Friday, July 8, 2011

Archbishop Dolan’s “Timmy One-Note” Afterthoughts on Marriage

I have to say it: New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan is no John the Baptist. If he were, he’d be telling his superiors in the Vatican hierarchy the truth about marriage, and he’d likely lose his job, but not his head.

Instead, he continues to play it safe in his quest for his cardinal’s red hat.

In his July 7, 2011 blog essay, entitled Some Afterthoughts, he refers to the historic passage of the Marriage Equality Act as New York State having “sadly attempted a re-definition of marriage.” But the Act was no attempt to “redefine” marriage, but rather involved an extension of connubium, which is “the right to marry” so that it is applied on a gender-neutral basis, in addition to the enactment of certain “religious protections” to insure that it is clear on the face of the legislation that those religions with faiths based in misogyny, patriarchy, and heterosexist supremacy, may continue to limit the marriages they sacramentalize and celebrate to those that they do allow.

It is interesting that he says, “the Church neither has nor wants political ‘clout.’” That is actually refreshing, since it is likely to be an indication that Archbishop Dolan does not plan to order priests in the archdiocese to refuse communion to Governor Cuomo and Catholic legislators who voted for the bill as retribution for their not following the Church’s party line.

The archbishop expressed concern about the religious protections, referring to, but not citing any, “editorials already call(ing) for the removal of guarantees of religious liberty.” I’d really like some credible evidence of this.

Dolan goes on to accuse pro-marriage equality forces of religious intolerance – the case where the bully accuses his victim!

He refers to his side as “those protecting traditional marriage” as if the proponents of the gender-neutral connubium are in some way against traditional marriage. We are not.

There are many LGBT people who have suffered persecution at the hands of the Church and other so-called “Christian” Christianist organizations. I do not blame them for their issues with the opponents of marriage equality, or their form of expression of their reaction to having been bullied by people like Dolan.

I myself will point out that Archbishop Dolan is a heresiarch, and that he really is not a Christian but is rather a Christianist, as is the rest of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. In a credal sense, the RCC hierarchy is nearly as true Christian as the Orthodox Christians who did not add a filioque to the original Nicene Creed. But in a doctrinal sense, as it pertains to moral theology, the Roman Catholic Magisterium is deeply in error because of its teachings in opposition to true natural law (as opposed to the Aristotelian conception of nature brought in by Aquinas), and because of the many Church Fathers whose writings were misogynistic and heterosexist. The Church’s interpretations of biblical passages related to LGBT people is rooted in misogynistic heterosexism, and are among the things that are the cause of error. (I won’t get into matters of faith, since I have evolved theologically since the Catholic Church threw me out in 1999, to the extent that I am now Unitarian/Universalist – so I am not Christian myself, in a credal sense, any more).

Archbishop Dolan apologizes, and I will share that apology here:

“. . . if we did hurt anybody in our defense of marriage, I apologize. We tried our best to insist from the start that our goal was pro-marriage, never anti-gay. But, I’m afraid some within the gay community were offended. As I replied recently to a reporter who asked if I had any message to the gay community, ‘Yes: I love you. Each morning I pray with and for you and your true happiness and well-being. I am honored that so many of you are at home within our Catholic family, where, like the rest of us, we try, with the help of God’s grace and mercy, to conform our lives to Jesus and His message. If I have offended any of you in my strenuous defense of marriage, I apologize, and assure you it was unintentional.”
I will accept that the apology is sincerely intended, but if only Dolan understood what it is that he, and the Church, are doing, I think he would want to rethink his position. (Certainly, casting his position as a “defense of marriage” is still an error.)

I could start with the schizophrenic passages in the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which homosexual “activity” can never be “condoned” while homosexual people are to be “respected” and that there should be no discrimination against them. While Dolan is not responsible for the schizophrenia, he should interpret it in a more humane manner.

The tension between respect and condonation is thick – and the Church hierarchy often steers a course that can only be understood within the context of this tension – it is what allows Catholic organization leaders to refuse to allow a student group that has the word “gay” in it, but to permit the group without the name. I often find myself explaining (but not justifying) such actions on the basis of this.

