The Catholic Spirit Maria Wiering
It’s been six weeks since the Minnesota bishops mailed 400,000 DVDs to Minnesota Catholics opposing same-sex marriage.
The mailing, which explained the church’s teaching on marriage and urged Catholics to support an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman, received praise as well as criticism.
Most recently, about 100 people who support same-sex marriage formed an arc around the Cathedral of St. Paul after Mass Oct. 31 to protest the DVDs’ message. They held signs with slogans including “Love is NOT a mortal sin” and “God created us to be gay.”
Four days earlier, about 75 Catholics who support the bishops’ effort attended an evening event at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton that included a viewing of the DVD, a talk about the church’s teaching on marriage, and a question-and-answer session with three priests.
Those critical of the mailing accused the bishops of attempting to influence voters before the Nov. 2 election, inappropriately spending money during an economic downturn, and discriminating against gay Catholics. (It was later noted that an anonymous donor covered the DVDs’ cost.)
Drawing support, criticism
Some Catholics returned the DVD to the archdiocese in protest. Others contributed it to a drive that promised to donate food to St. Stephen Human Services in exchange. Minneapolis artist Lucinda Naylor was suspended from her artist-in-residence position at the Basilica of St. Mary after she began to collect DVDs to create a piece of protest art.
Because Archbishop Nienstedt speaks on the DVD, he’s been singled out both locally and nationally for the majority of the praise and criticism. The DVD was integral to an ongoing catechesis effort of the archdiocesan Office for Marriage, Family and Life, said its director Kathy Laird. The office has been focusing on this issue for more than two years, and plans to continue to make it a priority, she said.
Whether the DVD can achieve its objective of getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot remains to be seen. But the controversy has exposed a division within the Catholic community over gay marriage that reflects a division within American culture at large.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. New Jersey, Maine, Nevada, Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions. Conversely, 30 states have constitutional amendments that define marriage as between one woman and one man. Minnesota is among the states that have statutes, but not an amendment, prohibiting same-sex marriage.
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is reserved exclusively for one man and one woman. Additionally, gay people are to be loved, welcomed and respected, and are called to live chaste lives. Homosexual intimacy is viewed as a grave sin, as is all extra-marital sex.
Because the church views marriage as a sacrament instituted by God, rooted in Scripture, and affirmed by natural law, changing its view of marriage as something between one man and one woman is outside of its power. And because it seeks to morally guide the broader culture, the church does not support civil gay unions under any title.
“We believe this is an issue not just about the religious meaning of marriage, but the natural, human meaning that affects the common good of all people, including those of us of other faiths, or no faith at all,” Father Michael Skluzacek, pastor of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, said at the Oct. 27 gathering.
“Every person, no matter what their attraction, is entitled to the same rights, dignity, and respect as everyone else,” he said. “But what the church cannot do, and what we’re saying the state cannot do, is redefine an institution that has been ordained by God and a part of our very nature as human beings. This is not about rights, but about the meaning of an institution, the meaning of marriage — what is it.”
Marriage is core to salvation, said St. John Vianney Seminary rector Father Michael Becker, who provided catechesis on marriage at the event. He pointed to Genesis, which describes God creating man and woman in his image.
Man and woman image God together in marriage and, as something of God’s image, marriage belongs to God, not to man, he said.
Married couples are meant to help each other grow in holiness, he added.
Gay people can live holy lives through chastity, which involves uniting one’s sufferings to Christ, according to a 1986 letter on the pastoral care of homosexuals from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Catholic bishops.
The U.S. bishops expounded upon the issue in a 1997 pastoral letter to parents of homosexuals: “The chaste life is possible, though not always easy, for it involves a continual effort to turn toward God and away from sin, especially with the strength of the sacraments of penance and Eucharist.”
Challenge of chastity
Michael Bayly, a gay Catholic and founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota, said the church’s teaching about homosexuality is wrong. The ability to live lifelong celibacy is a gift from God, Bayly said, and he doubts that all gay people are given that gift.
Bayly does not disagree with the bishops speaking out on social issues, but a statement on something like immigration or poverty would encourage Catholics to include, not exclude, others, he said.
“I just think that’s not the Catholic way,” he said. “I understand Catholicism as being a very sacramental religion, in which God is present in the world. I just wish the hierarchy would be open to God’s presence in gay people’s lives in relationships.”
About 25 members of the Rainbow Sash Alliance USA attended Mass at the Cathedral Oct. 31 wearing rainbow sashes to identify themselves as opposed to the church’s view of homosexuality.
They were given a blessing instead of the Eucharist when they went to receive Communion. In a statement issued before Communion, sash-wearers were invited to remove their sashes and stand in unity with other Catholics.
Cathedral officials viewed wearing the sash as using the Eucharist for political protest; sash-wears, including St. Francis Cabrini in Minneapolis parishioner Mary Eoloff, who has a gay son, described it as a “celebration” of those who are gay. She views church teaching as excluding her son from Catholic life.
The church, however, states that homosexuals are welcome in the church, but, like all Catholics, they are asked to renounce sin, which includes homosexual activity.
In the church’s view, all sexual acts that use the other person for pleasure, and cannot be fruitful, reduce the other’s dignity and are distortions of God’s intention for sexual intimacy.
“Even if two people say, ‘I really do desire the other person’s happiness,’ the reality of this individual act is using another,” Father Becker said.
Marriage bookends the Bible, Father Becker said, noting that it is found both in Genesis with Adam and Eve, and in Revelation, with the wedding of Christ to the church.
“All of heaven is summed up in a consummation of a love affair, that Jesus Christ is marrying the church, that God is marrying his people,” he said.
He added:?“The best way we can describe heaven is to speak about marriage. Is marriage just to be one other political issue, very low on the totem pole? Well, if all of heaven is summarized as a wedding, that’s pretty significant.”