Paprocki and Danneels, one side of the same-sex marriage coin

“Paprocki said he could accept some legal protections for same-sex couples, but that same-sex marriage is “inimical to the common good” and civil unions often are marriage masquerading under another name.”

“It is a good thing for states to regulate relations between people of the same sex, but for the Church that is not true marriage, between man and woman. So you must add a new word to the dictionary. But the fact that it is legal […] is not something that the Church can say anything about.”

paprockiTwo quotes from two different sources. In recent days, one has generally been hailed as brave and Catholic, the other as in defiance to what the Church teaches and pandering to society’s whims. The first quote is from Michael Clancy in the National Catholic Reporter, describing a comment made by Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield (pictured at left) in a debate about same-sex marriage, the other from Godfried Cardinal Danneels (pictured below) in an interview for De Tijd. Bishop Paprocki is generally much appreciated in orthodox Catholic circles, and rightly so, while Cardinal Danneels is not, and often just as rightly so. But in this case, it appears as if the same thoughts and comments are treated differently, solely based upon who uttered them.

The issue of same-sex marriage is a thorny one, as it involves two different schools of thought on what marriage is, the secular and the religious. Add to that the often emotional and personal involvement of many different people, and you have what appears to be a recipe for disaster. The former point is clear, for example, in Bishop Paprocki’s distinction between civil unions and marriage: that is a distinction the Church generally upholds, also for marriage between a man and woman, who don’t actually get married in the civil ceremony. That is another type of union, a profoundly secular one.  And can the Church exert any influence on that, as Cardinal Danneels asks? He clearly says she can’t, whereas Bishop Paprocki considers it harmful to the common good, and so already says something about it. The Church can’t order the state on what to do, that much is true, but she can, indeed she must, remain vocal about what is and is not allowed in a state. That is a direct consequence of the Church having and upholding a set of morals. So if we read Cardinal Danneels’ comment as a statement against the Church saying anything about same-sex marriage, we are mistaken. And if Cardinal Danneels meant to say that, he is equally mistaken.

danneelsBalancing the Church’s opposition to a changed definition of marriage is the fact that she is called to defend the dignity of all humans, regardless of sex, creed, race, language or sexual orientation. In that context, the Church must welcome legal protection and benefits for persons with same-sex attraction, just as she must for others. If a state chooses to recognise the fact that two persons of the same sex have formed a union and therefore have the right to legal protection and recognition, the Church can’t do anything but support that. That is not the same as recognising the morality of that union, but merely a recognition that the union exists and that it involves two people with their innate human dignity. But a union between people, be they friends, family, of the same sex or different sexes, is not automatically marriage.

Marriage in the original Christian definition, is not only about a union between two people. There are other factors which combined make a union a marriage: the free decision to enter into it, for example, but also, and this is the one that caps the union both parties entered into, the openness to new life. If one of those, or other, factors are not present, there can be no marriage. It is a union, but not a marriage.

All the above, the facts on the ground, the dignity of all human beings and the morality of actions, do not change the Church’s teaching about same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general. In fact, they are all enveloped by this teaching. No one, in or outside the Church, can arbitrarily change the definition of marriage. But that fact should never be understood as discriminatory towards certain people, or as a reason to look down upon or exclude them. Their human dignity means that we are not allowed to do so. We must found a middle way between impossibility and rights, between facts and desires.

So, no, we can’t call a union between two persons of the same sex a marriage, as its very nature prevents it from fulfilling what marriage calls for: the openness to life. But neither can we bar people with same-sex attraction from the legal rights and protections enjoyed by other persons. So, as both Bishop Paprocki and Cardinal Danneels have stated, the Church can support a state’s legal regulation and protection of same-sex unions, but she can’t change what marriage is, can’t support the state doing that, and nor should she be forced to pretend to.

And in closing, let’s not muddle the issue, which is sensitive and difficult enough, with our thoughts about who said what. Even people we don’t often agree with can be correct.