Earlier this week Florida became the most recent state to legally recognize same sex “marriage”. Although the voters had overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment recognizing the traditional definition of marriage back in 2008, United States District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled the amendment to be unconstitutional.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops immediately responded with a statement which clearly presented the Church’s defense of marriage and the family:
“The conjugal nature of a marriage between a man and a woman has provided for millennia the basis for norms of marital exclusivity and permanence that made possible stable families necessary for human flourishing…
“How society understands marriage has great public significance. Because of this, redefining civil “marriage” to include two persons of the same sex will have far-reaching consequences in society. Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults. Such a redefinition of marriage does nothing to safeguard a child’s right to a mother and father and to be raised in a stable family where his or her development and well-being is served to the greatest extent possible.
Redefinition of marriage will have implications not yet fully understood…
“Marriage based on the complementarity of the sexes is the lifeblood of family, and family is the foundation of our society. The crisis that sadly the family is experiencing today will only be aggravated by imposing this redefinition of marriage…”
Additionally, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami followed with a strongly worded directive to all diocesan employees advising them to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the moral truths of the Church:
“Because of the Church’s particular function in society, certain conduct, inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, could lead to disciplinary action, including termination, even if it occurs outside the normal working day and outside the strict confines of work performed by the employee for the Archdiocese.”
Unfortunately, this same clarity and commitment to combat radical secularism and moral relativism was not demonstrated by Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. In his Op-Ed piece written for the Tampa Bay Times on January 6, Bishop Lynch began well enough:
“In light of the judicial decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Florida as of Tuesday, I wish to lend an additional voice to the discussion regarding the challenges we in the Catholic Church face as we strive to preserve the traditional sacramental understanding of marriage even as the law now accommodates couples of the same sex.
The Catholic Church upholds marriage, one of our seven sacraments, as an indissoluble relationship between a man and a woman committed to mutual consolation and open to procreation. Such a view is rooted not only in the church’s long-standing theological understanding of married life, but in the church’s understanding of Christian anthropology as well, which views the conjugal and complementary relationship between a man and a woman as part of God’s providential design whereby human beings are able to be co-creators of life with God.
Therefore, any dialogue which reaffirms such a view of marriage and which seeks to ensure that such a view continues to be respected and enabled to serve and edify both the church and the wider society is to be commended and supported.”
If this were the entirety of Bishop Lynch’s statement all would be well. However, invoking the “spirit” of the mid-term Relatio from last years Extraordinary Synod on the Family, he continues:
“However, together with Pope Francis and in light of the discussions at the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family held in Rome, I also recognize that the reality of the family today, in all its complexities, presents the church with pastoral challenges as the church strives to accept people in the specific circumstances of their lives and support and encourage them in their search for God and their desire to be members of the church.
“Therefore, I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same-sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society.
“In the midst of changing societal definitions and understandings of marriage, there may no doubt be some confusion. However, with patience and humility, our church must continuously strive to discover what the spirit is saying and respond to the Synod Fathers’ suggestion to discern what pastoral response faithful to church teaching and marked by respect and sensitivity might be appropriate for same-sex couples, even as God’s creative designs for and the church’s sacramental understanding of marriage are affirmed.”
For those who are familiar with Bishop Lynch and the various controversies in the St. Petersburg diocese during his twenty years, this response cannot be surprising. None-the-less, all should take note of the verbiage employed. Under the banner of pastoral sensitivity, while also claiming an obedient response to the promptings of the spirit, we will see more bishops embracing relativism over orthodoxy. They will say it is merciful. In response I would offer them the words of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Doctrine and pastoral care are the same thing. Jesus Christ as pastor and Jesus Christ as teacher with his word are not two different people…”
(Photo Credit: CNS/Ed Foster Jr.)
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.