Sunday, April 28, 2013

Reflections on the Gospel Reading of the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cycle C)

By Bill Hunt

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cycle C):
1. Acts of the Apostles 14:21-27
Psalm 145: 8-9, 10-11, 12-13 Response: "I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God."
2. Revelation 21:1-5a
3. John 13:31-33a, 34-35

John the Evangelist casts Jesus' last supper discourse in the form of a symposium. This was the last part of a banquet in which the guests drank wine and carried on a discussion initiated by the host or the principal guest. The liturgy of the Easter season adopts some elements of this practice that was common in the ancient Greek-speaking world. It is as though newly baptized Christians were reclining at table with the risen Lord and listening to his words. Along these lines, the readings for the Easter season can be seen as a mystagogic catechesis, a further interpretation of the Christian mysteries of initiation that broadens and deepens the baptismal catechesis of the Lenten readings.

Two Gifts

This Sunday's reading stands at the beginning of Jesus' last supper discourse. Jesus’ first gift was an example to follow. As we heard in the gospel reading for Holy Thursday, after washing the disciples feet Jesus says: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 15)

Immediately after Judas leaves the light of Jesus’ presence for the night of betrayal and just before the prediction of Peter's denial, Jesus gives his disciples a second gift - a new commandment: "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."

The settings for the two gifts are very similar. Throughout chapter 13 of his Gospel, John contrasts the love of Jesus for his disciples with his foreknowledge of the same disciples’ failings, especially the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter. Both accounts contain a dialog between Jesus and Peter; both accounts mention Judas’ impending betrayal; and both accounts have sacramental overtones – Baptism for the footwashing and Eucharist for the commandment of love.

There are few things more historically certain about Jesus than that he proclaimed a message of love. However, it was a many-faceted teaching, and each of the four gospel writers stress aspects that have particular meaning for their readers. This Sunday we ask: How did John's readers understand the commandment to love, and what message is there for us who live in radically different circumstances?

The Setting

John the Evangelist was writing for a minority within a minority. Around the year 100 adherents of the religion of Israel made up about 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. The first members of the Jesus movement comprised a minority among Israelites, along with groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. These earliest Christians did not see themselves as distinct from the People of Israel. For them the Christian Way was not a rejection of the religion of Israel but the next step in its long development. They tried to convince their co-religionists that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

This endeavor ended mostly in failure. Only a handful of Israelites joined the Jesus movement. After the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 most of the Israelites followed the leadership of the Pharisee movement. Toward the end of the century when John's Gospel was written, Christians and Jews as we know them today were emerging with separate identities.

Relationships seem to have become increasingly hostile. This made things very difficult for the Christian Jews of John's community. Not only did other Jews shun them, but also, to the extent that public officials acknowledged the verdict of exclusion, they lost the protection Jews had under Roman law. Jews were considered to be part of a "legitimate religion" and not required to offer sacrifices to the genius of the emperor. If Christians were no longer considered a movement within Judaism, they could be denounced at any time as members of a forbidden religion and forced to offer sacrifice under pain of death.

It appears that actual persecutions were relatively rare, but in their situation of double jeopardy it was vitally necessary for Christians to join together with a special kind of love. They had to sacrifice their own interests and even their lives for the survival of the community. In this context Jesus' command to love one another as he had loved his disciples spoke to their lived experience. In the face of common enemies who were a threat to their very existence as a community, they needed to set aside differences and to demonstrate their love for each other by action. Love between and among the disciples of Jesus became the first order of business.

Deep but Narrow and New

It should be noted that this love was deep but narrow. It was deep in the sense that it participated in the mutual love between Jesus and the Father. Toward the end of the Last Supper Discourse, John’s Jesus prays: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . .” (17.21) A few verses later Jesus declares that he will make his “Righteous Father” known to his disciples “so that the love with which you [Father] have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (17.26) “According to John’s theology, this mutual love participates in the love flowing between the Father and the Son and between the Son and individual believers. . . Mutual love is grounded in mutual indwelling.” (Meier 2009, 563)

This love commandment is narrow in the sense that it only applies to Jesus’ loyal disciples. (At this point in John’s Gospel, Judas has left the light of the table and gone into the night.) By extension it applies to the members of the Evangelist’s community, but it does not extend to “the world” in the sense of Israelites who have rejected Jesus or the wider world of all humanity.