From what I can tell, the Church Magisterium’s vehement opposition to even civil marriage rights is rooted in the “condonation” thing, even though I think that is a very wrong interpretation. The Church should be outside the civil marriage loop – it should be concerned solely with the sacrament of matrimony for Catholics. The opposition to civil marriage smacks of discrimination, and should be seen as against the Catechism. The problem is that the insane ravings from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the topic ties Dolan’s hands, so that in order to come across with the official party line of the Vatican, he has to make himself seem to be a fool (But, I am sure he might rejoin with, “but only a Fool for Christ!” or at least “only a fool in a quest for the red hat!” were he to read this essay)

Archbishop Dolan does not understand that we who support civil marriage rights being legally extended on a gender-neutral basis know that this does not have a single negative effect on the traditional marriage. There is a difference between connubium and matrimonium; while conjugal aspects of human reproduction through heterosexual sex acts are integral to many traditional marriages, they are not integral to all of them, and there are children integral to many same-sex couples’ lives.

Archbishop Dolan was in New York when New York adopted a no-fault divorce law just last year. He refers to the Church opposing no-fault divorce “sixty years ago.” Where was he last year, when the National Organization for Women was fighting valiantly in a losing effort to prevent New York from being the last state to adopt no fault divorce? I see nothing in his blog essays from 2010 that indicate that he was railing to stop the no-fault divorce law at that time.

There are many areas of the marriage “fight” where I could join with Archbishop Dolan. There are aspects of my 45 years as a practicing Catholic that still remain important to me, and aspects of Catholic morality that are not evil. The principles of monogamy and fidelity within marriage are sound. The idea that divorce should be limited to adultery and spousal abuse is one that I could support – I never understood the idea of “until death do us part” as meaning “or until we get tired of each other.”

I wonder what Archbishop Dolan would do about the thing that damaged marriage the most in the past century – the abolition of the common law regarding “bastardy and filiation.” This single legal change meant that women who would refuse a man carnal knowledge until “the ring is on the finger” because of the consequences to he and to any child, are now allowed to scheme on how to get celebrities and sports figures to get them pregnant out of wedlock so they can bring on the paternity suit. (One change I would make to the common law, though, is that it should not be the child who should be labeled as a “bastard,” but the man who was the “carnal sperm donor.”)

To my knowledge, while Republican Catholic and other Christianist legislators in New York State fought hard to include “religious protections” against gender-neutral connubium, there has never been any attempt by the Catholic Church or other Christianists to exempt Catholic marriages, or marriages performed in Christianist churches, from “no fault” divorce laws. While it is true that the Church maintains rigorous control over the granting of Church annulments, the canon law has been changed in such a way as to make it possible for just about any Catholic marriage to be annulled on the grounds that the parties were not really ready to be married at the time they were wed.

In addition to the above, there is much else to give the lie to how “the Church has always stood up for (its understanding of) marriage.” Yes, within the confines of spiritually guiding Catholics, but not to interfere with the civil laws – except for this time.

Where are the religious protections in the civil law against civil divorce involving Catholic marriages? I am sure that the LDS would join in to protect one of their forms of marriage, and the fundamentalist Christianists would support a civil “covenant marriage” concept that would be more difficult to end than the usual, run of the mill, marriage.

Here’s a quote that has me in partial agreement:

“And now we ring the steeple bell again at this latest dilution of the authentic understanding of marriage, worried that the next step will be another redefinition to justify multiple partners and infidelity. If you think I’m exaggerating, within days of the passage of this bill, one major newspaper ran a flattering profile of a proponent of what was called ‘nonmonogamy.’ Apparently, ‘nonmonogamy’ is the idea that society is unrealistic to think that one man and one woman should remain faithful in marriage, and that openness to some infidelity should be the norm!”
I think the Archbishop is referring to the New York Times Magazine article on infidelity that prominently featured Dan Savage, which caused some interesting conversation over at the Joe.My.God. blog, entitled "Homoquotable - Dan Savage" (Is this the "editorial" he was writing about earlier? - if so, it's not an editorial, but is rather a magazine article, and Dan Savage was perhaps tryig to be practical rather than theological.)

