In Ireland, Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has buried inside a lengthy, carefully thought defence of the Catholic Church opposition to gay marriage, a clear and direct admission that balancing the exclusion of same – sex couples from marriage, we should nevertheless recognize and cherish their relationships “in a culture of difference”.
Here’s the money quote:
An ethics of equality does not require uniformity. There can be an ethic of equality which is an ethic of recognising and respecting difference. A pluralist society can be creative in finding ways in which people of same-sex orientation have their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognisedand cherished in a culture of difference, while respecting the uniqueness of the male-female relationship. I know that the harshness with which the Irish Church treated gay and lesbian people in the past – and in some cases still today – may make it hard for LGBT people to accept that I am sincere in what I am proposing.
(The link above is to the full text of his address. Or, you could read a shorter news report here)
For years, Catholic bishops in one country or state after another have been strenuous in their opposition to marriage equality – frequently unsuccessfully. Much of the rhetoric employed has been offensive and divisive, but one of the important benefits to gay Catholics coming out of this vocal opposition to same – sex marriage, has been clear signs of a softening of approach, and a moderation in language, by many bishops in respect of same – sex relationships, and gay and lesbian people, themselves.
In some cases, this has been a fairly grudging recognition that there is value in supporting the legal provision of civil unions as a lesser evil than full marriage equality – even though in the early years of the struggle for equality, many bishops opposed even the introduction of civil unons (and continue to do, in countries like Italy and Colombia). In other cases, there have been bishops who accept that civil unions have direct value in themselves, by providing same – sex couples with legal protection. This statement by Archbishop Martin goes further than most however, in its clear recognition that same – sex relationships deserve to be not only accepted, but even “cherished”. Elsewhere in his address, he also acknowledges, as many of his peers did at the first session of the Rome family synod, that in the past, much of the language used by the Church, and its actual treatment of gay people, has been harsh and hurtful.
He acknowledged that the Church had given “harsh” treatment to gays and lesbians in the past – “and in some cases still today”.
The archbishop said the Church had at times used “harsh”, “insensitive and overly judgemental” language to present a message of love, and had presented rational argument as a dogma everyone must accept. But this was no justification for people today to replace dogmatism with “sound-bite-ism” as a way of avoiding rational debate, he said.
The Church still needed to learn to voice its criticism “clearly and without fear”, but in language that “which respects her Master”.
– from the Tablet
I agree with the archbishop that at times, both sides in the marriage arguments have been guilty of harsh and insensitive language, and that both sides should attempt rational and respectful discourse. His own words are an excellent example of this. It is notable for instance, that he does not use the offensive phrase “same – sex attraction”, which is the standard terminology of Vatican apologists, but the more usual and accurate, “same – sex orientation“.
So far so good. One could take issue with his defence of restricting marriage on the basis of its alleged basis in “complementarty”, but I’m not going into that, here. Just the recognition of the need to cherish same – sex relationships, and that for more sensitive language, represent substantial improvement on what we were hearing from bishops just a few years ago.
The next step has to be to clarify, just what does it mean in the context of the Church, to “cherish” same – sex relationships, when the Vatican documents are so clearly hostile? Some of this will undoubtedly be hotly debated at the final session of the family synod later this year, but that will not be the end of it.
It’s becoming ever clearer, that sooner or later, the key doctrinal statements on our relationships will inevitably have to be fundamentally rewritten. As James Alison has noted previously, “It’s an exciting time to be a gay Catholic” – now, more than ever.