Sunday 23 June 2013

Same-sex marriage: ecclesial aftermath

Legislation is currently in the House of Lords, having passed its stages in the House of Commons, to enable same sex couples to marry. Similar legislation has recently become law in France. The situation in the UK reflects a growing international movement in the direction of legalising same-sex marriage.

A conversation recently made me realise that, in reflecting on the votes in favour of the same-sex marriage legislation in the House of Commons, it had not occurred to me to look at those votes in terms of how Catholic MPs voted. It simply didn't occur to me to do so, either from my own private interest or from any thought of publicly considering the question in those terms in a blog post.

On reflection, there seem to be two reasons underlying this. One is a sense of the rightful autonomy of the lay person in the exercise of political activity, an autonomy that does not give me any expectation of Catholic MPs voting as a kind of "bloc" directed by the Catholic hierarchy (exaggeration for effect here, but I think the essential point is correct). Gaudium et Spes n.76 recognises an autonomy of political activity on the part of the Christian (my emphasis added):
It is very important, especially where a pluralistic society prevails, that there be a correct notion of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and a clear distinction between the tasks which Christians undertake, individually or as a group, on their own responsibility as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and the activities which, in union with their pastors, they carry out in the name of the Church.

The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.
And the decree on the lay apostolate articulates the particular responsibility of the lay person,  Apostolicam Actuositatem n.7, again with my emphasis added:
The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere. As citizens they must cooperate with other citizens with their own particular skill and on their own responsibility. Everywhere and in all things they must seek the justice of God's kingdom.
The second reason is a sense of an "appropriate secularity" that recognises a particular role of religions in offering (ethical) critique of matters of public policy and participation in public debate about such matters, but which does not constitute an exercise of political power as such. Pope Benedict expressed this latter principle in Westminster Hall in 2010:
The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.
Pope Francis has spoken in similar vein to visiting French politicians more recently. And the first part of a recent post describes my own experience of this idea in a different context, before considering the more immediate question of same-sex unions: Secularity, laicite and gay marriage.

The particular question I was being asked in my recent conversation was, at core, whether or not the bishops in the UK should apply the provisions of Canon Law to those Catholics who voted in favour of the same-sex marriage legislation in Parliament. In the light of the considerations above, my first observation was that it is really for the lay Catholic to act "on their own responsibility" and that, if they fail to do so, whatever action a bishop might take cannot make up for that failure on the part of the lay Catholic and for its adverse impact for the mission of the Church. My second observation was that, if a (public) canonical penalty is to be applied it needs to follow a due process, part of which would be a clear promulgation of that penalty as part of law being applied in the relevant local Church (diocese).

In our conversation, the relevant provision of Canon Law being referred to was:
Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.
This provision which applies to the minister of Holy Communion is followed by a provision that places an obligation on the person who approaches to receive:
Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.
The application of this latter provision will in most cases be private rather than public, and so considerations of due process in the application of a canonical penalty do not apply.
Also referred to in our conversation was the Sacred Congregation for Doctrine's Considerations regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons with regard to political support for same-sex unions:
When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.
When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided. This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.
The point made to me in response to what I had said about clear promulgation of the penalty was that this statement from the Congregation for Doctrine, in asserting the "gravely immoral" nature of a vote in favour of legislative provision for homosexual unions, was in effect such a promulgation. Since the nature of this document was "to reiterate the essential points on this question and provide arguments drawn from reason which could be used by Bishops in preparing more specific interventions, appropriate to the different situations throughout the world", I do think that the judgement that a vote in favour of a particular legislative proposal was "gravely immoral" would have to be taken up and affirmed by the bishop in application to the specific legislative proposal involved in order to achieve the element of promulgation that I believe is needed.

What conclusion do I draw at the end of all of this?

