National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
March 26, 2004

LettersGay marriage

Many thanks for the editorial of Feb. 20 supporting the legalization of gay marriages.

I’ve been so appalled, as a Catholic, with the tenor of discussion on an issue that seems to me to be clearly an issue of social justice, and one not concerning Catholic marriages -- any more than, as you point out, the fact that I can fairly easily get a divorce has any bearing on my Catholic marriage.


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Your editorial “Ruling on same-sex civil marriage a positive step for human rights” is incorrect and misleading when it claims that to advocate same-sex civil marriage “is not meant to seem a cavalier defiance of church teaching.” In fact, this is what is precisely involved when Catholics advocate the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is so because the church teaches that marriage defined as a union between a man and a woman is a truth having to do with the common good of society. It is true that Catholic teaching distinguishes between natural and sacramental marriage, but it never turns this distinction into a contradictory separation. The editorial, on the other hand, does press the distinction into a separation when it claims that a different definition of marriage is not only valid for civil society and nonbelievers but is beneficial and a part of human rights. Pope John Paul II addressed this very issue. In a speech to the Roman Rota in February 2001, he said: “When the church teaches that marriage is a natural reality, she is proposing a truth evinced by reason for the good of the couple and of society, and confirmed by the revelation of Our Lord, who closely and explicitly relates the marital union to the “beginning” spoken of in the Book of Genesis: ‘Male and female he created them,’ and ‘The two shall become one flesh.’

“The fact, however, that the natural datum is authoritatively confirmed and raised by Our Lord to a sacrament in no way justifies the tendency, unfortunately widespread today, to ideologize the idea of marriage -- nature, essential properties and ends -- by claiming a different valid conception for a believer or a nonbeliever, for a Catholic or a non-Catholic, as though the sacrament were a subsequent and extrinsic reality to the natural datum and not the natural datum itself evinced by reason, taken up and raised by Christ to a sign and means of salvation.”

The bishops of the United States have also reiterated the same teaching recently, pointing out that the common good is at stake in the current effort to redefine marriage.

The editorial raises the very serious question of how a newspaper can still maintain a Catholic identity while at the same time embracing and advocating ideas and practices plainly opposed to what the church teaches, believes and lives.

St. Louis

Welch is professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

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I want to thank you for the editorial on same-sex civil marriage. It was so sane and balanced in the midst of so much intemperate commentary, so filled with compassion and love in the midst of so much fearful and homophobic commentary. Thanks, too, for once again envisioning and proclaiming a church in which such issues can be reexamined in the light of a contemporary Christian understanding of human sexuality, heterosexual and homosexual. As a husband, father and grandfather, I cannot understand how the union of loving couples of the same sex threatens my marriage, or anyone else’s marriage or the abstract notion of traditional marriage. In this critical transitional period in the church’s history and the church’s understanding of itself, NCR remains a bright beacon. Please keep the light shining.

Stanford, Calif.

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As a heterosexual person, I sympathize with the plight of gays in our society and support the position in your editorial on same-sex civil marriage.

It brings to mind the argument made by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, against the Church of England’s trying to impose their views of marriage on the general population of England. In the chapter “Christian Marriage,” he writes:

“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question -- how far Christians, if they are voters or members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws.

“A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try and make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that.

“At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two kinds of marriage: one governed by the state with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members.”

San Marcos, Calif.

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What a weak-kneed editorial about same-sex marriage. Get a catechism and you’ll read that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Contrary to your claim, these civil unions do have an effect on sacramental marriage, a bad one. That sinful idea has spread beyond Massachusetts; it’s all over the media and the more acceptable same-sex unions become the worse example society sets for young Catholics. Certainly gay persons should have human rights, but don’t call their relationship marriage.

And then you apply the same irrational thinking to the public support of divorce, the death penalty, nuclear weapons. If those ideas do no harm to the church’s teaching on those topics, then explain why too many Catholic elected officials who can influence these issues pay no attention to what the church says.

I expected more backbone from a newspaper that calls itself Catholic.

Brookville, N.Y.