To some extent this kind of love can be found in any persecuted community that has managed to retain its identity. However, it was new in the sense that it was a response to the spontaneous and gratuitous love of God that forms the basis of the new covenant in Jesus. In the words of John J. Pilch, "the 'newness' of Jesus' commandment is implied in the themes that are woven throughout the farewell address: intimacy, indwelling, mutual knowledge. These are the themes that characterize a covenant, in this case, the 'new' covenant struck at the Last Supper." (Pilch 1997, 81)

Three Challenges

What meaning does this new commandment of love have for us affluent American Christians who are not persecuted but part of the cultural majority in our society? How do we apply the words of Jesus to our situation? I think today's gospel reading challenges us in three ways.

First of all, it challenges us to love in a very concrete way those Christians with whom we live day-by-day – other parishioners, our leaders, and Christians of other denominations. The love commandment should affect the way we treat divisions within the Church such as those between laity and hierarchy, conservatives and progressives, fundamentalists and critical believers, etc. As we have seen in this and other passages from John’s Gospel, the bar of love is very high. We have to ask ourselves if we would be willing to die for our Christian counterparts in conflict.

Second, it challenges the scope of our love for fellow Christians. In this age of globalization and instant communication the gospel words of Jesus challenge us to love our Christian sisters and brothers throughout the world in a new and more catholic way. For example, we might ask ourselves how we can express our love for Christians living in countries where religious extremists are using violence to impose religiously based rule. How do we live in solidarity with the Christians of India, who make up less than three percent of India's total population, especially those who are currently subject to persecution? How do we demonstrate our attachment to the indigenous Christian community of Jerusalem, Israel, and occupied Palestine that is rapidly vanishing after decades of legally sanctioned discrimination and denial of civil liberties? How reliable are we in coming to the aid of persecuted Christians in Sudan and Nigeria or the tiny Christian Community of Iraq, devastated after decades of conflict?

Third, the words of Jesus about his new commandment of love should challenge American Christians to look at other reflections of Jesus' teaching about love in the gospel tradition. True, we are called to love one another in a new way, but that is not the whole story. Even in John's Gospel Jesus speaks of God's love for the world as the reason for giving his only Son. (John 3.16) If God loves the world that is outside the circle of Christian believers, why shouldn't we?

Matthew presents Jesus' many faceted teaching on love in a different form. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." (Matthew 5.44-45) In Luke's Gospel Jesus praises the lawyer who sees love of God and love of neighbor as the way to eternal life. Then, with the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes it clear that we are to make ourselves neighbors to others by showing mercy. (Luke 10.25-37)

Thus, when we reflect on the entire teaching of Jesus about love, God challenges us to love not only other Christians but also all human beings. It is not a question of "either/or" but of "both/and." The love of those who share Baptism and Eucharist with us can transform us into a functional family in which the members care for and support each other. That same love can empower us, precisely as a local Christian community, to open our hearts to everyone in need.

William Coughlin Hunt is a witness of the Second Vatican Council, having attended the sessions of the second period (1963) as a peritus (theological expert). He holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America. For ten years he taught a graduate theology course entitled “Christian Perspectives on Biomedical and Sexual Ethics.”


In preparing these remarks the following works were consulted in addition to the biblical texts:

Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi), Volume 29A of the Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970), pp. 605-616.

James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword. The Church and the Jews, A History (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), pp. 71-88.

Reginald H. Fuller, Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville [MN]: Liturgical Press, 1984), pp. 432-435.

Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), pp. 226-228.

John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume Four: Law and Love (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), Chapter 36, “Widening the Focus: The Love Commandments of Jesus,” pp. 478-576, especially section V. “The Love Commandment in the Johannine Tradition,” pp. 558-572.

