Pessimism about Marriage and the Supreme Court

January 17th, 2015

The Supreme Court has now agreed to decide one of the marriage redefinition cases. The oral argument will be held at the end of April, and a decision will come down at the end of June.

In my opinion, this is not good news. The conventional wisdom is that the Court takes cases in order to reverse lower courts, and the statistics bear that out (in revious terms, they’ve reversed about 75% of the cases they take). So it’s very significant that the Court took the case from the Sixth Circuit — the only Circuit Court to have upheld real marriage.

We also have to bear in mind that in the Windsor case, the majority of the Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, on the theory that it violated Equal Protection because the law was enacted specifically with “animus” towards homosexuals. In the case the Court just accepted, each of the state laws involved (Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee) would be vulnerable to that same argument, since they adopted constitutional amendments specifically to rule out the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

So I think there’s every reason to anticipate that the Court will rule the wrong way. It’s clear that there is a solid 4-vote bloc that will vote to recognize same-sex “marriage” (Sotomayor, Kagen, Breyer, and Ginsberg), and a 4-vote bloc that will likely vote against it (Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and probably Roberts). Given Justice Kennedy’s past record on homosexual rights cases — he has always voted in favor of them and has written some terrible majority opinions centered on the issue of alleged “animus” (see the Lawrence, Romer, and Windsor cases) — it seems virtually certain that he will follow his own reasoning in his Windsor majority opinion, and rule that the secret messages, written in invisible ink but that he manages to discern in the Constitution, somehow require the recognition of same-sex “marriage”.

In other words, the Court will likely decide that the Equal Protection Clause requires that we must abandon logic, and say that inherently different things are actually the same.  Welcome to the Humpty-Dumpty world of justice, where words mean whatever the people in power wish them to mean.

I am innately pessimistic about Court rulings, but I just can’t see any path to a good outcome here. Not only will a marriage re-definition ruling flout the will of the people as expressed in the democratic process, it will contradict the fundamental truths about marriage contained in the natural law and in the nature of the human person. It will also increase pressure on religious people to conform, and will test our ability to live in keeping with our faith in an increasingly hostile nation.

 

Our Unconventional Christmas Tree

December 25th, 2014

If you were to visit my home this Christmas season, you would be met with a most unusual sight.  Instead of the traditional pine Christmas tree, this year our tree is very unconventional, and you might be tempted to laugh at it as weird or silly.  But there’s a story behind it, and it might make a little more sense out of our strange Christmas tree.

Here’s a picture of it:

20141224_233204-1 (1)

Very odd, indeed.  Here’s the story:

This autumn has been very difficult for us.  My wife, Peggy, is getting close to finishing her Masters degree in Library Science, and she’s been slaving away at her final project.  For the last month, it’s pretty much all she’s been able to do.  This has been a particular challenge for her, because she suffers from fibromyalgia, an unpredictable and debilitating disorder that gives her acute pain at unexpected times and usually leaves her exhausted and unable to concentrate.  The fact that she has been able to do masters-level work with this condition is amazing to me.

Peggy is very traditional, and loves to decorate the house for Christmas.  She loves to make the place special for us, our children and our guests.  So it was particularly painful to her that she was so busy with her masters paper — which she finally handed in, three days before Christmas — we weren’t able to get out and buy a Christmas tree this year.  Our house won’t be well-decorated, and she’s deeply embarrassed about it. Tears have been seen in the vicinity of our home.

One of the watchwords of our marriage has been that we will always try to adapt and overcome any problem that arises.  So we came up with an idea for a different kind of Christmas tree, the one you see in the picture above.

It’s an umbrella plant, and Peggy gave it to me when we were first dating, way back in 1979.  It was much smaller then, but she’s kept it alive ever since (I have a black thumb).  It’s kind of like our marriage — growing and thriving after all these years, despite all the twists and turns that fate has given us.  So, in a way, this tree is a symbol for the generosity of God that was manifested at Christmas — and the great gift of each other, united and in love, still going strong.

