Already there has been a lot of anger and disappointment expressed in many quarters at the US Bishops’ “pastoral” letter on the sanctimony of marriage. (As the NCR notes in editorial, there is nothing remotely pastoral in its tone or approach.) But anger and disappointment will not change anything.
As I have noted before, it is central to theology that all of us in the church have not just the right, but an obligation to make our views known to our pastors and bishops, especially where we disagree with them. On sexual matters, where we self-evidently have far greater experience than they, this obligation is particularly strong. The NCR report notes that the draft they have seen reads as if the writers had no experience of marriage preparation or pastoral counselling, let alone of actual real world sexual relationships.
So here is a plan for a constructive response, forwarded to me as email from Fortunate Families: write to the bishops. Write politely, and don’t try to teach them theology or Scripture, of which they have some knowledge, and may not recognise that you do too. Write about your own experience, which you are intimately familiar with, and of which they have no knowledge at all. The letter from Fortunate Families refers specifically to issue of gay relationships, but there is no need to restrict it to that one only. Some of you are not gay, or may have had earlier marriage and children – as I have done. Or. you may be able to write on observations of close family members or friends, and their experiences. But write.
(As a non-American, I am in two minds whether it is appropriate to write myself – but am becoming inclined to do so, stating my position clearly. I am not American, but their statement will ahve repercussions beyond the US borders.)
The letter from Fortunate Families follows:
Dear Fortunate Families friends:
We’re forwarding this NCR email for your information and to give you an opportunity to express your opinion on an impending U.S. Bishops’ document.
The U.S. Bishops are currently individually reviewing the draft of a pastoral letter — “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan” — which they will formally consider at their Nov. 16-19 national meeting. We encourage you to share your opinion of the draft with them prior to their meeting, especially the section on same-sex marriage.
The National Catholic Reporter published an on-line article about the draft (see below), which includes a link to the draft document itself (same-sex marriage is treated in lines 423-465 in this 57-page document).
The NCR says that in the draft: “The bishops decry the rise of same-sex marriage as ‘one of the most troubling developments in contemporary culture.’ Same-sex marriage ‘redefines the nature of marriage and the family and, as a result harms both the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the common good of society’.”
Relative to this statement, it’s worth noting that the document’s entire section on same-sex marriage cites only previous church documents to support this claim. Perhaps that’s because “Countries as Catholic as Spain, as different as Sweden and South Africa, and as near as Canada have embraced gay and lesbian marriage without any noticeable effect — except the increase in human happiness and social stability that comes from permitting people to marry for love.” [“Gay Marriage and the Constitution” by David Boies, reprinted in the September 2009 Fortunate Families newsletter]. And, after 5 years of same-sex marriage — according to the most recent data from the National Center For Vital Statistics — Massachusetts remains the state with the lowest divorce rate. [Huffington Post, Sept. 3, 2009].
You might address their claims, and the question:” Does same-sex marriage affect opposite-sex marriage, the family, and the common good? And, if so, how?
Sharing your knowledge and experience of persons in same-sex relationships could be of great benefit to the bishops if, like their 2006 pastoral guidelines document, this draft was written without consultation with openly gay or lesbian persons or their parents. As you write, please consider that bishops are more likely to read and consider letters that are respectful in tone and reasoned in substance. They can disagree with your position but they cannot deny your story.
We suggest you write to:
Cardinal Francis George
3211 Fourth St. NE
Washington DC 20017
Archbishop Francis E. Kurtz
Chair, USCCB Sub-committee on Marriage and Family
3211 Fourth St NE
Washington DC 20017
Your local Catholic newspaper
Your local secular newspaper
Thank you for your consideration. We welcome a copy of your correspondence if you are willing to share it us. Blessings!