Joan Mitchell, CSJ, Sunday by Sunday, 5th Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2004, Vol. 13, No. 36, pp. 1-3.

Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B., The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina Series, Volume 4, A Michael Glazier Book (Collegeville [MN]: Liturgical Press1998), pp. 381-391.

John J. Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C . A Liturgical Press Book (Collegeville [MN]: Liturgical Press, 1997), pp. 79-81.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

MN Catholic Bishops Oppose Anti-Bullying Legislation

Note: The following has been adapted from a media release from the Minnesota Safe Schools for All Coalition.

Recently, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis called on Catholic educators and parents to contact their legislators and urge them to oppose anti-bullying legislation known as the Safe & Supportive Minnesota Schools Act (HF 826/SF 783). This legislation will ensure that all schools have clear, strong policies against bullying, as well as the training and resources needed to keep kids safe. The bill enumerates protections for students who are most likely to be targeted based on certain characteristics like disability, national origin, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. The requirements in the bill would apply to Minnesota students in both public and private schools.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference wants private religious schools to be exempt from the requirements in the bill. To read more about the MCC's rationale for opposing the Safe & Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, click here.

Legislators are already receiving calls from constituents who oppose the bill. We need to make sure that they hear from supporters of the bill as soon as possible. Click here for background on the bill and talking points that have been compiled by the Minnesota Safe Schools for All Coalition.

Please take a moment to call or email your legislators and urge them to support the Safe & Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. If you’re not sure who represents you, find out by clicking here.

In-person visits at the Capitol or in your district are even more helpful and strategic. If you’re willing to meet with your legislators in person, please contact OutFront MN's Associate Policy Director, Nicque Mabrey at or 763-291-0261. She can help set up the appointment for you and answer any questions you have about the bill.

Parents, educators, and people of faith are especially encouraged to meet with your legislators to share why this issue matters to you.

Minnesota currently has the weakest anti-bullying law in the nation. The Safe & Supportive Minnesota Schools Act will change that. But it’s important to act now. All students deserve an education that is safe and equitable, whether they go to a public or private school.

Please make it a priority to contact your legislators and share with them your experiences, values, and perspectives when it comes to school safety for all.

Related Off-site Link:
GSAs and the Catholic High School Setting – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, February 6, 2013).

On Being Catholic

By Gary Gutting

Note: This article was first published March 30, 2013 by The New York Times.

An old friend and mentor of mine, Ernan McMullin, was a philosopher of science widely respected in his discipline. He was also a Catholic priest. I don’t know how many times fellow philosophers at professional meetings drew me aside and asked, “Does Ernan really believe that stuff?” (He did.) Amid all the serious and generally respectful coverage of the papal resignation and the election of a new pope, I often detect an undertone of this same puzzlement. Can reflective and honest intellectuals actually believe that stuff?

Here I sketch my reasons for answering “yes.” What I offer is neither apologetics aimed at converting others nor merely personal testimony. Without claiming to speak for others, I try to articulate a position that I expect many fellow Catholics will find congenial and that non-Catholics (even those who reject all religion) may recognize as an intellectually respectable stance. Easter is the traditional time for Christians to reaffirm their faith. I want to show that we can do this without renouncing reason.

Toward the end of James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, rejects the Roman Catholic faith he was raised in. A friend suggests that he might, then, become a Protestant. Stephen replies, “I said that I had lost the faith . . . but not that I had lost self-respect.” Factoring out the insult to Protestants, I would like to appropriate this Joycean mot to explain my own continuing attachment to the Catholic Church.

I read “self-respect” as respect for what are (to borrow the title of the philosopher Charles Taylor’s great book) the “sources of the self.” These are the sources nurturing the values that define an individual’s life. For me, there are two such sources. One is the Enlightenment, where I’m particularly inspired by Voltaire, Hume and the founders of the American republic. The other is the Catholic Church, in which I was baptized as an infant, raised by Catholic parents, and educated for 8 years of elementary school by Ursuline nuns and for 12 more years by Jesuits. For me to deny either of these sources would be to deny something central to my moral being.

