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What was there to debate at Providence?

September 24, 2013

About Drs. John Corvino and Dana Dillon, and about Providence College, I know next to nothing, and so can say next to nothing; about the ‘gay marriage’ debate—or at least about some Catholic principles applicable to the ‘gay marriage’ debate—I know something and so can say something.

Inviting a speaker to a college campus to address a volatile issue and offering (if belatedly) to provide a rebuttal speaker, but then cancelling the whole event apparently because management doesn’t like the views to be expressed by the original speaker, is the stuff of which higher education public relations disasters are made. But while Providence College works through its image problems (and, given the institutional identification with the Catholic Church, while the Church faces yet another PR mess not of her own making), it might help to step back and ask, what exactly was to be debated at the Providence ‘gay marriage’ debate in the first place?

Considering her age (+2,000 years), her membership (+1,000,000,000), and her range of concerns (eternal salvation and human civilization), the Catholic Church has a remarkably short list of non-negotiable assertions. Some of these non-negotiable assertions deal with dogma (e.g., Jesus is divine and human, or, there are exactly seven sacraments) and some of these non-negotiable assertions deal with doctrines (e.g., the Church has no power to ordain women to priesthood, or Thomas More is a saint) but in both cases, the assertion being made is, Catholics hold, being made with infallible certainty.

Now, among the assertions made by the Church with infallible certainty, I have argued, is this one: God made marriage to exist between one man and one woman. Catholics could debate, say, whether this assertion is a dogma to be believed or a doctrine to be held, or whether the assertion is knowable by reason alone or requires the gift of faith. Catholics could even debate whether civil unions of one sort or another between two persons of the same sex are good for society or bad. But Catholics cannot, I suggest, argue whether true marriage exists only between one man and one woman. To debate whether marriage can exist between two persons of the same sex is to imply that some Catholic non-negotiables can be negotiated by Catholics.

No wonder an event purporting to do exactly that ran aground. Little wonder that the attempt to explain away the shipwreck on grounds of, say, the 2004 USCCB statement or the lack of prep time afforded one participant, rings so badly. Neither of those considerations gets at the heart of the matter: Catholics cannot hold marriage to be other than the union of one man and one woman. + + +

Update, 27 Sep 2013: This seems a sounder idea.

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