At the base of the umbrella plant, we put another small plant, a Christmas cactus.  It belonged to my mother, and thanks to Peggy’s care, it has bloomed for the first time in many years.  So it, too, is another symbol of something central to Christmas — the fruitfulness of life, and the legacy of our wonderful parents.

The last piece of the story is also important.  I read in the newspaper of the terrible plight of Christians in Iraq, displaced from their homes and unable to celebrate Christmas.  They have no trees — traditional or unconventional — and no gifts.  So we decided that the money that we would have spent on a Christmas tree would instead be donated to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which is doing such great work to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  So our odd tree is a symbol of something else essential to Christmas — the vocation to be a gift of self to each other and to all those in need.

So, yes, it’s a very unconventional and strange Christmas tree.  But I hope that the story behind it has helped make sense of it.  If that doesn’t help, let’s look back at the the original Christmas story.  The Son of God emptied himself, and became human in the poorest of circumstances, being born in a cave where the animals lived.  His family suffered to bring him to birth, and they became refugees to protect him.  They sacrificed for the love of each other, and he sacrificed all for the love of us.

I’d like to think that the Lord who came in such a way, and who lived such a life, would like our humble little tree.  I think he’d smile at it, and appreciate what it means.  And he’d feel perfectly at home in its shadow.

The Radicalism of Roe v. Wade

December 17th, 2014

During his tireless campaign to promote abortion here in New York, Governor Cuomo has repeatedly alleged that his Abortion Expansion Act would do nothing other than codify the law as established in Roe v. Wade in our state law.  Journalists and editorial boards have parroted this argument.

It’s essential that we grapple with this baseless claim, for several reasons.  One of the best ways to do so would be to pick up a copy of Clarke Forsythe’s new book, Abuse of Discretion.  In this very important work, Forsythe examines the shoddy, unprofessional way in which Justice Blackmun and his allies on the Supreme Court invented the holding in Roe without regard to basic principles of justice and fairness, and without any concern about the dangers to women that would come from legalizing abortion.

There are four important points that we should consider, so that we understand just how radical Roe really was, and thus how extreme the Governor’s proposal is.

First, we have to understand that the legal standard established in Roe was extremely liberal, and established a regime of abortion on demand, for all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason whatsoever.  Also, courts used it to strike down virtually every abortion regulation passed by state legislatures.

This can be seen clearly in the history of abortion decisions after Roe — virtually no regulations affecting abortion survived judicial scrutiny, including many common sense proposals like health and safety regulations and parental involvement laws. In essence, the entire abortion industry was exempted from any accountability or oversight.

Second, we also have to recognize that even the Supreme Court eventually backed away from the extremism of Roe, and eventually adopted a standard that permitted more leeway for states to regulate abortion. This led to the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that case, the Court transformed the applicable legal standard in a way that made it possible for states to regulate abortion in more ways (e.g., by enacting bans of partial birth abortions, clinic health and safety regulations, etc.).

As a result, the governor’s proposal would actually enshrine the high-water mark of liberal abortion law, and ignore the subsequent legal developments that have pared that standard back towards a more reasonable system. It would lock in place an abortion law that is extremely permissive and hostile to any attempt to regulate or restrict the practice in any way.  It would create a system of abortion with impunity.

Third, we have to appreciate what a terrible piece of law Roe actually was — which speaks volumes about why we shouldn’t want anything to do with it here in New York.   I’m pretty cynical about what goes into judicial decisions, but even I was appalled at Forsythe’s account — backed by meticulous research — of the way that the Justices manipulated, schemed, and maneuvered in preparation for the Roe decision. They heedlessly took the case under false pretenses (supposing that it was to be decided on merely a procedural point of law), and disregarded the need for any facts about the nature and impact of abortion. They irresponsibly failed to consider the devastating impact their decision would have on public health as a result of invalidating every abortion law in the nation, and removing abortion from any possibility of further regulation.