The Enlightenment and the Catholic Church? Yes, that needs some explaining. But first let me explain my attachment to Catholicism. My Catholic education has left me with three deep convictions. First, it is utterly important to know, to the extent that we can, the fundamental truth about human life: where it came from, what (if anything) it is meant for, how it should be lived. Second, this truth can in principle be supported and defended by human reason. Third, the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition is a fruitful context for pursuing fundamental truth, but only if it is combined with the best available secular thought. (The Jesuits I studied with were particularly strong on all three of these claims.)

Careful readers will note that these three convictions do not include the belief that the specific teachings of the Catholic Church provide the fundamental truths of human life. What I do believe is that these teachings are very helpful for understanding the human condition. Here I distinguish three domains: metaphysical doctrines about the existence and nature of God, historical accounts from the Bible of how God has intervened in human history to reveal his truth and the ethics of love preached by Jesus.

The ethics of love I revere as the inspiration for so many (Catholics and others) who have led exemplary moral lives. I don’t say that this ethics is the only exemplary way to live or that we have anything near to an adequate understanding of it. But I know that it has been a powerful force for good. (Like so many Catholics, I do not see how the hierarchy’s rigid strictures on sex and marriage could follow from the ethics of love.) As to the theistic metaphysics, I’m agnostic about it taken literally, but see it as a superb intellectual construction that provides a fruitful context for understanding how our religious and moral experiences are tied to the ethics of love. The historical stories, I maintain, are best taken as parables illustrating moral and metaphysical teachings.

Traditional apologetics has started with metaphysical arguments for God’s existence, then argued from the action of God in the world to the truth of the Church’s teachings as revealed by God and finally justified the ethics of love by appealing to these teachings. I reverse this order, putting first the ethics of love as a teaching that directly captivates our moral sensibility, then taking the history and metaphysics as helpful elucidations of the ethics.

Of course, I can already hear the obvious objection: “What you believe isn’t Catholicism — it is a diluted concoction that might satisfy ultra-liberal Protestants or Unitarians, but is nothing like the robust tonic of orthodox Catholic doctrine. It’s not surprising that so paltry a ‘faith’ doesn’t conflict with the Enlightenment view of religion.” My answer is that Catholicism too has reconciled itself to the Enlightenment view of religion.

First, the Church now explicitly acknowledges the right of an individual’s conscience in religious matters: No one may “be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing a decree from the Second Vatican Council). The official view still maintains that a conscience that rejects the hierarchy’s formal teaching is objectively in error. But it acknowledges that subjectively individuals not only may but should act on their sincere beliefs.

Second, the Church, in practice, hardly ever excludes from its community those who identity themselves as Catholics but reinterpret central teachings (and perhaps reject less central ones). The “faithful” who attend Mass, receive the sacraments, send their children to Catholic schools and sometimes even teach theology include many who hold views similar to mine. Church leaders have in effect agreed that the right to follow one’s conscience includes the right of dissident Catholics to remain members of the Church. They implicitly recognize the absurdity of the claim that a dissident who has been raised and educated in the Catholic Church and has maintained, with the Church’s implicit consent, a lifetime involvement in its life is not “really” a Catholic.

Those who think of themselves as the conservative “core” of the Church maintain that the faith of such “liberal” Catholics is nonetheless seriously defective because it deviates significantly from the hierarchy’s authoritative views. But liberal Catholics like Hans Küng argue that the conservative view itself is defective. Conservatives appeal to the authority of the hierarchy to justify their position, but this appeal is circular, since the nature of hierarchical authority is part of what liberals contest. And Küng and other liberals plausibly argue that the early Church’s structure was closer to the more democratic arrangements they favor than to the monarchist model of the Middle Ages.

The reasonable description of this situation is that there is deep disagreement within the Church about how its core doctrines, including those about the hierarchy’s authority, should be understood. With the Second Vatican Council, the hierarchy began a move toward the liberal position, which the successors of John XXIII have tried to reverse. But history shows that Catholics play in a very long game, and there is no reason to give up hope for a new blossoming of the liberal buds.

