Is the U.S. Catholic Church Softening on Gay Issues?
Some members of the Catholic Church and LGBT activists are at odds over the remarks that two American cardinals made recently.
Anti-abortion Cathoilc website Life Site News cites gay activists who believe that the Catholic Church's views on homosexuality and marriage equality in particular have "softened" after Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, and Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington D.C., made separate comments about gay marriage.
On Easter Sunday, Dolan was asked in an interview with ABC News what he would say to "a gay couple who told him, "We love God We love the Church. But we also love each other, and we want to raise a family in faith.'"
"We have to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people," Dolan said. "I admit we haven't been too good at that. We try our darndest to make sure we're not an anti-anybody. We're in the defense of what God has taught us about marriage. And it's one man-one woman, forever, to bring about new life."
Not long after Dolan's comments, Wuerl told Fox News' Chris Wallace that he believes gay Catholics fall into the same category as those who have divorced and remarried. Catholics who remarry are usually not allowed to receive communion.
Wallace asked the archbishop, if the Supreme Court should find gay marriage constitutional, what he would say to "gays who are good Catholics, who believe that God made them that way and who want to commit to a partner?"
"The Church is probably, with 20 centuries of experience, the most understanding of the human condition of any institution," Wuerl said. "But at the same time it does remind not only gay people but heterosexual people, straight people, 'You're not supposed to be following a moral law apart from what Christ has said to us.'"
He repeated Dolan's point that clerics should treat married gay couples the same way they do remarried heterosexual couples.
"We say, 'You're still part of the family, but we can't recognize that second marriage.' We do that, and it's never been a great problem," Wuerl told Wallace. He added that they should also "walk as close to Christ as you can. That's why we're here. Come to Mass. Participate in the life of the Church."
A Softer Approach?
Though some Catholic experts say that the church’s officials aren’t softening their position, some LGBT activists are saying otherwise.
Terrence Weldon, on his blog, "Queer the Church." said he believes the language used by Wuerl is a signal that the Catholic Church is inching closer to accepting marriage equality and the LGBT community.
"Cardinal Wuerl’s recognition that married gay Catholics are in a position no different to those who have remarried after divorce, ’and it’s never been a great problem,’ is a helpful step forward," Weldon wrote. He added that the most important aspect of the remarks was that "formal rules," are "ignored" in most parishes where "a more sensitive, pastoral welcome applies instead." Weldon added that he hopes married same-sex couples who are Catholic will take Wuerl "at his word" and to "expect the equal treatment, without encountering ’great problems,’ that the Cardinal has given them grounds to expect."
Catholic experts didn’t get the same message out of Wuerl’s comments, however. Fr. Peter West, vice president for Missions of Human Life International, told Life Site News that the cardinal’s statements does not mean the Catholic is easing up on its view on gay marriage.
"Despite what some anti-Catholic activists wish he said," Fr. West told the website. "Cardinal Wuerl simply restated the Church’s long held position that the Church preaches love for sinners -- which includes all of us -- but a hatred of sin." Life Site News also asked Wuerl’s spokesman if a married gay person would be denied communion.
"The interview speaks for itself. We’re not doing interviews on what the cardinal said," the spokesperson told the website. Fr. West, however, was sure that gay couples would not be allowed to receive the Holy Eucharist.
"Catholics who publicly reject church doctrine and are living in grave sin are called to repentance out of a pastoral concern for their souls, and a desire for their return to communion," he told Life Site.
Some may not be surprised by Wuerl’s position on gay marriage since Theodore McCarrick, who was the cardinal of Washington, D.C., before Wuerl told Bloomberg News that he backs gay civil unions. In the interview, after having been told that polls suggest that the majority of Catholics now favor gay marriage, he was asked what he would tell a same-sex couple who came to him for counsel.
"Well, I would tell them to try to be as good as they can, to try to be as faithful as they can," he said. "They can be good friends. The difficulty is we believe that the sacrament of marriage is made for a man and a woman."
The cleric’s views on gay rights did not sit well with George Neumayr of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis.
"Obviously, the Church has not been too severe but too soft, allowing many of her schools and colleges to become propaganda mills for the gay agenda," he wrote. He also points out that the former head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s seminary, Fr. Gerald Coleman, also backed gay civil unions. Coleman once wrote that if a gay couple can commit to a loving relationship he sees "no moral reason why civil law could not in some fashion recognize these faithful and loving unions with clear and specified benefits."
The cardinal’s viewed also struck a nerve with Kevin Collins of the conservative blog Coach is Right. In an April 2 article, Collins says he believes that gay rights activists are "plotting" to get gay marriage legalized in order to force Catholic churches to either recognize same-sex marriages or close down, as they would lose tax exceptions for doing so, he maintains.
"The real target of all of this is the Catholic Church. For all of her faults the Catholic Church has steadfastly refused to change her position against same gender marriage," Collins wrote. "The elevation of Pope Francis has done nothing to make anyone think this position will be changed." He goes on to suggest that even if the Supreme Court finds Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage act unconstitutional, the Catholic Church will still stand in the way of gay rights.
"The plan will be carried out in an insidious and low keyed manner. A pastor of a small unaffiliated white Protestant church will have a gay couple ask him to marry them knowing he will say no," he writes. "Since the pastor is unaffiliated with a larger structure he will be faced with a law suit putting him in an "either or" trap: Commit gay ’marriages’ violate scripture and stay open; or refuse and be taxed out of existence. At first many will resist but eventually some then more and more will be forced to cave in."