Soldier’s dilemma

Regarding the March 5 article: “Soldier refuses to serve ‘criminal enterprise’ in Iraq”: I have only one objection to Mr. Hinzman’s escape to Canada. He was not drafted or facing the draft. He enlisted. Ultimately, killing people whether or not it makes good sense is the job that has been assigned to our military for the whole of my life (now 53 years).

It would seem to me that resigning from the military, even at the cost of having to pay back the military for education benefits etc., would have been a more “catholic” decision.

Mr. Hinzman, however, does point out an interesting problem. Catholic schools are no less likely than public schools to advertise the military as a good option for young people, despite our government’s rather dismal record at actually creating peace by means of gunfire. Worse yet, magazines as Catholic as America routinely advertise for priests to become military chaplains, which in effect places them in situations where no one with a Catholic conscience should be to begin with. The time to object to a war is before one is required to engage it -- not after one has enlisted and has become beholden to the very group that has created the war one opposes.

I appreciate Mr. Hinzman’s dilemma and I realize how difficult it is to undo bad decisions once made. However, deciding before the fact rather than after is the true trait of an informed conscience -- a trait that we can only pray that other young people might develop.

Woburn, Mass.


Would it not be appropriate when discussing the “Moral weight of obesity” (NCR, March 5) to remind your readers that there are, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization about 840 million people in the world who have a diametrically different problem? They suffer from food insecurity, more commonly known as hunger. And living between them and non-poor millions in the industrialized world (and in some enclaves in the developing world), there are also several billion people who are not eating our kind of diet and are in little danger of obesity. It is also relevant that the National Catholic Rural Life Conference is conducting a campaign called “Eating is a Moral Act,” which you described in an earlier issue of NCR. And one could also find a moral aspect to the question why so many of those people are scrounging for food when the world produces enough every year to feed them.

Arlington, Va.

Gibson’s movie

I have been horrified at the extent to which Christian groups have condoned the portrayal of violence in the film “The Passion of the Christ.” Having seen the film, I was sickened that anyone felt the need to see the wounds to understand the suffering.

As a Presbyterian who works in film classification, I hope that Christian groups who protest “violence in the movies” are going to realize that this film pushes the boundaries of film violence. We see film violence every day at work, and those of us who examined the film felt that it was more realistically violent than almost all of the films Christians have petitioned us to ban.

My workmates, who are not Christians, were confused by the film. The message of redeeming love was lost as they asked how someone who considered himself to be a good Christian could focus so much on violence. I did my best to explain to them the theology behind it, but since I was feeling sick, it was a challenge. As a tool for evangelism, it failed miserably. I am sorry that Mel Gibson chose to forget that the Gospels are the good news of Jesus.

New Zealand

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I’m reminding all I meet that the death of Jesus was the result of his exemplary life, which should be a model for all of us. He was killed because of his call for justice and charity (to hasten the coming of the kingdom) that threatened the power structure. His crucifixion is the end result of a life well-lived -- not the reason for his life.

“The Passion of the Christ” harkens back to a faith understanding that was prevalent in previous centuries. It attempts to suck us into deep guilt and a religiosity based on fear rather than remembering and celebrating the life of Jesus as a man who showed us how to live.

Let’s beware of Mel Gibson’s proselytizing. His theology is dangerously dated for contemporary Christians.

Ledyard, Conn.

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After spending my life trying to figure out who Jesus really is and what he’s about, I’ve concluded that he’s whatever each person wants and needs him to be. I don’t know exactly what happened 2,000 ago, but I do know that it had enough of an impact to inspire an awful lot of people since then to embrace their own image of Jesus and live their lives accordingly.

That’s pretty much all I know for sure, and that’s what occurred to me as I watched Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The film reflects Mel’s own perception of Jesus and consequently tells us more about Mel than about the mysterious Jesus of history. Granted, Mel based his portrayal on the Gospel accounts, but the evangelists also created their own images of Jesus, based on their own preconceptions and prejudices. Were they inspired? Of course they were, just like any living person is inspired. For if God is truly infinite, we’re all God, and all our insights, no matter how narrow or brilliant, are manifestations of the Godhead. The awareness of one’s own Godhead, the “Christ consciousness,” enables a person to see through the eyes of others, to transcend his or her own perspective.

Torrington, Conn.

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 2004