Being Adults and Telling the Truth

Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, wants to run for President of the United States.  In doing so, he is going to be asked about gay marriage.  But, Governor O'Malley has a problem--he's a Catholic.  So, he is going to be asked about how the Catholic position of the question impacts his own views.

He gives a typically political, mealy-mouthed answer.  And, equally typically, he gets slammed for it by people like Deacon Kandra.  Indeed, Kandra cites to some document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which purports to outline obligatory standards for what Catholic politicians should do in the context of the gay marriage debate.  And this document is unambiguous:

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.(18) This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.

This document was authored by Josef Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.

What can be said about this, in light of the idea of a new vision of Church that Pope Francis is hopefully inaugurating?  First, the CDF document.  If Pope Francis is serious about a Church where people are free to doubt, to wrestle with tough questions, and, yes, even to disagree, then coercive, ironclad statements like this have got to go.  Period, full stop.  If Pope Francis is serious about a reasonable delegation of power to the local level and to empower the laity to take on a mature, adult role in the faith, the CDF has no business reaching down to tell local politicians how to vote.  If Pope Francis is serious about keeping the Church independent from any particular political party or ideological system, then putting the official thumb on the scale and trying to preemptively cut the legs out from underneath certain politicians isn't going to work.  This document is a crude, counter-productive club that is designed to beat people into shutting up and toeing the line.  It is antithetical to the spirit of the Church that some of us hope Francis shares.

So much for the Vatican.  What about O'Malley?  The problem with O'Malley's statement is that he didn't tell the truth.
Or, at least, he likely did not tell the truth.  I don't know Martin O'Malley, but I suspect that his real answer to the question of "how do you square your position on gay marriage and your Catholicism?" goes something like this:

I am a Catholic.  My Catholicism is important to me, and its values have deeply informed my values.  But I think the Catholic Church is wrong on the issue of gay marriage, and if I am elected President I intend to do what I can to support the civil rights of LGBT people.

Martin O'Malley needs to tell the truth.  Not, primarily, because he is a politician, though that's good, too.  O'Malley needs to tell the truth because he is a lay Catholic.  If lay Catholics are going to be given the space to question and govern ourselves--to be adults, in other words--then we need to show that we are up for that task.  And one component of being up to that task is telling the truth about where we are, what we think, and what is important to us.  And that means O'Malley, and that means all of us.

For far too long, lay Catholics have operated on the basis of "we are going to pretend to follow what the Vatican is saying, and they are going to pretend to believe us."  That's infantile.  That's unworthy of people who want to be taken seriously by our priests and bishops.  If you are one of the 57% of American Catholics who support same-sex marriage (including the 45% who attend Mass every Sunday), then you need to say say that publicly.  If you are one of the 76% of Catholics who think the Church should change its teaching on birth control, then you need to say that as well.

If we want to be treated like adults, we need to act like adults.  If you are reading this and you are a Catholic, I would encourage you to find some venue (social media, your personal life, whatever) to tell the truth about what you believe, about how you see and understand your faith.  Even if you completely disagree with me and agree with every word that comes out of the Vatican, you should say that as well.  We all need to speak, and we all need to be heard.

I'll start.

My name is Michael Joseph Boyle, Jr.  I became a Catholic on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1978, when I was baptized at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York.  I am a registered parishoner at St. Christopher Catholic Church in Grandview Heights, Ohio.  My Catholic faith is very, very important to me.  But I look forward to attending the wedding of my friends Neil and Mike once the Supreme Court (as I expect it will) makes gay marriage legal in Ohio this summer.  I look forward to it as much, and for the same reasons, as the wedding of my other friends Anne and Nate in October, and I don't see any meaningful difference between the two.  I pray for the day when women will be accepted as Catholic priests.  And I have no intention of following the Church's teaching on birth control when, hopefully, I get married some day.

That's me telling the truth.


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