By Edward Pentin
The United Kingdom moved closer to being the latest nation to legislate in favor of same-sex “marriage” this week when it passed a bill allowing such ceremonies to take place in England and Wales.
The bill still has to go before the House of Lords, but such legislation coming even this far would have been unthinkable less than 10 years ago. It follows the passing of similar legislation in France and New Zealand this past month, as well as in the U.S. states of Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota.
Part of the reason for this rapid advance is the inability on the part of traditional marriage proponents to argue their case effectively in societies where personal autonomy takes precedence.
And yet for Paul Gondreau, professor of Catholic theology at Providence College, Rhode Island, defending traditional marriage and opposing same-sex “marriage” is actually quite simple, and can be done without having to resort to faith-based arguments.
Speaking at a meeting hosted by the Acton Institute in Rome May 22, he stressed an urgent need for these arguments to be made known as this is becoming the “defining issue of our time.”
Proponents of traditional marriage “ought not to be kowtowed into silence,” he added, observing that to dare to speak in favor of traditional marriage “is to single yourself out as homophobic, intolerant, bigoted, or a hatemonger” in many of today’s Western societies.
In combatting this subtle form of tyranny, Gondreau said it’s important to first clarify a true understanding of what it means to be human and the proper role of the human body. In the ancient philosophical tradition of Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas, being human meant there must be a “body-soul unity” – a body biologically designed, and joined with a soul of a spiritual and rational nature.
For same-sex “marriage” proponents, however, the body is viewed as a “kind of accessory” that “doesn’t really enter into the essential identity of what it is to be human.” What’s important to them is to be rational and autonomous in their choices, Gondreau said. It’s an anthropology, he added, that goes back to the father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, who viewed the human person as a “thinking, choosing, self, accidentally and loosely tied to the body” – what’s also known as a “Cartesian-style anthropology.”
But both approaches to the human body have moral consequences. For the former, it means you treat your body with “great respect as you treat your own personhood with great respect.” Your body, Gondreau continued, “shares in your moral responsibility, your pursuit of happiness and fulfillment – in moral terms, what we call human flourishing.”
For the latter, the body comes to be treated recreationally, like a toy, because it has “no inherent moral worth” and is “not essential to our human identity.” Someone with a Cartesian- style anthropology sees himself as a “fragmented self.”
He stressed that every person’s body is “hardwired for certain ends and goods” and that when it comes to sex, that means you cannot act in any sexual way and think there’s not anything wrong with it, just as you cannot feed your body with any substance you choose. In bodily terms, sex is very clearly ordered towards procreation and male and female are complimentary in this regard.
“That’s common sense,” Gondreau argued, “but this is the problem with the gay ‘marriage’ principle: We’re being asked to lay aside our common sense, to take the position that biology and our ordered nature is purely and simply irrelevant.” He pointed out that human sex is very different to animal sex in that it’s not only about procreation but is “face to face,” indicating that it’s not just a “bodily, carnal union but obviously a union of spiritual persons, uniting themselves with each other in the deepest bond of love and friendship.”
It’s a unity of body and soul, and any attempts to separate or divide the two must be denounced as opposed to our genuine good. “Only in a marriage can sexual union be procreative and unitive,” he said. “The sexual act must by symbolically ordered to having a child and that intentional measures aren’t taken to disrupt the very nature of the act from attaining its procreative end.”
He stressed that the natural law teaches us this. “When God made us, He had in mind how we should live, how our sexed nature should be used,” Gondreau said. “We are not our own creators, we are not our own Gods, and therefore we are limited and predetermined to certain goods and ends.” He added that the more sensitive we are to our consciences and moral life, “the more we see that.”
“It all boils down to how we view the human being,” he explained. “Benedict XVI constantly reminded people of the natural law and the recovery of it – a way of understanding the moral life in a way that is accessible to reason.”
Gondreau, who has been actively involved in the public debate on the meaning and purpose of marriage in the United States and debated the issue on a number of panels, said many who defend gay “marriage” are often well intentioned and don’t want to be labelled bigoted. “They want to be compassionate with those who struggle with homosexual desires,” he said.
But he said it’s an act of charity to tell them they are wrong.