Marital infidelity  is something that should not be legally condoned, or condoned by the Church. However, I would not push my moral position beyond that. The law against adultery and the adultery ground for divorce already contains defenses for both condonation and procurement. So, in the situation where both parties to the marriage enter into the marriage with the agreed intention of condonation or even procurement, I’d hesitate to be a moral judge. (With the "no fault divorce" law, they could get divorced anyway, but what if that were to change and divorce became more difficult to get without a legitimate reason?)

To speak against the practice, to advise against it, yes. To forbid it, no. People should be allowed make their own personal moral choices, though there should be guidance available for those who want it.  I would not change the law with regard to marriage to eliminate adultery as a ground for divorce, or to remove the defenses.

On the issue of multiparty marriages, that, too, is one that requires more examination. The state should provide a legal structure for various kinds of multiparty marriages (much as it allows various different kinds of business entities), all of which would require the up-front consent of all parties in advance, and all parties would have to be competent adults who freely and willingly enter into the arrangement with full knowledge and understanding and without any coercion. Ideally, each party should be required to be represented by an independent attorney as well, since it is not likely that most people would fully understand the various ramifications of such a marriage.

As I have pointed out in the past, the Catholic Church itself has examples of forms of multiparty marriage, albeit marriage-like family structures that do not require sexual congress among the parties – these are the various religious orders of priests, nuns, monks, lay brothers and sisters, particularly evident in those who live in religious communities, such as monasteries or convents.  In some ways, these are marriage-like structures modeled on the natural law relating to certain insect colonies and other creatures.

If Archbishop Dolan were pro-marriage, he’d be for both gender-neutral connubium and a framework for multiparty civil marriage that would protect all parties.  But he isn't - he is just pro one kind of marriage, and against other kinds.

Dolan’s blog post shills a bit for Robbie George. I have demolished some of Robbie’s writings in earlier blog essays –it would be a pleasure to do it again.

Dolan frustratingly holds “fast to the God-given definition of marriage, and acknowledge that no unfortunate legislative attempt can alter reality and morality.”

It’s interesting that in this, Dolan himself, like his mentor Robbie George, is retreating from reality in his inability to understand gender-neutral connubium as not affecting traditional marriage at all. He is retreating from morality by what I would call an institutionalized heterosexist blindness. It’s sad, really, that he does not understand that the misogynistic, heterosexist supremacist position of the Church is one which has no basis in Truth.  Heterosexist supremacism can be understood by an analogy to white racist supremacism - which I would assume is a concept the archbishop can readily grasp.  The idea that opposite-sex couples are superior to same sex couples, and that their legally sanctioned relationships should be better than those of same sex couples, that opposite sex couples have a relief valve for their natural sexual urges by way of a sanctioned moral marriage right, but that no same sex couple can have such a legal or moral outlet, is rooted in the same sort of thinking that led white supremacists to believe in the moral superiorityof the white race, that it is the pinnacle of evolution, and that the black race is destined by the Bible to be the chattel slaves of the white race, because they are the descendants of Canaan, and all the other arrant nonsense that goes witth the racial  bigotry of white supremacists.

Archbishop Dolan would have to be blind to be unable to make the connection.  He could try to rationalize the different kinds of -isms as having some sort of moral difference - but it would be just like turning to the Bible and retelling the story of the children of Ham to justify slavery.

Even so - he really likes his job, and he really wants that cardinal's hat.  Even if we could provoke a crisis of personal conscience in him, he would likely push it deep below his conscious thought, lest he run off the rails on his trajectory to a princedom in the Catholic hierarchy.

He started his essay with John the Baptist, and ended his article with Thomas More, both of whom quite literally lost their heads, while Dolan himself only loses his rationality and moral compass on the subject of marriage (to be fair, he does it on women's reproductive rights as well - but that's the misogyny again).

Thomas More was a brilliant man, but he was also a creature of his times. Neither the admittedly erudite but misguided Robbie George nor Archbishop Dolan can hide behind that fig leaf.  They live in a world where they have access to sufficient rational knowledge to change their views - unfortunately, the availability of Rational Truth may well not be efficacious in their cases.

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