Critics outside the Church will ask how I adhere to an institution that has so many deep flaws. My first response is that the Catholic tradition of thought and practice is the only stance toward religion that, in William James’s phrase, is a “live option” for me — the only place I feel at home. Simply to renounce it would be, as I said at the outset, to lose my self-respect — to deny part of my moral core.

My second response is that the liberal drive for reform is the best hope of saving the Church. Its greatest present danger is precisely the loss of the members whom the hierarchy and the rest of the conservative core want to marginalize. I’m not willing to abandon the Church to them.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author, most recently, of “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960,” and writes regularly for The Stone. He was recently interviewed in 3am magazine.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Reminder About Tomorrow's Event with Michael Crosby

Call To Action Minnesota
invites you to . . .

Out of the Ashes:
Birth of a New Community


Michael Crosby, ofm

WHEN: Saturday, April 6, 2013
Registration: 9:00 – 9:45 a.m.
Program: 9:45 a.m – 2:30 p.m.

WHERE: Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
511 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55403.
(For map and directions, click here)

COST: $35.00 (lunch included). After March 25, $40.
For information about scholarships, contact Sharon at 651-457-3249.
Checks to CTA-MN, PO Box 19406, Minneapolis, MN 55419.

An Apocalyptic Moment: Grieving the Old will be Michael's morning topic, while his afternoon topic will be Belonging to the Beloved Community of the Cosmic Christ.

Michael understands the Apocalypse as meaning "the end of an era that contains within it the seeds of something new and better."

The Church, as we have known it, is crumbling. The patriarchal, clerical, institutional model of Church, while alive and well for some, is dead for many more. It is a time of Apocalypse – when, out of the ashes, something new is being revealed. That revelation will fuel the building of a Church renewed. In the wake of a “restorationist” Church, we are Catholics grieving – grieving over the lost promise of Vatican II, especially in regard to church governance. We are Catholics “in exile”. We long for a church where all are welcome and where there is equality and collaboration among all its members. Some of us have left our parish “homes” where we were once nourished. We search in other places for open and joyful and participatory liturgy. Some have come together and formed intentional communities. Others have simply walked away.

There is perhaps no contemporary Catholic speaker and author better equipped than Michael Crosby to help us, through the eyes of faith, to see and understand the present crisis in the Church. Over a period of more than 30 years he has spoken brilliantly and prophetically about this Church that he loves.

Michael is a Capuchin Franciscan with degrees in economics and New Testament spirituality. He is the author of 18 books, including Spirituality of the Beatitudes, The Dysfunctional Church, Finding Francis, Following Christ and his most recent publication, Repair My House: Becoming a ‘Kindom’ Catholic. He has lectured at conferences all over the world and many of his talks are on CD’s and DVD’s. Since 1982, under the auspices of his order, he has worked in the area of socially responsible investments by religious orders.

For more information, including about scholarships,
call Sharon at 651-457-3249.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Waiting for Francis to Reform the Curia? He Already Has

By Eugene Cullen Kennedy

Note: This commentary was first published April 2, 2013 by the National Catholic Reporter.

While pundits and ecclesiastical junkies continue to speculate when and how Pope Francis will – or even if he can – reform the Roman Curia, he has already done it.

It has not been reported because the busy chroniclers of Vatican life are listening for the shuffling sounds that bureaucrats make as, like thoroughbreds pawing at the starting gate, they plan how to jockey into position, bumping other contenders if necessary, to finish in the money. Or at least to bet on the winner of the Kentucky Derby of Vatican preferment that is run whenever a new pope assumes office.

Careful observers can also hear the sounds of Vatican officials noisily aligning themselves, they hope, with the new pope’s theology. You can also hear them cleaning out their files, and practicing the look of innocent by-standers – unaware, as they stand through the long chill night ready to abandon their cardinal-protector should he not survive the first cut, that they are the closest they will ever be to St. Peter, with each prepared to re-enact the latter’s denial that he even knew his master.