Finally, and most importantly, Forsythe exposes, based on an astonishing number of scientific and medical studies, just how bad abortion on demand has been for women’s mental and physical health.   This includes short and long-term physical side effects and complications from the surgery, a correlation with a host of mental health problems, increased risks of breast cancer, plus the horrors that have occurred at unlicensed and unregulated clinics.  The simple fact is that abortion is not good for women.

This is the tragically misguided abortion regime that our Governor wishes to foist upon New York. I heartily recommend that people should read Clarke Forsythe’s excellent and important book, Abuse of Discretion, to understand just how radical, and how dangerous, that would be.

Truth and Torture

December 12th, 2014

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a scathing report about the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program.  I have read the Executive Summary of both majority and minority reports, and some of the articles from the Washington Post and the Times that provided the basic facts from the report.

It’s very hard to read such horrible things that were done in our name, and to realize that they were done essentially with impunity, and that nobody will ever be held accountable for it. It pains me personally to know what kinds of physical torments were inflicted upon human beings in those places.

How can we respond to this disturbing situation?

Last weekend, there was a book review in the Wall Street Journal for a biography of the great Czech dissident and statesman, Vaclav Havel. The review contained this passage:

Havel’s personal and political philosophy can be summed up in a phrase from his 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless”: “living within the truth.” The world imposes great burdens on men, Havel argued, the first of which is a collective responsibility to be honest about the society they inhabit. In Havel’s political context, “living within the truth” meant speaking plainly about an inhuman political system—communism—and the lies and humiliating routines it forced its subjects to tell and endure.

Our first commitment is always to the truth. The essential question, in my mind, is what really happened in those secret prisons. The issues that have dominated the debate about the report (and most of the objections by the committee minority) are really procedural, and are not relevant to the question of whether the men in custody were tortured. On that question, we shouldn’t concentrate on party loyalty (i.e., who issued the report?), separation of powers (i.e., was Congress misled?) or raw pragmatic calculations of effectiveness (i.e., did torture “work”?).  Nor should be be swayed by arguments that essentially amount to vengeance and retribution.

The real question is, what really happened? It seems very clear — and nobody really disputes — that there was widespread and very brutal treatment of prisoners. These acts were committed by people acting under the authority of the United States government, and without regard to our laws and treaties banning torture. And there was no consideration of moral principles, which utterly forbid this kind of mistreatment.

Is this the kind of nation we are? Can we live within that truth about ourselves?

I hope not.

How the Abortion Expansion Act Would Let Non-Doctors Do Abortions

December 4th, 2014

The debate continues over Governor Cuomo’s abortion expansion plan (currently packaged as the tenth point, “Part J”, of his Women’s Equality Act). The current trope being used by the WEA’s backers and abortion supporters is that in opposing the bill, we are not being truthful in saying that the bill would allow non-doctors to do abortions. Part of the way that they make this argument is to ask “show me where it says that in the bill”.

Permit me to do so, in four easy steps.

Step One — Current New York law permits only doctors to perform abortions (see Penal Law section 125.03(3)).

Step Two — The WEA states that:

No prosecution or proceeding shall be brought or maintained under the penal law or otherwise for acts that are authorized or permitted pursuant to this section or by this chapter and the education law (Part J, Section 1, emphasis added)

Step Three — Title 8 of the Education Law governs the practice of various health professions (e.g., doctors, nurses, physician assistants, midwives, etc.) health professionals. Under that law, the New York State Education Department has wide authority to define the “scope of practice” for professionals — in other words, what procedures they can perform within the law. As a result, the WEA would give the New York State Education Department Office of the Professions the authority to permit non-doctors to perform surgical and chemical abortions, simply by re-defining their “scope of practice”.

