Who Is Perpetuating Real Harm in the Marriage Equality Debate?

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Commensurate with expanding LGBT rights is the increasingly harsh anti-gay rhetoric of Catholic leaders opposed to equal marriage rights and non-discrimination laws inclusive of sexual orientation/gender identity. Brian Cahill has written a piece in the National Catholic Reporter questioning the Catholic leaders who harshly criticized a United Nations report which urged the Vatican to adopt a more LGBT-positive tone for the benefit of children.

Cahill, the former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities, highlights the Vatican’s ambivalent relationship with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Though legally mandated as a signatory to provide annual reports on its efforts to protect children, the Vatican ignored this obligation from 1990 through 2012 as clergy sexual abuse came to light. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did, however, cite the Convention in a 2003 document prohibiting same-gender couples from adopting children. Cahill writes:

“When it came to priests abusing vulnerable children, the agreement was ignored, but when it came to gay and lesbian couples adopting vulnerable children, it was run up the Roman flagpole. The irony is only exceeded by the hypocrisy.

“In restoring church credibility, Francis can start by ensuring that the U.N. agreement is used to protect children and not discriminate against loving, nurturing adoptive parents. And if he wants to continue his compassionate and pastoral leadership, he should get rid of the harsh and disrespectful language in the 2003 Vatican document. In referring to same-sex couples, the Vatican language states, ‘Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.’ “

Yet, this harmful rhetoric is not unique to the Vatican only in the years before Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment. Cahill lists Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Archbishop John Neinstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco as examples of just how extreme the hierarchy has been in the past year. Cahill focuses in on Cordileone, writing:

“And then there’s San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, energetically tilting at windmills all over the country in his failed effort to stop civil gay marriage. Cordileone has also spoken out aggressively against federal legislation prohibiting workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians…

“He also told the communication directors that when they are asked to explain their opposition to same-sex marriage, their response should be, ‘Why are you opposed to every child having a mother and a father?’

“I don’t know anyone, gay or straight, who is opposed to children having mothers and fathers. But I do know that there are hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system in this country, and they are there because of the abuse and neglect of their heterosexual parents, and these ‘mothers and fathers’ are living proof that sexual orientation has nothing to do with good parenting.”

Cahill sees no end to this hardline approach by the bishops against LGBT rights, citing recent incidents in Kansas and in Virginia where local bishops reaffirmed their commitment to stop equal marriage rights and legalize the discrimination of LGBT people.

It is not only the bishops, but other Catholics who are speaking and acting in a pastorally harmful manner. In recent weeks, anti-LGBT activists have said that legalizing marriage equality will lead to the kind of violence that occurred during China’s Cultural Revolution in which millions were killed. One leader has claimed that marriage equality will cause heterosexual men to desire anal sex. The head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, which was recently added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “Active Anti-LGBT Groups,” told a radio audience that liberal university leaders should “all be taken out and shot.

While Cahill focused solely on anti-gay rhetoric coming from bishops, his conclusion is relevant for every instance of hyperbolic and harmful comments:

“Facts, political reality, the opinion of a Catholic majority, even a papal tone of compassion — these factors don’t seem to get in Cordileone’s way. He is a single-minded, energetic advocate for his cause, a true believer, a nonstop culture warrior…

“This intense crusade against civil gay marriage calls to mind the cautionary words of the great American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith, but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.’

“Some American bishops seem to realize that they’ve lost the battle of civil gay marriage, that it’s time to move on from a harsh, critical stance and begin instead to develop a more pastoral approach to gays and lesbians. These are the bishops we need to hear from, not the culture warriors who don’t seem to know that this particular war is over.”

The question the American Church as a whole must ask itself is: who is perpetuating real harm in this debate over marriage equality and LGBT rights? It is not the loving same-gender couple who adopts a child and builds up a family.  It is not their fellow parishioners who welcome LGBT people with open arms. The most dangerous harm comes from those Catholic prelates and activists whose comments and actions against LGBT people and their families perpetuate destructive attitudes and misinformation about sexual and gender minorities.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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