Francis, however, aside from making the curial heads nervous by only reappointing them temporarily to their positions, has accomplished the reform of the bureaucracy of the church that is based, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, on “the ten primitive subdivisions of a tribe in early Rome,” later refined into “the ensemble of central administrative and governmental services in imperial Rome.”

The origin of the word “curia” describes the career clerics who have peopled the ecclesiastical offices: It comes from “co-vir” that means “men together,” and reveals the masculine dynamic that has infused the bureaucracy that is defined as “any administration in which the need to follow complex procedures impedes effective action.”

Wherever you find “men together” – writing the rules, as at exclusive golf or other men’s clubs, businesses, and lodges where they wear elaborate robes and funny hats -- women are kept completely outside if possible and when grudgingly admitted, to highly restricted areas or token status.

Does the howl you can hear from men, afraid that women will want to enter the locker room and see them as God does, resemble the last anguished cries from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Curia, who apparently fearing that real women would see them, or through them, free of their finery in their locker room, initiated investigations to force American women into submission again?

Men together in the Curia have bet everything on the centripetal forces of clericalism that forever seek the center and cluster around it as their hub of power. Playing their game at the center, where the doors to the locker room are sealed off like the Sistine Chapel during a conclave, means, as pundits speculate, that a reforming pope would have to take the cardinals and their congregations on one by one. That, however, resembles slaying a starfish by cutting it into pieces; you only end up with ten regenerating starfish.

So Francis has reformed the Curia and incidentally completed the Copernican Revolution in the church not by changing the cardinals, but by changing the center. He reveals himself as a Space/Information Age pope by choosing not to live as a monarch in a palace in the very center of what the Curia identifies as the still point in their universe of power. He had told the cardinals at their pre-conclave gatherings that the church had to move away from “theological narcissism” and focus its energies on the “peripheries.”

As Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently noted, “He speaks of the centrality of Christ to the Church’s efforts. But he often spoke [in his first week] of ‘the edges’ of things: The power of a good priest ‘overflows down to the edges.’

“He even spoke of the edge of Christ’s cloak,” she wrote, before quoting a papal tweet: “Being with Jesus means that we go out from ourselves, and from living a tired and habitual faith.”

Francis has reformed the Curia by taking away the center, by taking a step (noted by few observers) whose centrifugal effects on the church have already opened fissures in the earth beneath the feet of careerist clerics who worked all their lives to get to the center only to find out it isn’t there anymore.

The reform will come as professional clerics seek places of service and survival in a church that, under the new pope, finds that its Catholicism is waxing while its Romanism is waning. You may suddenly find cardinals, bishops and flocks of monsignors from the old center moving into hotels, taking the bus or washing the feet of prisoners and passersby.

Anything that may help them regain their balance in a church that has literally been sent into orbit by a pope who responds to the world of the powerless beyond Rome, rather than to the worldliness of the powerful inside Rome.

Eugene Cullen Kennedy is emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University, Chicago.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Francis Criticized Vatican at Conclave; Warned Bishops of the "Dangers of Stagnation"
Reflections on a New Face

Related Off-site Links:
The New Pope’s Real Target: Clericalism – Robert McClory (National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2013)
The Servant PopeThe Wild Reed (March 28, 2013).
Two Popes With Two Styles That Symbolize Real Differences – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, March 24, 2013).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Statement of Support for Proposed Marriage Equality Legislation in the MN House and Senate

By the Editorial Board
of The Progressive Catholic Voice

The Progressive Catholic Voice endorses Senate and House bills providing for same-gender civil marriage and urges their passage in the current legislative session. We are all for love, but we base our reasoning in support of legal recognition of same-sex marriage on the U.S. constitutional principles of freedom and equality. We urge Minnesota Senators and Representatives to honor their obligation to uphold equal protection of the law for all citizens even if their constituents are not making principled judgments in the matter. It is a hard demand of conscience, especially if the legislators fear they may lose the next election. On constitutional principles they must show their constituents the way of fairness. The ethics of citizenship and leadership in a constitutional democratic republic is not for the faint of heart.