Step Four — Disregard everything I just said, and listen instead to the words of Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, one of the leading experts in health care law and policy in the Legislature, and a co-sponsor of the WEA. In a letter to constituents, Mr. Gottfried says:

The current New York law only allows a physician to perform an abortion. However, there are forms of abortion that are well within the ordinary scope of practice of physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Since, under Roe, abortion should be regulated on the same terms as other health care, the physician-only provision should be repealed and the ordinary rules of scope of practice should apply. The WEA language would do this. (emphasis added)

There it is, plain and simple.  So, the next time a newspaper editorial accuses us of lying, or a public official asks “where does it say that in the bill”, just hand them a copy of this blog post.  And then ask them, “do you really think it’s a good idea for non-doctors to be doing invasive, risky surgery on women?”

You Can Come In Off the Ledge Now

November 11th, 2014

In recent days, I’ve been approached by several friends who are very upset and even frightened about the state of the Church, and where things are going.  I’m a worrier by nature, so I can sympathize with them, but I can’t help but think that things are getting a little over-blown.  The Church is always in trouble, but I’m not seeing any icebergs in the immediate future.

Let me offer a few suggestions to my friends who are feeling such deep anxiety.

The first is to relax.  The best way to do that is to ignore everything being said by the mainstream media and the secular pundits (including most of the Catholic pundits). The news reports are obsessed with their favorite issues, and don’t understand anything that they’re talking about. As far as the pundits go, they’re all projecting their own agendas (and fears) onto the Holy Father and Church. Don’t read any of them. Just think of Mark 8:33.

I’m sorry to say that, in my opinion, much of what passes for the Catholic blogosphere is only a little bit better, and some of it is much worse. If certain Catholic blogs and websites are causing you agita, then ignore them.  They have no more authority than anyone else with a keyboard and an internet connection (such as yours truly). Or, if you can’t resist yourself, ignore the comboxes. Many of the comboxes are toxic, and bad for our souls. (In this regard, I’m reminded of a famous warning). In any event, all the suspicion and arguing that’s going on in the Catholic blogosphere encourages a spirit of division into the Church. That’s neither useful, not good for the state of our souls.

The second is to relax.  Another good way to do that is to ignore Vatican politics. I have no idea why some bishops are promoted, and others are cast aside, which cardinal is in favor and which is in Siberia, and which party or conspiracy is ahead and which is losing. And you know what? Nobody else does, either. Fretting about all that stuff does nobody any good.  Think about — or even better, pray about — Psalm 131.

The third is to relax.  One of the best ways to do that is to pray more.  We should pray constantly for each other, and particularly for our Holy Father and our bishops.  Most people have no idea how hard the life of a bishop is.  I can’t even imagine how hard the Pope’s life is.  They really need our prayers.  Our pastors, parish priests and deacons, too, are hard pressed to give wounded people the pastoral assistance they need.  They could use some more prayers too.  Prayer helps them, but it also transforms us.  And I don’t know about you, but I could sure use some major transforming.

If those suggestions aren’t sufficient for you, can I make a few more? Are you worried about how the faith is being transmitted to the youth? I don’t blame you — and I bet your parish could use your help as a catechist. Are you concerned about the state of marriage, and what’s going to be done about the separated and divorced?  You should be, we all are too — so how about volunteering for some kind of marriage ministry?  Unsure about how the Church will give pastoral care to homosexual persons?  So are we all — could you maybe give some support to the Courage apostolate, which reaches out to homosexual persons and helps them live chaste lives?

There’s no doubt that we live in “interesting times”, as the old expression goes.  When things are unsettled, it’s always good to relax, and return to Christianity 101, to make sure that we’re solid on the basics — prayer, solid belief, sacraments, charity.  If our foundation is strong, then the whole structure will withstand whatever storms may assail it.

In these times, I think it’s also particularly important to pray to the Holy Spirit, who has been guiding the Church through thick and thin, and to Mother Mary who has been tirelessly protecting her Church.