“If you really want to help the sinner, you have to have him turn away from sin,” he said. “When the woman was caught in adultery, Jesus didn’t say: ‘Go and do whatever makes you happy.’ He said: ‘Go and sin no more.’ So we must always make it clear that is what we’re talking about.”
Recalling a conversation he had with a gay friend, Gondreau told him he was convinced that his lifestyle was not going to lead to his genuine happiness, nor that he was really happy now. “He wasn’t offended, and saw I was convinced of that,” he recalled. “Whether he agreed or disagreed, that’s beside the point; it’s really about genuine human happiness, and God has predetermined what role it plays in ordered happiness.”
Each person’s ultimate happiness is found in God, Gondreau said. “It can never fully be found in some bodily or earthly good. No created good can fulfill the human heart’s deepest yearnings, only God can. We are made for a good that is without limit, that is infinite, so our enjoyment of created goods are only good when they serve as a stepping stone to God.”
He added: “Sexual pleasure is good, but it’s not the chief good that sex aims at. It’s procreation and unitive love. Pleasure is subordinated to that.”
In follow up questions, Gondreau said he believed the homosexual agenda is about “the abolition of marriage altogether” and that activists outright admit it. “It’s about throwing off boundaries, limits; it’s a view of being human as autonomous, and therefore God, nature and Church are rivals to my autonomy.”
And yet, he said, God and nature are not rivals, but rather “safeguards and means to human flourishing.” The Church, keen to avoid “shortchanging our biological hardwiring,” may lead to some people thinking that the Church has an “obsession” with the mechanics of procreation, Gondreau observed, but that’s only because she “refuses to shortchange the procreative ordering of our sexuality.”
Conveying this teaching on “body-soul unity” is a “hard sell” in a society that views sex “first and foremost as an affair of personal desire of the ‘self,'” he admitted, and it needs to be done carefully and sensitively, not condemning the sinner, but the sin.
This article appeared in Zenit, 23 May 2013.
National Catholic Register, 23 May 2013.
VATICAN CITY — A handful of Vatican officials and even a cardinal have recently voiced opinions that appear to be supportive of civil unions between people of the same sex, despite the Church’s teaching being clearly against homosexuality and cohabitation/pre-marital sexual relations.
The majority of statements have been quickly repudiated by the archbishops in question, who have argued that their comments have been misinterpreted, but the Church’s opponents have capitalized on the confusion.
On April 8, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, reportedly told an audience in London that same-sex relationships should be respected and recognized in law.
“There can be same-sex partnerships, and they need respect and even civil-law protection,” he was reported as saying. But he asked that it be kept “away from the notion of marriage” because the definition of marriage “is the stable union between a man and a woman open to life.”
The cardinal’s office later stressed he was not in any way endorsing homosexual civil unions. “The cardinal sees the need to give thought to the question of pastoral care for people living in irregular situations — to truly apply, not to rethink, what the Church has to say about a life in Christ,” his spokesman, Michael Prueller, told the Register May 15.
At a Vatican press conference in February, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, called for “greater efforts to ensure legal protection and inheritance rights for people who are living together but not married,” and he said that “legal means must be found to guarantee rights and regulate inheritance.”
“But do not call it marriage,” the archbishop said, according to a CNS article.
He said if a country “outlawed homosexuality, I would work to overturn it,” adding that he believed there are still “20 or 25 countries that define homosexuality as a crime.”
Archbishop Paglia later said he was surprised by reports saying he was supportive of civil unions for homosexual couples, adding that his comments were “derailed.” He argued that he was calling for individual rights to be protected using existing legal systems and not giving “approval of certain possibilities.”
However, by that time, the misinterpretation had been widely circulated, and same-sex rights groups exploited the confusion to their own advantage.
In 2011, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, told reporters at a press conference that civil partnerships, the U.K. name for civil unions, “actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision.” But like Cardinal Schönborn, he stressed that that is not the same as marriage and insisted it was not for the state to change the institution of marriage.
More recently, Archbishop Piero Marini, who served for 18 years as Pope John Paul II’s liturgical master of ceremonies, said in a published report that the Church should recognize civil unions for people of the same sex.
Arguing that the Church and state should not be enemies of one another, he said: “In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized. What can’t be recognized is that this [union] is equivalent to marriage.”
