The Good and the Missing

A CNS news brief yesterday alerted me to a letter written by Maine’s Catholic bishop, Richard Malone. I didn’t find a copy of that letter on his diocesan website, but I did read his homily from this past weekend, launching from Proverbs 31 into a defense of marriage.

The homily contained a notable expression of support for non-married people living together:

The Diocese of Portland has been unwavering in its support of hospital visitation rights or the sharing of health insurance benefits between household members, people choosing to live together whatever their sexual orientation. That only seems fair.

Is this fair enough? Too fair? Or are there other pitfalls? I would be interested to hear from anyone with a lesbian or gay perspective on the perceived distinction between receiving these benefits and others under the umbrella of the legal pattern of marriage, or the piecemeal approach of legislation for adoption, insurance, law, medicine, school interface, and the like.

What I found notably missing from Bishop Malone’s homily is the distinctively Catholic sacramental approach to marriage. He does mention the Nuptial Mass in passing to put a quote in context. But he does not stress the sacramental nature of marriage as an opportunity for the wedded couple to receive grace and grow closer to Christ. Come to think of it, I can’t recall a single appeal to the sacramentality of marriage in the opposition to same-sex unions. Yes, there have been nods to pre-civilization tradition, to post-apostolic tradition, and to legal worries of opening the barn door and even Theology of the Body. One would think sacrament trumps TotB.

I’m not sure why prelates are downplaying the sacramentality of marriage, especially given the canonical reality that extends our Catholic definition of marriage to other Christian believers, church-hitched or not. Or maybe that’s being downplayed politically. Certainly, other religions and churches as well as civil law have their own definitions and approaches to marriage with which we Catholics would differ. We don’t accept divorce, but practically all other Christians, including the Orthodox, allow for it. We don’t see marriage as exclusively a legal agreement, but the state is rarely concerned with anything beside the legal angle. While these have an effect on the thinking of Catholics, they do not affect Church teaching on marriage.

As with the lack of a defined Christian theology of adoption, I find the omission of sacramentality to be curious. Or maybe I’m missing something obvious.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to The Good and the Missing

  1. Liam says:


    I suspect the avoidance of referring to sacramental marriage is a studied one – to keep the conversation on the ostensibly more universal so-called natural law aspects that would apply to civil marriage regardless of sacramentality.

    And, like I suspect you are wondering here, I am wondering if that is a occasionally successful tactical approach that represents a failing strategy in the long run.

    A bit of background in Massachusetts: the reason Massachusetts is where it is come to be is because the local cardinal leaned hard on leaders in the legislature in the early 1990s to prevent consideration of domestic partnership rights. Lest people forgetm the marriage crisis arose from the AIDS crisis, and I will not here recount horror stories about how ignobly the unmarried partners of dying people were periodically treated by institutions (including courts). Anyway, when legislative avenues to redress these issue became blocked due to the influence of the cardinal and his allies, it left litigation as the “there’s nothing left to lose” approach.

    Thus again did a successful tactic turn into a failed strategy. When the Church of Boston wants to look at the culprits in what produced the current state of marriage here, it must recognize that it too is among those in the mirror (and I am not even including it due to the abuse scandal).

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    I would like to answer Todd’s question with a question: if the shoe was on the other foot, would you settle for piecemeal entitlement to SECULAR benefits from your government? I think I know your answer.

    Few heterosexuals can imagine living in such a world where love separates you from marriage instead of connecting you with it. Many don’t bother to try. Instead, they say same-sex couples can get the equivalent of a marriage by going to a lawyer and drawing up paperwork – as if heterosexual couples would settle for anything of the sort.

    Even a moment’s reflection shows the foolishness, nay, fatuousness, of “let them eat contracts.” No private transaction (nor domestic partnership, for that matter) excuses you from testifying in court against your partner, or entitles you to Social Security survivor benefits, or authorizes joint tax filing, or secures U.S. residency for your partner if he or she is a foreigner.

    Marriage from a secular standpoint (and the basis upon which SECULAR benefits, rights and obligations are made available) is not just a contract between two people. It is a contract that two people make, as a couple, with their community and that is why there is always a witness. Two people can’t go into a room by themselves and come out legally married. The partners agree to take care of each other so the community doesn’t have to. In exchange, the community deems them a family, binding them to each other and to society with a host of legal and attendant social ties, rights and obligations.

    Society (and church, for that matter) needs more marriages, not fewer, and the best way to encourage marriage is to encourage marriage, which is what society does by bringing gay couples inside the tent. A good way to discourage marriage, on the other hand, is to tarnish it as discriminatory in the minds of millions of young people. Conservatives who object to redefining marriage risk redefining it themselves — as a civil-rights violation.

    I have no delusions of getting Catholic Church recognition of my 36 year relationship with my partner nor, quite frankly, do we wish it. What we, and others like us, want is for churches to be able to determine how they wish to honor and, if you will, sanctify those relationships that they choose to recognize under the mantle of matrimony. However, we also want the state to stop deputizing religious groups as secular agents when it comes to the granting of SECULAR benefits to citizens. It we can’t be married in the eyes of the law, then neither should you be able to. We should all have civil unions or civil partnerships that confer legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations. However, whatever it is, we all have the same thing: separate but equal is not equal. Sacramentalizing those unions/partnerships is a matter for religious groups and for those who wish to avail themselves of that next step. My partner and I don’t want that (we are long over wishing for the Church’s blessings and have survived and thrived quite well together without them), but we do insist upon having the SECULAR benefits that come with what is currently called marriage.

    The idea that we should litigate/vote for them on an item-by-item basis, state by state, is not worthy of further discussion.

  3. FrMichael says:


    In California, we had the opposite: the Church acquiesed to all the demands of the LGBT faction and played dead when the time came for domestic unions. Then the Supreme Court came in and saw the one difference between domestic unions and marriage– the label– and struck it down as unconstitutional.

    The moral of the story is that when it comes to LGBT issues, the judicial tyrants don’t care whether the Church presents steadfast opposition or “going along to get along.” They don’t care about English or American common law. They don’t care about American history and its consistant understanding of marriage as a heterosexual and monogomous institution. They don’t care about precedent. They don’t care about judicial restraint. Our black-robed masters are going to rule whatever they damn well please regardless of what the Catholic Church or the majority of Americans thinks of the matter.

  4. Todd says:

    “Our black-robed masters are going to rule whatever they damn well please regardless of what the Catholic Church or the majority of Americans thinks of the matter.”

    You may betray a naive view of the role of the judiciary. To an extent, judges should rule regardless of the majority, because their commitment in a case like this is less to particular legislation and to the rule of law overall.

    Nothing to say on Jim’s post?

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