How it works: Freedom should be restricted by law only when there are good reasons, reasons that can be generally accepted by all citizens. There are no good reasons to restrict the freedom of same-gender couples from forming sexual partnerships, living together in households, raising the biological children of each of the partners, or adopting children to be raised in the family. In Minnesota there are no laws preventing same-gender couples from making these life arrangements. According to the 2010 census, 1.76% to 4.01% of the households headed by couples in Minnesota are families headed by same-gender couples. So the legislators are obliged to see that the laws of Minnesota include them.

Minnesota laws governing marriage provide for obligations, rights, and benefits to stabilize family relations and, thereby, to stabilize the society as a whole. The principle of equality embodied in the 14th Amendment of the federal and state constitutions guarantees equal protection of the law. The civil laws of marriage protecting families headed by heterosexual couples should also protect families headed by homosexual couples unless there are good reasons, generally accepted by all citizens, to deny equal protection.

Do the teachings of a particular religion count as good reasons? There are numerous religions practiced by citizens of Minnesota. Some of these faith communities believe that homosexual sex is forbidden in their scriptures or their traditions; some believe that homosexual sex is natural and good and subject to the same moral considerations as heterosexual sex. In a religiously and culturally pluralistic society like ours, civil law-makers should avoid using the beliefs of one ethical group or even a majority ethical group to make laws for all citizens of differing beliefs. Law loses legitimacy if it cannot be bought into by a general consensus of the people.

We are grateful that we live in a state in which citizens who believe differently and conduct their lives according to different ethical codes can nevertheless live peacefully under a common set of laws that apply equally and reasonably to all. No one is obliged to marry a person of the same sex. But everyone is obliged to tolerate peacefully the life choices allowed by law to another.

Pragmatic reasons that affect the well-being of other citizens and the society as a whole are generally accepted by all citizens. The backers of Proposition 8 in California, opposing same-sex marriage, had an opportunity to be heard in the federal court, to bring all their good reasons why same-sex marriage will be detrimental to society, and the federal court held that they brought no evidence of any detriment.

When different groups of people are treated differently under the law, courts look to see if the groups are “similarly situated.” If they are, the law should be applied equally to them. If they are not similarly situated with regard to a particular law, there are sometimes good reasons to treat them differently. Are heterosexual couples and same-sex couples similarly situated in families to be stabilized by civil marriage laws? Several courts have held that they are, but this question has not been determined as yet by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents of same-sex marriage in Minnesota point to damage to children as a reason all people should accept for not allowing same-sex marriage. “All children need a mother and a father.” The argument is that since two women or two men are not ideal parents for children, marriage laws benefiting same-sex couples will encourage more same-sex couples to beget or adopt children to the future children’s detriment. This is a strange argument. There are no tests for the ideal man and woman for parenthood currently in civil laws of marriage for heterosexual couples, so there are no guarantees that children end up in ideal one man/one woman households. If the state’s interest is in preventing births to non-ideal parents, many more classes of people would have to be excluded from the right to marry. Existing children within families headed by same-gender couples will not be saved by disallowing marriage to their parents, and they will be benefited by allowing it. Is the marriage law to benefit hypothetical children to be raised in ideal one man/one woman households in the future or is it applicable to existing families here and now?

We think that legislators should take their oath to uphold the constitution very seriously to provide equal protection of the laws. And as Catholics we should encourage them to do so, since we have benefited from equal protection of the laws ourselves. The Protestant majority could have outlawed us on any number of fronts over the years if they had not had the restraint that respect for freedom and equality requires, and we don’t know if another faith group with different ethical codes from ours will be a majority in the future. Religious liberty works two ways.

If you want to read a clearly reasoned equal protection analysis, the unanimous opinion of the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009, Varnum v. Brien is for you. To read it, click here.

Paula Ruddy
Mary Beckfeld
Michael Bayly

Related Off-site Links:
At the Minnesota State Capitol, Two Big Steps Forward for Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, March 12, 2013).
"It'll Be Legal August 1st" – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, February 18, 2013).