My Catholic Voting Decision

October 27th, 2014

[Several years ago, in anticipation of Election Day, I posted on my personal opinion about how to approach making a voting decision.  I’ve revised and combined those earlier posts, because the stakes in the current election are so high — it is vital that we maintain a pro-life majority in our state Senate.]

Once again, Election Day approaches.  At times like these, I am frequently asked how people can do the right thing as voters, as citizens, and as Catholics.  As I understand the teachings of our Church, there are several critical questions involved here. The first is the formation of my conscience.  Our bishops have said quite clearly that

“Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do.” (Faithful Citizenship 17)

A good, Catholic conscience is obedient to the teachings of the Church, and open to hearing the voice of God.  It considers God’s will more important than any partisan interest that I may have.  It always directs me to do good and avoid evil, and in the case of voting,

“A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Participation of Catholics in Political Life 4)

Building on the proper formation of conscience, we can then turn to the issues and the candidates.  One thing is crystal clear at this point:  all the issues are not the same, and the defense of human life is the paramount issue for Catholics to consider. The teaching of our Church is clear:  we must vote pro-life.  As the United States Bishops have said,

“This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.” (Faithful Citizenship 31). “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (Faithful Citizenship 28)

This means that in evaluating a candidate, we must consider, first and foremost, their position on the defense of human life.  As the U.S. Bishops have said:

“As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” (Faithful Citizenship 42)

Our New York Bishops have said the same:

“The inalienable right to right of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.” (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)

Cardinal Egan once confronted us, in language as plain as possible,with the choice of conscience and discipleship that we face when going into the voting booth:

Look [at the pictures of unborn children] and decide with honesty and decency what the Lord expects of you and me as the horror of ‘legalized’ abortion continues to erode the honor of our nation. Look, and do not absolve yourself if you refuse to act.”

Cardinal Egan also once said,

Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

This also means, of course, that we have to inform ourselves about where candidates stand on the issues.  We can’t just blunder around the voting booth with no information.  And given the abundance of data available on the internet, it really doesn’t take much effort to find out about the position of candidates.  Just visit their websites, and see where they stand on abortion, “reproductive rights”, “choice”, and, in the case of New York State candidates, the “Women’s Equality Act” (which contains a provision that would greatly expand abortion in our state).  An example of an informational voter guide, from a reliable outside organization, can be found here.

So, from my perspective, this boils down to a very simple test that I try to adhere to, as best I can: If you think that killing unborn children should be legal, then I won’t vote for you. You haven’t earned my vote.  In my opinion, you’re not qualified to hold public office.  I just won’t vote for someone who will promote or permit grave evil.  I don’t subscribe to the principle of the “lesser of two evils”.  All that means is I’m voting for evil, and it still produces evil in the end.  If there’s nobody in a race that fits my standards, I’ll leave the line blank or write in a name.

When I pick up my ballot on Tuesday, I will see a stark choice between candidates who are pro-abortion, and others who are pro-life.  In fact, several of the pro-abortion candidates (who were baptized as Catholics, sad to say) are not just mouthing the old “personally opposed but…” sham, but are instead ardent promoters and defenders of the legalized killing of unborn children, and they have strongly campaigned on the issue.  If they are elected, there is a grave danger that the evil abortion expansion plan hidden in the “Women’s Equality Act” will be pushed forward. I cannot see how I as a Catholic could vote for such persons.

So for me, the choice is easy — I will vote only for the pro-life candidates.

(Important Note: I am going to repeat what is said in the disclaimer on the side of this blog — the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone, they do not in any way reflect an official position of the Archdiocese, nor should they be considered an endorsement of any candidate by the Archdiocese.)

The Way Forward on Marriage and Family

October 24th, 2014

The dust has now settled a bit after the tumultuous Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.  Viewed from afar, the two-week meeting of bishops was filled with fascinating stories, from allegations of internal intrigue to the emergence of the African bishops as major players in the universal Church.  Western news sources, of course, fixated on their favorite issues — homosexual and divorced couples — and treated the deliberative assembly as if it were an American political convention (or a mixed-martial arts match).

