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A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

March 27, 2013

No matter which way the US Supreme Court rules in the “gay marriage” cases before it the international debate over the definition of marriage will continue because that debate is, at root, about matters beyond a civil court’s competence, things like the nature of human beings and the fundamental good of society. Because we Catholics are and will surely remain major participants in such a debate we should be clear among ourselves as to what our Church teaches in this area. I offer as a primer (I stress, primer) toward such better understanding my position on the following points.

1. The Catholic Church teaches, through its ordinary magisterium and with infallible certainty, that marriage exists only between one man and one woman. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) passim; CCC 1601-1608; CCEO (1990) 776; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1; Rite of Marriage (1969) n. 2; Vatican II, Gaudium et spes (1965) 48; Pius XI, Casti connubii (1930) 6, 20, 23; Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880) 5, 24; Matthew XIX: 4-6; and Genesis II: 21-24. There is no evidence of ecclesiastical authority ever supporting any other definition of marriage.

1. Note. It is possible that this teaching is proposed as an object of belief (credenda, per Canon 750 § 1, doubt or denial of which assertion would be heresy under Canon 751 and thus sanctionable under Canon 1364 § 1); at a minimum, however, the Church proposes the man-woman assertion as necessarily to be held (tenenda) in order “to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith” (Canon 750 § 2), rendering those who “obstinately reject” the assertion liable to “a just penalty” if, having been duly admonished, they refuse to retract (Canon 1371, 2º).

2. The Catholic Church has the right and duty “always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.” 1983 CIC 747 § 2; CCC 2246.

3. Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1369 for gravely injuring good morals.

3. Note. The situation of Catholic politicians lending support to “same-sex marriage” is to be assessed as above, with special attention being paid to the heightened responsibility that civil servants have to protect the common good. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) 10; CCC 2235-2237, 2244; 1983 CIC 1326 § 1, 2.

4. The Catholic Church would regard any attempt by persons of the same sex to marry, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, as null. CCC 1603; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.

5. Catholics who attempt a “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1379 for simulation of a sacrament. Moreover, Catholics who assist others toward attempting a “same-sex marriage” cooperate in the bad act of those others, which cooperation is liable to moral assessment in accord with the usual principles applicable to cooperation with evil and, under certain facts, according to the canonical principles applying to cooperation in crime per Canon 1329 and/or scandal per Canon 1339 § 2, etc.

5. Note. Catholics who have attempted a “same-sex marriage” or who have assisted another toward a “same-sex marriage” can be reconciled morally under the usual conditions by sacramental Confession (Canon 959) or by a ‘perfect act of contrition’ per CCC 1452; they can be reconciled canonically, if necessary, in accord with applicable law.

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Additum: Scholion on the phrase “homosexual unions” as envisioned in CDF’s “Considerations” (2003).

Some are wondering whether the 2003 CDF document requires Catholic opposition to any civil attempt to accord same-sex couples, qua couples, any, let alone many, of the rights of married couples. I think the CDF document does not make such a demand on Catholic consciences.

Consider: having thoroughly and completely and correctly rejected the claim that same-sex couples can marry, the CDF document, to underscore, I suggest, its rejection of that claim,  would not even countenance use of the phrase “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage” or “homosexual marriage”, and instead referred exclusively to “homosexual unions”. Now, however, a decade further into this debate, the distinction between “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual marriage” and “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual unions” is more commonly recognized, with the latter category (“unions”), insofar as it limits itself to civil consequences for certain living arrangements and does not attempt to redefine marriage itself, being a possibility to be assessed in accord with prudence, while the former category (“marriage”) is, as a matter of principle, to be universally and indeed vigorously rejected.

In short, notwithstanding the 2003 CDF language, civilly sanctioned “homosexual unions”, as that term is understood today, might or might not be objectionable depending on the terms of such recognition, but civilly sanctioned “homosexual marriage” can never be supported by Catholics in good conscience.

Salvo sapientiorum iudicio.

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