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.