Since the issue at hand — the health and care of the family — is so important to me, I thought it would be worth adding a few reflections of my own about what has happened.

The first thing I would note is that I have virtually no interest in the internal politics of the Vatican and the episcopacy, and I think it’s probably unhealthy for people to focus on such things.  I’ve had a limited view into the engine room of the barque of Peter for 20 years now (to use Ronald Knox’s phrase), and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that fretting about all these kinds of things accomplishes nothing for the state of my soul or to advance the Kingdom of God.

Of course, it’s still frustrating to watch the internal operations of the Church in action.   But I just don’t see that I can do anything worthwhile about it, beyond praying that the bishops and the Holy See (particularly the press office) someday become acquainted with the notion of message discipline.

As far as the substance of the Synod, it seems clear to me that the Holy Father has a pastoral agenda that he intends to implement to lead the Church.  It’s laid out in the Aparecida document (issued by the Latin American bishops in 2007, which the Holy Father helped write when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires) and his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.  It’s a renewed focus on evangelization and outreach, particularly to those who are marginalized and alienated, with an emphasis on the basic proclamation of the Gospel as a source of meaning and hope.  The bishops as a body are generally on board with that agenda.

In the context of the specific topic of the Extraordinary Synod, I think that it may prove to be a significant turning point for Church, and that it will help the bishops to focus on responding to the real problems with the family and marriage.  Instead of getting bogged down on the “hot topics” that the Western media is obsessed with, I hope that the bishops will now be able to recognize the real crisis in marriage — under the baneful influence of moral relativism and gender and sexual liberation ideology, as well as the sinful human tendency to hedonism, society has lost a notion of the importance of authentic marriage, and why it should be encouraged and supported.  I don’t know what the pastoral strategy will ultimately be in response to this, or how the bishops will respond to the special cases of divorced people, or those living in same-sex relationships.  But if they can keep their eye on the ball of how to preach the truth about marriage, and work to strengthen actual marriages, I think they’ll be on the right track.

So for me, the challenge is to prayerfully assent to the will of the Church, as expressed by Her hierarchy, to be obedient to my superiors, and not to be too distracted by speculation and second-guessing. Psalm 131 is wonderfully consoling to me in this regard.  In the meantime, I have to continue the apostolic work that God has given me, and strive to develop the virtues necessary for that work, trusting that God’s providence is somehow guiding it, and guiding the Church as a whole.

Tone and Substance

October 15th, 2014

There has already been a great deal of controversy in the Catholic blogosphere over the document released on October 13 by the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  The Relatio, as it is technically called, is an interim document that essentially is a summary of the discussion so far by the bishops at the Synod, and a prelude of the next phase of the discussion.  It bears no doctrinal weight at all.  It’s like a working early draft of what will be discussed at the regular Synod of Bishops in 2015, and that eventually may form a part of an apostolic exhortation to be issued by the pope in 2016.

Much of the controversy has centered on the alleged change of tone in the document regarding homosexual persons.  And, admittedly, the document says some startling things about the proper attitude we should have towards our homosexual brethren, such as:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies… must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

Or this:

These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Or even this:

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Scandalous abandonment of the traditional Catholic condemnation of homosexuals, right? How could they have forgotten to say this:

The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.

Well, actually, the first three passages aren’t from the supposedly-liberal/radical Relatio at all — they’re direct quotations from the allegedly arch-conservative Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 2358 and 2359, issued by Pope John Paul II and written under the direct guidance of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI).  Only the last passage is from the new Relatio.  

Maybe it’s not such a ground-breaking ecclesiastical earthquake, after all.  The fact of the matter is that the Relatio reflects a mindset among the bishops that is very much in keeping with the Catechism, and that is — or at least should be — old hat among Catholics.  While we cannot accept the morality of any sexual sin or the validity of same-sex “marriages”, we still have to relate to homosexual persons as people made in the image and likeness of God, subject to the same sad legacy of concupiscence (i.e., “disordered inclinations”) as all of us, but who are loved by God and should be loved by us.

