It was one of the more uncomfortable moments in my life.
Outside of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Milwaukee, where I, as archbishop, was celebrating Sunday Mass on an otherwise magnificent Wisconsin autumn day, were a couple dozen very vocal protestors, representing some off-brand denomination, shouting vicious chants and holding hateful signs with words I thought had gone the way of burning-crosses and white hoods.
This frenzied group, taunting the people as they left Mass, were rabid in criticizing the Catholic Church, especially her bishops, for our teaching that homosexuals deserve dignity and respect.
To be more precise, this group was yelling at us because, they objected, the Catholic Church was so friendly, welcoming, and defensive of gay (they used other foul words) people. They waved placards explicitly quoting and condemning #2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which affirms the dignity of those with same-sex attraction, and warns against any form of prejudice, hatred, or unjust discrimination against them, and insists that homosexual acts, not persons, are not in conformity with God’s design.
Never have I faced such a vitriolic crowd, blasting the Church for simply following the teaching of Jesus by loving and respecting people regardless of anything, including their sexual orientation.
When a reporter asked me for a comment, I replied, “They’re right: we do love and respect homosexual people. These protestors understand Church teaching very well.”
I’ve been recalling that episode often of late, because now I hear Catholics, — and, I am quick to add, Jews, other Christians, Muslims, and men and women of no faith at all — who have thoughtfully expressed grave disapproval of the current rush to redefine marriage, branded as bigots and bullies who hate gays.
Nonsense! We are not anti anybody; we are pro-marriage. The definition of marriage is a given: it is a lifelong union of love and fidelity leading, please God, to children, between one man and one woman.
History, Natural Law, the Bible (if you’re so inclined), the religions of the world, human experience, and just plain gumption tell us this is so. The definition of marriage is hardwired into our human reason.
To uphold that traditional definition, to strengthen it, and to defend it is not a posture of bigotry or bullying. Nor is it a denial of the “right” of anybody. As the philosophers remind us, in a civilized, moral society, we have the right to do what we ought, not to do whatever we want. Not every desire is a right.
To tamper with that definition, or to engage in some Orwellian social engineering about the nature and purpose of marriage, is perilous to all of us. If the definition of marriage is continually being altered, could it not in the future be morphed again to include multiple spouses or even family members?
Nor is it “imposing” some narrow outmoded religious conviction. One might well ask just who is doing the “imposing” here: those who simply defend what the human drama has accepted from the start, a belief embedded in nature and at the core of every civilization — the definition of marriage — or those who all of a sudden want to scrap it because “progressive, enlightened, tolerant culture” calls for it.
Sadly, as we see in countries where such a redefinition has occurred, “tolerance” is hardly the result, as those who hold to the given definition of marriage now become harassed and penalized.
If big, intrusive government can re-define the most basic, accepted, revealed truth that marriage simply means one man + one woman + (hopefully) children, in a loving family, then, I’m afraid, Orwell’s works will no longer be on the fiction shelf. As someone commented to me the other day, “Wouldn’t it be better for our government to work on fixing schools than on redefining marriage?”
And resistance to this rush to radically redefining the ingrained meaning of marriage cannot be reduced to an act of prejudice against people with a same-sex attraction.