janet Hanson
    Janet Hanson says:

    I am tired of Bishops who use their bully pulpit to script people in the “theologically correct” way to package plain old prejudice.

    This is just another example of church leadership telling all too many of us that they don’t have any help or insight for LGBT individuals and their families–just more of the same.

    The church decreases its relevance every time they do something like this.

  8. Friends
    Friends says:

    The “polygamy horror scare” is a particularly interesting ruse. I’ve been doing some objective moral thinking about it recently. The first thing we need to understand is that it’s perfectly legal and accepted in some very devout (and generally morally conservative) Moslem-dominant countries. Of course it’s also discriminatory, in the sense that a man may take several wives, but no wife may take several husbands. But as an objective moral issue, I’m finally forced to view it as “circumstantial”, and as neither clearly morally right nor clearly morally wrong. As is well known, Mormons in the United States practiced polygamy during the first few decades of the previous century. Assuming that those polygamous families were able to take proper care of their children, and that no child abuse was ever involved, I have difficulty in NOT concluding that the civil government was vastly overreaching its proper bounds — indeed, was committing a grave offense against constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty — when it illegalized plural marriage. I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of our other contributors on this point.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] to Hawaii, Bishop Larry Silva is on record linking marriage equality to incest, polygamy, and juvenile suicide, as well as defending ‘just discrimination.’  It is […]

  2. […] warm were statements made by Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, who wrote in defense of ‘just’ discrimination this September. National Catholic Reporter quotes him as calling marriage equality a […]

  3. […] unleashing anti-gay remarks, with a Knights leader comparing marriage equality to polygamy and incest, as others have done in the past. As for alternatives, the Coalition echoes Governor Chris Christie […]

  4. […] insistence on mitigating the legal rights of LGBT people and perpetuates the idea recently expressed in Hawaii that ‘just discrimination’ […]

  5. […] Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported on Hawaii’s Bishop Larry Silva writing a strongly worded pastoral […]

  6. […] this week, we reported on the letter opposing marriage equality written by Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, Hawaii, and how his comparisons of lesbian and gay committed relationships to polygamy […]

  7. […] going to review once again the flaws in the bishops’ arguments, or their outlandish claims. Francis DeBenardo does that at Bondings 2.0, for the Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, and for Cardinal Wuerl.  There is one statement in […]

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