The San Francisco Chronicle titles the interview, “SF’s Archbishop Cordileone: Why he opposes gay marriage”, but the Archbishop is more interested in articulating the truth about marriage than he is in protesting a falsehood. After all, the question, “Why are you opposed to gay marriage?” is similar to the old “gotcha” question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” To answer the question without stopping to challenge, however politely, the premises behind would be a disservice to both truth and the questioner.
1. You have been at the forefront of the same-sex marriage debate in California and nationally. You helped raise money for Prop 8, got evangelical congregations involved and campaigned heavily for it. Should the Supreme Court legalize same-sex marriage in California in June, what would your next move be?
[Abp. Cordileone] I am a pastor and a teacher of the faith. It is responsibility to educate, motivate and inspire people to live by the truths of the Gospel, including using the blessed power we have as free citizens in a democracy to work for justice and compassion in the public square, and so contribute to the common good. When a great public issue like the meaning of marriage arises, of course, it’s my duty as a pastor to speak up. That job description won’t change regardless of any Supreme Court decision. But since the law is also a teacher, when it teaches an untruth (e.g., people of a certain race are inferior to others and can be treated as such, human life in the womb is not worthy of equal respect, or that two people of the same sex can make a marriage with each other) my job gets harder, but it doesn’t change: we need to work every day in our homes, in our parishes and in our communities to rebuild a marriage culture. Too many children are being hurt by our culture’s strange and increasing inability to appreciate how important it is to bring together mothers and fathers for children in one loving home. The basic question is: does our society need an institution that connects children to their mothers and fathers, or doesn’t it? The only institution that does this is marriage. Redefining marriage will mean that our society will have given its definitive answer: “no”; it will mean changing the basic understanding of marriage from a child-centered institution to one that sees it as a temporary, revocable commitment which prioritizes the romantic happiness of adults over building a loving, lasting family. This would result in the law teaching that children do not need an institution that connects them to the mother and father who brought them into the world and their mother and father to each other. Priority number one for me will continue to be looking for new ways to inspire Catholics to live their faith and help rebuild a more loving and successful marriage culture.
2. Why do you think that the Catholic Church should be spending money, time and resources on the same sex marriage battle, when it could be directing those resources toward helping the victims of the rapidly increasing poverty rate? How high of a priority should it be for the Church?
[Abp. Cordileone] Marriage and poverty are deeply intertwined concerns: an extremely high percentage of people in poverty are from broken families, and when the family breaks up it increases the risk of sliding into poverty, with single parents (usually mothers) making heroic sacrifices for their children as they struggle to fulfill the role of both mother and father. And beyond material poverty there is that poverty of the spirit in which kids hunger for their missing parent, who often seems absent and disengaged from their lives. We all have a deep instinct for connectedness to where we came from, and we deeply desire it when we do not have it. Promoting stable marriages is actually one of the best things we can do to help eradicate poverty…
Read the entire interview on the SFGate blog. Question #2 sums up so many of the deep problems involved in this entire discussion. The assumption is that the Catholic Church should merely be a social service agency concerned with material poverty only, not with spiritual poverty. Implicitly, the question suggests that the Church should only be in the public square if she is handing out hot meals and blankets. Nothing more, thank you. Of course, the Church is first and foremost meant to both a sign of contradition and a proclaimer of the Gospel, and there’s the rub.
But, setting that aside for a moment, the Archbishop’s answer here is excellent, simply because most people are quite clueless about the numerous social benefits that come with a stable, committed marriage between a man and a woman. As the authors of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter, 2012) write: “A state that will not support marriage is like a doctor who will not encourage a healthy diet and exercise.” And: “Redefining marriage will also harm the material interests of couples and children. As more people absorb the new law’s lesson that marriage is fundamentally about emotions, marriages will increasingly take on emotion’s tyrannical inconstancy.” If there is any doubt about that claim, simply look at what no-fault divorce—which has, without doubt, redefined marriage in many ways—has done to society over the past few decades.