After Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii recently passed marriage equality, this blog and others have wondered how Catholic bishops will respond as same-gender marriage continues to expand. Pope Francis called upon the hierarchy to stop “obsessing” over marriage equality in September, but contrasting situations in Indiana and Minnesota reveal that American bishops are still ambivalent about which path they will choose.
Anti-LGBT organizers in Indiana have proposed a constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriages, prompting a statement from Catholic bishops in the state. Surprisingly, the statement was limited and refrained from hyperbolic language from bishops previously seen in states where marriage rights were being debated. The South Bend Tribune reports:
“The statement, signed by Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin and Indiana’s five bishops, emphasizes the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, but also the dignity of all people.
“Church officials said the statement isn’t intended to stake out a political position, but to inform people about Catholic teachings as they weigh the issue. Indiana is home to 747,706 Roman Catholics.
” ‘People have the right to make their own decisions on these issues, but it needs to be done with an informed conscience,’ said Greg Otolski, a spokesman for the Indianapolis Archdiocese.”
Glenn Tebbe, the head of Indiana’s Catholic Conference, directly told reporters that this statement could not be considered an explicit position of the state’s bishops when it comes to the amendment to ban same-gender marriages. While Indiana’s bishops still opposed marriage equality, their tone and actions, or lack thereof, might reveal a softening approach to such debates in the US. Perhaps they are listening to Pope Francis’ exhortations to change the Church’s focus from social issues to the poor or perhaps they realize opposing LGBT rights only harms the Church now, as most Catholics support equal rights under the law.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Diocese of Crookston continues fighting a lost battle on marriage. On December 1st, the diocese began a Year of Marriage with the stated goal of helping Catholics explore and understand marriage, family, and sexuality better. This campaign emerges after Minnesota voters not only defeated a proposed amendment similar to Indiana’s proposal, but then passed marriage equality this past spring. Crookston joins the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois and others who act against equal marriage rights even after the debate is over. Many have questioned the pastoral judgments around such events, including the editorial staff of the National Catholic Reporter who wrote of Bishop Paprocki’s exorcism (and which seems applicable of other such post-legalization actions):
“We do not buy Paprocki’s feigned reluctance ‘to enter any controversy.’ We cannot believe he could be so out of touch with the media climate, particularly around this hot-button issue, to think that his using ‘same-sex marriage’ and ‘exorcism’ in the same sentence would not cause a firestorm of media coverage. He claimed he affirmed ‘the teaching of the Catholic church that homosexual persons ‘must be accepted with respect,” ‘ but he didn’t. His actions were offensive and therefore mocked a religious rite.
“We cannot imagine what Paprocki thought he would accomplish with this stunt. And stunt it was.”
Marriage equality’s remaining unknown is not if it will pass universally in the US, but only when and with how much damage done. Religious leadership is entitled to speak about sincerely held beliefs, including where they stand on marriage equality, but they must balance this with the pastoral implications of their efforts. Indiana’s bishops seem to shift this balance, emphasizing Christ’s love instead of political combat, as Pope Francis has been requesting.
Pope Francis’ example of balancing belief with mercy won him Time‘s Person of the Year. It seems appropriate for the bishops to ask themselves: Is opposing marriage equality worthwhile, both before and after each law’s passage? How does opposing LGBT rights show welcome, joy, and love? Does it heal wounds in the Church and respectfully engage LGBT people? Are there other, more important priorities in the diocese which need to be addressed instead?
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry