July 5, 2013

Local Catholics disappointed, but not surprised, by court rulings

By Sean Gallagher

Disappointed, not surprised, but still holding on to hope.

That’s a summary of the reaction of local Church leaders and a wife and mother to separate controversial rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage redefinition cases announced on June 26.

In one ruling, the justices voted 5-4 to strike down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that required the federal government to deny various benefits to same-sex couples.

In the other case, the justices voted 5-4 that there was no legal standing for the plaintiffs to defend California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved ballot initiative which banned same-sex marriage in the state. Within days of the announcement of the ruling, same-sex couples were obtaining marriage licenses from county clerks across California. (Related story: Court rulings don’t deter ministry to people with same-sex attractions)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin commented on the decisions via e-mail from Rome where he received his pallium from Pope Francis on June 29.

“Personally, I am saddened by a government body, be it a legislature or the Supreme Court, that presumes the right to define the institution of marriage,” Archbishop Tobin said, “an institution which is prior to any form of government as well as an essential element in the formation of any society.”

He noted that officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were studying the rulings to gauge their long-term consequences. Archbishop Tobin also expressed his concern that the rulings would “result in more confusion among the citizens of this country.”

As executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, Glenn Tebbe serves as the official spokesman on state and federal issues for the Church in Indiana. He has worked with elected officials for years to promote and protect traditional marriage.

“It is disappointing that the Supreme Court ruled as it did,” Tebbe said. “But the central question remains: What is marriage? In the Church’s understanding, marriage brings together a man and a woman for life and connects children with their mother and father. The Church will continue to stand for the truth of marriage and the good of children.”

He noted that the rulings do not immediately affect Indiana law.

“Marriage in Indiana remains one man and one woman. Indiana law was not affected,” Tebbe said. “However, the long-term impact is uncertain. The impact will be revealed as consequences are realized over the coming years through laws and court decisions.”

Tebbe also commented on how the rulings might affect a proposed amendment to Indiana’s constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

“The decision allows Indiana to adopt a constitutional amendment,” he said, “but an amendment and its language may come under greater scrutiny, as this ruling is interpreted and applied to specific state laws and constitutional amendments.”

Father Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, has studied the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality in his effort to earn a doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

He is concerned that the rulings are not based in either natural or divine law, but merely on “positive law, acts of human beings because they want it that way.

“That’s a very dangerous place for society to be, when all of the laws and what is legal and not legal is based simply on the will of those in power,” Father McCarthy said.

These most recent rulings, Father McCarthy noted, weren’t quick in coming. He argued that they are the fruit of the emergence of a contraceptive mentality some 50 years ago with the development of the Pill and the advent of no-fault divorce.

“When you separate children from marriage and you separate commitment from marriage, then marriage really means nothing,” he said. “When marriage means nothing substantial, it’s not surprising that people don’t have objections to extending the right to marriage when they see marriage as not permanent and also as not having to do with reproduction.”

Father McCarthy said that the current cultural context that supports and even promotes the gay lifestyle makes it difficult to share the Church’s vision for marriage and sexuality. But he’s still convinced that it is “tremendously good news” that needs to be proclaimed widely.

“This is the way that God designed society to work,” Father McCarthy said. “And when we cooperate with that, things will go well and do go well.”

He said that an essential way to share this vision is through “married couples living out their vocation faithfully.

“That’s the real witness and really should be the emphasis when you’re looking for the Good News, a positive Gospel message,” Father McCarthy said

Joeline and Brian Chipps, members of St. Nicholas Parish in Ripley County, have tried to provide that witness both in their married life and in giving presentations on the Theology of the Body for the past 13 years.

In giving these presentations to youths, engaged couples and other adults, they have seen the power of the Church’s vision for marriage and sexuality.

“To open up people to understand the meaning and purpose of sexuality in this culture is huge. It’s mind-blowing,” said Joeline, who with her husband are the parents of nine children. “And it resonates so deeply with people, because everybody is aching for love.

“Most people, by the time we get to them, have been hurt in the area of their love and sexuality. And when you reveal to them the truth, their eyes light up. We get tears. We get people saying, ‘How do I live this now?’ It’s an amazing ministry.”

From her knowledge of the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality and her lived experience of it, Joeline knows well how last week’s Supreme Court rulings present a different message.

“There can be no [new] life from a man and a man or a woman and a woman. That’s natural law,” she said. “All life comes from this unity. Unless you’re going to remove that unity and move it into a lab, which is a whole other moral issue, you can’t have life.”

Despite the rulings, Joeline is as convinced as ever about the necessity of sharing the message of the Theology of the Body.

“The courts may be saying this. This law may say that,” Joeline said. “But that’s not going to deter me or anyone else that teaches the Theology of the Body. I think it’s going to make us more passionate to move into this area of the new evangelization … .” †

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