San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone missed an opportunity for healing yesterday, June 19th, by addressing the National Organization for Marriage’s March for Marriage in Washington, DC.
Speaking to 2,000 marchers, he ignored more than 30,000 people, including top religious leaders and 100 public officials, who had requested he forgo the event because his appearance would be pastorally damaging. Cordileone, who is the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, spoke about “building a civilization of truth and love,” but he seems to not quite understand the truth that LGBT people and their allies have long witnessed to: that our struggle for justice is just what he has called for: the building up of truth and love in the world.
Leading up to yesterday’s march, Catholics repeatedly had asked the archbishop to withdraw, many of them signing a petition. The archbishop’s critics included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who are both Catholic. Cordileone received a letter from close to 100 religious and political leaders, requesting that he not speak at the march. New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo, executive director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder (though Sister Jeannine signed the letter as a representative of the National Coalition of American Nuns).
The archbishop responded to them with a letter of his own, denying the march was anti-LGBT and defending his decision to speak. The Bay Area Reporter recorded the reactions to Cordileone’s letter by DeBernardo and Gramick:
“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBT Catholic organization, said, ‘Archbishop Cordileone’s response is disappointing because there is no assurance from him that he will speak for the human dignity and equality of LGBT people at the NOM rally.’ … [The archbishop] needs to be clear to distance himself from the unjust and untrue language that NOM and Family Research Council have used in regard to LGBT people and the prospect of marriage equality.’
“For her part, Sister Jeannine Gramick [co-founder of New Ways Ministry], said, ‘I’m pleased that Archbishop Cordileone is willing to meet personally with any of the signers as dialogue can be the beginning of transformation … We will take him up on his offer’.”
In the letter, Cordileone offered to meet with any of the signatories so that he and they can better understand one another and get to know each other. Let’s hope that he will follow through with this invitation.
Those delivering a Faithful America petition with more than 30,000 signatures had hoped to meet with the archbishop, but they found doors to the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s offices locked. They were forced to slip the petition, page by page, underneath the front door. Bill Baird, a Dignity USA member who helped organized the delivery said of the Washington march:
” ‘The archbishop has a right to his beliefs and a right to express them, but unfortunately the June 19th event is being organized by some of the most extreme anti-LGBT organizations and leaders including the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council.’ “
The March for Marriage itself drew only 2,000 people, far less than the many thousands promised. It included Catholic leaders like former US Senator Rick Santorum and papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, according to the Washington Blade. It is likely Catholic participants numbered in the hundreds out of nearly 30 million Catholics nationwide. Interestingly on Twitter, the #March4Marriage hashtag promoted by organizers quickly became a space for for pro-equality voices and photos of families led by same-gender couples. Dignity/Washington member Kenneth Dowling, who observed the March, posted the following on Facebook yesterday:
“Just biked past the NOMmers setting up their ‘pro-marriage’ rally in front of my office. Don’t they know that we are pro-marriage and pro-family too?…If not honesty, commitment, and family, how do they propose we live?
“The Catholic catechism states LGBT people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ But both the intent and the spirit of this law seem to limit this to chaste and celibate LGBT people and exempt sexually and romantically active LGBT people. They don’t see any need to apply this statement to us.”
It was in this context and to such an audience that Archbishop Cordileone delivered his remarks, made available on the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s website here.
Cordileone cited as his impetus for attending the rally as coming from the witness of a younger person’s reflection during Confirmation that Christians are enabled to “go forth and ‘build a civilization of truth and love.” He also told the story of Rome’s early Christians who remained in the city during plague outbreaks to care for all people, regardless of who they were. He highlighted the Church’s charitable outreach through healthcare, education, and social services to all in need, again regardless of who they were. He offered a litany of those in difficult family situations, including “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.”
Then, halfway through he switched from good to not so good.
Cordileone called upon the holy people who have built up the Kingdom of God through loving works of mercy as inspiration to oppose LGBT rights, specifically marriage equality. Calling the one man/one woman ideal of marriage promoted by March organizers a “foundational truth,” he portrayed those opposing LGBT equality as victims saying they were “relentlessly and unfairly painted as a bigot and are punished for publicly standing by the basic truth of marriage.” He then reviewed many of our nation’s social ills, citing the end of the heterosexual norm in marriage as a hindrance toward fixing these ills:
“All we have to do is look around and see that our society is broken and hurting in so many ways; there is so much work to do to fix it and bring healing. Yes, it is very complex, and many different things need to be done: we need to fix our economy; we especially need to pay a living wage to working class families; we need to fix our broken immigration system; we need to improve our schools, especially those that are failing children from poorer families. Yes, we need to do all this and more. But none of these solutions will have a lasting effect if we do not rebuild a marriage culture, a culture which recognizes and supports the good of intact families, built on the marriage between a man and a woman committed to loving faithfulness to each other and to their children. No justice, no peace, no end to poverty, without a strong culture of marriage and the family. This noble cause is a call to love we cannot abandon, that we will not give up on, and that in the end we know will triumph.”
Social injustices, like those mentioned, are tackled, in part, by building up a culture where families are supported and marriages can be sustained. But Cordileone misses the crucial point in this diminishing debate over marriage equality, and one that is especially true for Catholics: fighting for LGBT rights under the law and inclusion in the Church is about strengthening all marriages and protecting all families for the common good of everyone.
The truth about Archbishop Cordileone’s ‘civilization of truth and love’ is that, for decades, it has been LGBT people building up truth by being open and authentic about who God created them to be and they have been joined by allies in expanding love.
His closing words to the March on Marriage seem more apt for Catholics following Jesus’ message of unconditional inclusion than to marriage equality opponents. In this post, surprisingly, it is the archbishop who has the last word by giving LGBT advocates our new charge in the wake of yesterday’s event. Just replace the words “March on Marriage” with “march for full equality” and Cordileone’s words are eloquently true:
“So take heart: the truth spoken in love has a power over the human heart. We are here today to March for Marriage, to pick up the torch, and pass on to a new generation the truth about marriage, not just the abstract truth, but the lived reality that makes a difference in children’s lives. So, my friends, we must not give up: the truth will not go away, and we will not go away. Let us take heart from the legacy we have received, let us place our trust in God, and let us go forth to build a civilization of truth and love.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
San Francisco CBS Video: “SF Archbishop Urged By Protesters Not To Attend Anti-Gay Event” (features Christine Haider-Winett, coordinator for the Equally Blessed coalition)
National Catholic Reporter, “March for Marriage gathers in the shadow of court rulings”