Swiss theologian Father Martin Rhonheimer stated last month, in an interview with Catholic News Agency, that same-sex unions and those who promote them discriminate against married heterosexual couples.
“Besides containing an erroneous moral message,” said Father Rhonheimer, who teaches political philosophy and ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, “it actually means to objectively discriminate against married people, who intentionally have engaged in a union ordered towards the task of the transmission of human life, accepting all the burdens and responsibilities of this task.”
“Conferring legal equality to same-sex unions signifies to publicly establish, in the law system, the principle of dissociation of sexuality and procreation,” he added.
When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared to favor civil unions as a kind of lesser of two evils. However, a confidant had said he would never have supported civil unions for homosexual couples: “He certainly would have referred to unions of convenience, but not that anything be legalized,” said Miguel Woites, a personal friend of the Pope. He was fiercely opposed to same-sex “marriage” legislation and has not spoken on the issue of civil unions as Pope.
The Vatican declined to comment on the issue when contacted by the Register.
The Church’s teaching on civil unions for homosexual couples is clear.
In a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” the Vatican said, “Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”
The document, authored by the future Pope Benedict XVI, prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, added: “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”
The Vatican further stressed that “one must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.”
In an address in 2006, Benedict XVI said: “It is a serious error to obscure the value and roles of the legitimate family founded on marriage by attributing legal recognition to other improper forms of union for which there is really no effective social need.”
In comments to the Register, Father Antonio Porras, professor of moral theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, stressed that the comments favoring civil unions by a few Church leaders are opinions and can’t be placed “on the same level as a note from the CDF.”
He referred to Familiaris Consortio, Blessed John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation on the role of the family in the modern world, which examined the different contexts of civil unions, but only considered those between a man and a woman. The document argues there is not a unique response within the truth about marriage and family.
Church leaders with a high level of responsibility need to be “more prudent” in their statements, Father Porras said. He added that the Church must be sensitive to the concerns of homosexuals, as she has concern for all people (he referred to the CDF’s 1986 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”). But he stressed that such concern “doesn’t mean to call good what is evil and what harms them.”
“The Church’s concern for them is shown by the way she realizes the difficulties they face in their Christian lives and helps them to live their circumstances in the life of Christ,” he said. The Church’s mission is to bring the means of salvation through Christ to all people, he added, and that is why “she calls attention to those behaviors that cannot be compatible with a Christian life.”
“But all this doesn’t mean that the Church close her doors to people who commit these sins,” he continued. “The pastoral activity of the Church is to try to help people avoid all the circumstances that separate them from the life Christ gained for us on the cross.”
Catholic politicians defending traditional marriage on the frontline of European politics have been disheartened by the bishops’ remarks.
Luca Volontè, president of the European Peoples’ Party in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, told that Register he didn’t want his comments to be inferred as a criticism of any particular Church figure, but he said he had “no idea why certain personalities within the Church make contributions to the current debate on the family that can at best be described as ‘unhelpful.’”
Volontè, who is also chairman of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute, added: “It is already difficult enough to hold an international coalition together to support the traditional family without these interventions from figures of authority that give every impression of speaking in the name of the Catholic Church. The fate of Christian Europe rises or falls with the strength of the traditional family — our ideological enemies know this very well — and that’s why they are repeatedly attacking it. With this in mind, now is not the moment for self-inflicted defeats.”
Asked how the Church could remain sensitive to people with same-sex attraction while upholding Church teaching on this issue, Father Porras said it’s important to know what the proponents of same-sex unions propose and what they mean by “marriage.” He would like to have them answer questions such as: “What is marriage? Why is it necessary? Why put limits on it? What are we protecting with rules about human love?”
In the context of their answers to these questions, it could then be explained why the Church has a coherent doctrine on marriage and why the truth of marriage can’t be changed because it preserves the rights and duties of spouses and their possible children and is geared towards their fulfillment and the good of society.
This is especially urgent as it becomes increasingly clear from recent interviews and statements that many homosexual activists are not interested in preserving marriage and the family, but, rather, focused on destroying them.
Said Father Rhonheimer, “Any attempt of proving the equality, in social and political terms, of heterosexual and homosexual unions is vain, simply because homosexual unions are by their very nature non-procreative.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent. CNA contributed to this report.