I have been asked to speak tonight about so-called same-sex marriage as well as Charity in our response to same-sex relationships. In a way, this approach fits well with my own episcopal motto: “Veritatem in caritate,” “truth in charity.” This is what the Lord expects of the Church and all of us: that we adhere to the truth of the Gospel with charity. Fidelity to the truth is essential. So is the virtue of charity. One without the other is a failure. To dismiss the truth revealed by God is not to love God. To lack charity towards others makes it a lie to say we love God. So in the controversial topic we reflect on this evening, it is important that we not water down the truth about human sexuality or marriage, nor that we proclaim this truth without love for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Proclaiming the truth is part of our duty in charity. Professing the truth without charity is actually not totally professing the truth since charity is a commandment that itself is part of the truth of our faith. Saint Edith Stein wrote: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth. Blessed John Paul II added: One without the other becomes a destructive lie.
Think about these words of our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI from his encyclical Charity in truth: Truth needs to be sought, found, and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth…. Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. (Caritas in veritate # 2-3).
With this introduction, I think it is best to begin this talk with the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act. What was most profoundly disturbing to me was that the Supreme Court found the exclusion of same-sex couples legally married under state law from federal benefits (in DOMA Section 3) impermissible largely because it read DOMA as manifesting “animus” against gay people and targeting them for special disfavor. This argumentation suggests that those who defend the immemorial understanding of marriage as the union of people of different sexes, ordered toward procreation, are anti-homosexual bigots. The Supreme Court says that Americans who affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman are imposing “a disadvantage” and a “stigma” on others, motivated by an improper animus. Our principal intent is to “demean.” We seek “to injure” and are motivated by a “bare… desire to harm.” Even the “humiliation” of “tens of thousands of children” fails to move us.
Notice that this language of the Supreme Court majority is not language designed to clarify a difficult legal concept. It is not meant to persuade others regarding a complex public issue. It won’t further thoughtful discussion of fast-moving changes to an essential social institution. It’s an attempt to shut down discussion by impugning the motives of those who disagree.
This argumentation of the Supreme Court and others suggests that people and institutions like the Catholic Church are prejudiced against people with same-sex attraction. The charge of bigotry hurts. When Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, and the other bishops of Argentina were accused like us of bigotry and discrimination, they responded that “the recognition of a real difference is not discrimination.” They wrote: “Nature does not discriminate when it makes us a man or a woman. Our Civil Code does not discriminate when it demands the requirement of being a man and a woman to contract marriage; it only recognizes a natural reality.”
Despite the efforts of the future Pope and the Church in Argentina, the marriage redefinition bill passed in the Senate there, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex.
In Argentina, Pope Francis had to engage with a hostile culture in confronting this issue and others, just as we are doing here in the United States. Pope Francis never made derogatory comments about people with same-sex attraction. Neither do we. To do so would be to reject Catholic teaching that affirms the dignity of all human persons and explicitly affirms that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358). The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said: “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”