Skip to content

Does a ‘decent interval’ suffice to rehabiliate what is (allegedly) wrong?

November 23, 2014

Matthew Schmitz of First Things has offered some brief rebuttals to opponents of the Marriage Pledge. As probably the Pledge’s primary public critic (perhaps I exaggerate my influence), I see my objections to the Pledge (beginning here) only partially addressed by Schmitz and in one aspect, at least, Schmitz raises a straw-man objection to Pledge opponents’ views. Let’s deal with that first.

Schmitz dismisses any objections to the Pledge that he considers based on “clericalism”. Granted some are making a “clericalism” argument against the Pledge, but I am not: the term means too many things to too many people to be of practical use here. Still, Schmitz regards as “clericalism” any objections to the Pledge based on the hypocrisy that (I and others argue) it countenances when advising ministers to refuse to sign State marriage registrations forms to certify marriages to the State but allowing rank-and-file believers to sign those forms to certify marriages to the State. Now, if Schmitz wants to deny that such a call is hypocritical, fine, let him deny it, and the argument can proceed; but it is not sufficient for him to label such objections as mere “clericalism” and then dismiss said clericalism as being the ‘silliest of the silly’ objections, and as ‘amusing’ to boot, and so not worth refuting.

The one new twist I see in Schmitz’s defense of the Pledge is that all it really calls for is a kind of ‘decent interval’ between the religious wedding rite and the civil registration of the marriage as if, you know, allowing a few hours (or days? weeks? months? years?) to pass suffices to proof religious rites against contamination by certain states’ disastrous notion of marriage. Sorry, but a form still means what a form still says and if (I say if) it is inappropriate for a minister to sign it because doing so endorses “same-sex marriage” (or is in any other way an evil act) then it is inappropriate for the faithful to sign it for exactly the same reason. As for the myriad of practical and legal problems that will arise as soon as people begin allowing Schmitz’s ‘decent interval’ to morph into extended gaps between religious wedding rites and civil recognition of marriage, well, let’s just say, Schmitz is probably not a lawyer.

More fundamentally, however, Schmitz et al do not address—and indeed seem not even to be aware of!—some serious questions that the Pledge provokes for (a) ecumenical relations, important in themselves, but vital when considered in light of (b) understanding the nature and defending the doctrine of marriage. I have raised this concern before, but maybe a practical question might help Protestant ministers considering signing the Marriage Pledge: a couple comes into your pastorate, claims to be married, and presents a civil document for a j.o.p. wedding (from a state that uses those same forms to certify “same-sex marriage”). Do you recognize them as married, or not? Note, we Catholics would certainly recognize as married Protestants (and Jews, and Hindus, and Muslims, etc.) who come to our parishes and present only a signed j.o.p. license (even from a state that recognizes “same-sex marriage”) precisely because we regard the marriage contract and the matrimonial sacrament as inseparable (Canon 1055.2)! Is it not obvious that the Pledge inescapably involves understanding clearly what marriage is under natural law, and according to Christian doctrine, and as acknowledged between separated brethren? Schmitz et al seem unaware of these prior concerns.

Instead of alluding to these questions, all Schmitz seems to be able to muster is an invocation of the estimable Catholic thinkers George Weigel and Abp. Charles Chaput with a jibe to (Catholic?) Pledge opponents about whether they know what these men hold. Well, I can’t speak for other Pledge opponents, but this Catholic opponent of the Pledge certainly knows what these two prominent voices (along with that of Msgr Charles Pope) have urged, and I have directly and expressly responded to Weigel in 2012 herePope in 2013 here, and Chaput in 2014 here .

Maybe Schmitz did not know that. + + +

Update: A chronology of (mostly) my comments on ecclesiastical cooperation with civil marriage.

From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: