Something about my article of a few weeks back entitled “The Abolition of Marriage” bothered me and would not leave my conscience alone. You might remember that my article was about the recent declaration of unconstitutionality of Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage issued by federal district court judge Michael McShane. In it, I outlined in exquisite detail and with precise erudition just why this decision on his part was so morally offensive to “all true Catholics.” Looking back, I am both appalled and ashamed at my tone and the manner in which I chose to deal with an issue with which so many people, gay and straight, take such a personal interest and which means so much to them. To them and to all of you, I extend my heartfelt apology.
From an abstract perspective (moral law, natural law, eternal truth, etc.) everything said was accurate and would find full backing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. How then can such an article be right as to its many constituent parts and yet so wrong in its overall response, tenor and tone; so offensive to Christian charity; and so opposed to where the Lord himself sits? My error, I believe, is a common one: I chose the all too easy path of placing the narrowness of rules above the dignity of individual people. Moreover, my fierce determination to do so was motivated, at least in part, by a prejudice that allowed me to define my Catholic identity over and against those who don’t agree with the same strict definition of truth that I chose to hold. Whatever sins gay men and women might commit as regards the living out of their sexuality were surely exceeded by my own arrogant self-righteousness and its blinding of my moral sense of what is truly fair and right.
I wonder if any of you reading this article seriously believe in a god who would condemn any man or woman for living out their lives in accordance with their innermost desires in such a manner that no one is hurt (other than perhaps the individuals themselves)? Even if we maintain that these private decisions, often the result of great personal pain and growth, ‘miss the mark’ of God’s ‘ideal’ plan for human relationships, how can we really believe that everlasting hell yawns before them as a result of their choice? Consider the following facts, each of which also deals with a violation of God’s law: almost every couple I marry in the Church are cohabitating before the marriage rite; almost all married couples in their 20’s or 30’s use artificial birth control to regulate their family size; many of those seated around you in church are on their second marriage as the result of divorce – yet they go up to receive communion! And I could go on (and so could you).
Knowing these things then, ask yourselves these questions: Do we conduct virulent public campaigns against them? Do we use a harsh and unforgiving tone when speaking of them? Do any of you with such delinquent children or grandchildren ostracize them or refuse to visit them in their homes? Do we insist on knowing the intimate sexual habits of all of our neighbors and then proceed to pass judgment on them? Of course not; almost all of us have learned to accept the fact that many if not most of our loved ones, friends and acquaintances, people we genuinely love and care for, act in ways contrary to “eternal truth and goodness.” We love them nonetheless and have no problem walking alongside them on their life journeys.
Why can’t we do this with gays? Why is the issue of gay marriage with its underlying prurient interest in gay sexual practices so easy for us to ridicule and condemn in such an unyielding manner? The stridency of our response to these issues (and few have been more strident and outspoken than myself) betrays our own hardness of heart and hidden prejudice. Whether we know it or not, those of us who enjoy wallowing in our own self-congratulatory righteousness are acting deeply contrary to Christ’s law of love. Instead of welcoming our gay brothers and sisters in the community of Christ’s followers, we are driving them away with our overweening sense of moral superiority and with our selective application of it. This is true with regards to any and all “hot button” issues of our day with which the Church disagrees (contraception, abortion, gay marriage, divorce and remarriage, etc.)
What I am discovering for myself and what I have been sharing with you is my growing understanding that the Catholic Church and many of her members need to step back from our relentless, ceaseless pouring forth on these issues. Everyone knows what we teach, but they see very little of Christ’s love and unconditional forgiveness being modeled by us. We are overly judgmental and critical of others to a point that we are driving out of the Church community many who don’t hold to our strict views or who outright disagree with us. We need to remind ourselves that every single one us is a serious sinner, certainly no less so than any of those we so love to judge and criticize. We are sinners now and will be on the day of our death. Remember, we are all going to be saved despite our weakness and sin, not because of any supposed virtue we possess. We are no different in any regard from gays who want to marry, from folks who end one marriage and leap into another, from young couples who use contraception, or from any number of other peccadillos and crimes that so offend our egos.
My brothers and sisters, my own painful journey of the past few weeks has revealed to me an uncomfortable aspect of how so many of us live out our faith. If we cannot learn to engage others as brothers, sisters, friends and fellow pilgrims, then we are going to be seen by many of our countrymen as little more than cranks and boors who have nothing relevant or constructive to say or share with others. Many already tune us out for these very reasons. This kind of judgmentalism (and I speak for myself) is resulting in the Christian Church becoming increasingly bitter and cliquish, turned-in on itself, and as a result suffering from a failure to preach the Gospel of Christ’s unconditional love and universal offer of salvation.
Of course, I cannot judge, nor do I, any one of you as regards these tendencies or attitudes. But I do judge myself and I am deeply sorry for how my own self-centered zeal may have led others to feel unwelcome or unwanted here at St. Therese. A reminder to all of you, that your Pastor is all too human and prone to grievous error. Please pray for me and accept my apology for any hurt I may have caused through my own prejudice and misplaced zeal.