That’s nothing new in Catholicism, even if we have sadly failed to make it clear in our public statements.  I am as guilty of this as anyone.

There are some rather striking passages in the Relatio, in which the bishops note the existence of positive elements in imperfect relationships (such as cohabitation of men and women, and in same-sex unions).  In my mind, this is a crucial hint as to the pastoral strategy that our bishops — and most likely the Holy Father — are leading us towards.  It will not involve the slightest adjustment of doctrine, but it is indeed a change in tone and emphasis.

To get this, we need to think long and carefully about what, to me, is the most interesting phrase in the Relatio.  It is a very striking statement about the mission of the Church:

Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

The gaze of Christ is one of invitation, which calls us to a response, which has consequences for how we live.  But the love comes first, and that’s what will attract people to the Lord.

The Supreme Court Surrenders on Marriage

October 6th, 2014

This morning, to the surprise of just about every observer, the Supreme Court declined to review seven lower-court rulings that had re-defined marriage. For all intents and purposes, this non-decision really gives the green light to lower courts to strike down every democratically-enacted state law that defines marriage in the traditional way.

To understand how significant this surrender is, some basic background information is necessary.

Since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, there has been a virtually-unbroken string of lower-court decisions invalidating state marriage laws.  Three of the federal Circuit Courts of Appeals had already struck down laws in several states.  Four other Circuit Courts have similar cases before them but haven’t issued decisions yet.  When you take all these cases into account, the laws of as many as sixteen states were at issue.

Petitions were filed in the Supreme Court in which all the parties to the seven lower-court decisions — both the defenders of the marriage laws and those seeking to overturn them — had asked the Court to make a final ruling on the issue.   For the Court to agree to hear a case, only four Justices need to assent to the petition (technically called a petition for a “writ of certiorari”).

Rule 10 of the Supreme Court’s rules states:

Review on a writ of certiorari is not a matter of right, but of judicial discretion. A petition for a writ of certiorari will be granted only for compelling reasons. The following, although neither controlling nor fully measuring the Court’s discretion, indicate the character of the reasons the Court considers… (c)  a state court or a United States court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court.

You also have to understand something of the self-image of the Supreme Court, who seem to believe that they have been appointed to be Platonic Guardians over our society.   Recall this gaseous emanation from the penumbras of the Supreme Court’s collective consciousness, in the plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.

Now, it’s hard to imagine a more contentious controversy than the debate over the definition of marriage, or a more “important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court”.   The argument has raged since the late 1990’s, and it has been fought out in a series of state ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments, legislative battles, court cases, and political campaigns.  The Supreme Court itself created the current legal chaos and uncertainty with its decision in the Windsor case, which was mis-used by federal judges to strike down state marriage laws.  One would have thought that now was the time for this matter to be addressed by the Court itself, in its self-anointed role to”call[] the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution”.

Yet the Court declined even to consider the cases.  No briefs to be filed.  No oral arguments.  No further discussion among the Justices.  There weren’t even four Justices who thought it was ripe for decision — not even the vaunted supposedly-conservative wing of the court (Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito).  Even though anyone can foresee the consequences of not taking the cases — namely, sending a signal to the lower courts that it was open season on state marriage laws.  We can now expect more lower courts to follow the Supreme Court’s lead, and the dominoes will continue to fall.

The most disappointing part of this non-decision is that not a single Justice thought it was worth writing a dissenting opinion.  Perhaps they should just raise a white flag over the Supreme Court building today.

So, by not agreeing to decide any of these cases, the Supreme Court actually issued a momentous decision, and effectively re-defined marriage in the entire United States, without giving the defenders of marriage their day in Court.  This is how democracy no longer works around here.  Thus is marriage redefined in the United States, not with a bang but with a whimper.