1. The real and most fundamental issue at stake is that of the effectiveness of the witness of the different members of the Church to her teaching on marriage. For the priest and bishop that will involve confidently and positively presenting that teaching in homily, in pastoral letter, in the pastoral encounters of sacramental preparation and catechesis, and, at times, through the means of social communication. This teaching includes Humanae Vitae - as was pointed out to me in the conversation that has prompted this post, the failure with regard to catechesis on contraception wrecks any defence of the purpose of sexual complementarity against the promotion of same sex unions. It also includes the permanence of marriage - one of my observations in our conversation was that, with the ready availability of re-marriage after divorce, UK law had already re-defined marriage compared to its Christian integrity. For the lay faithful it means being willing to "undertake, individually or as a group, on their own responsibility as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience" the demands of acting in favour of Catholic teaching. And if the priest or bishop fails in their part of the enterprise, the lay faithful are not able to make up for that failing (and certainly not by launching public criticism of the priest or bishop). And vice-versa, too, since, as the events surrounding Catholic adoption agencies and the votes on same sex marriage amply demonstrate, the priest or bishop is not able to make up for a failing that might occur on the part of the lay faithful.

2. The question of applying Canon 915 to bar from Holy Communion those  Catholics who have voted in favour of the present legislation going through Parliament does, I believe, need to be answered in this context. Such an application would do something to establish in the public consciousness, and in the consciousness of the Church's own members, that there is a contradiction between supporting such legislation and an authentically Catholic life. However, if that application is simply undertaken as an act of authority or discipline on the part of the bishop(s) - and this is the sense I gain of the desire of Traditionalists to see such an application - then it is not going to deliver the witness to Catholic teaching on marriage that it intends, being diverted instead into an argument about the authority of the bishop over the lay person (which in the particular sense discussed above, I do not believe the bishop has). If it is going to be undertaken with an intention of "reversing" in some sense the poor witness of lay Catholics, again, it is just not going to deliver that.  The whole manner of such an application needs to be carefully thought through and undertaken in a profoundly pastoral rather than authoritarian way. However, the promotion of the demands of Canon 916 - that those who have supported the current legislation should not present themselves to receive Holy Communion - might well provide an alternative that can be explored and that might just as effectively offer a witness to Catholic teaching on marriage.

3. What is a parish priest to do? I would suggest that they reflect on what is their part of the enterprise of witnessing to Catholic teaching on marriage .... that is, teaching about it in homily and pastoral encounter, and the need for this was part of my recent conversation. If some of the lay faithful are not doing their bit for the enterprise, the priest cannot replace them in the sphere of politics and culture to undo what they have done or not done.  He can only teach again ....

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Pope Francis is a "good thing"

Twice in the last couple of weeks or so I have found myself in the position of being asked by others what I thought of Pope Francis. It's a tricky question, because in giving an answer one can wonder whether or not one's interlocutor is unconsciously evaluating one's own ecclesial stance rather than one's view of Pope Francis.

However, I have ended up with three components to my answer to this question.

1. If the experience of our recent Popes is anything to go by, I do believe that at each moment we have been gifted with the Pope who we needed at that particular moment; and I trust that this extends, too, to Pope Francis. My own sensitivity particularly includes in this consideration Pope Paul VI, who I would really like to know much more closely than I feel I do. Equally to be included are Pius XII and John XXIII. For me, this consideration represents a fundamental basis for suggesting a "hermeneutic of continuity" between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, rather than a "hermeneutic of rupture".

2. Much has been made of Pope Francis' simplicity, represented by his living arrangements, and of his more informal style represented by his preaching "off the cuff" (though this should perhaps not be identified with preaching un-prepared) at his morning celebrations of Mass and his on occasion setting aside a prepared text to engage in a question and answer session. It is quite right to note this, and the way in which it attracts people to the person of the Pope is perhaps part of what enables me to see Pope Francis as the Pope that we need for our present moment. But what I do not think works is the representation of this simplicity and element of informality as a contrast with or a break from that of Pope Francis' predecessors, and Pope Benedict in particular. I have taken to talking about two different styles of simplicity - because one cannot see Pope Benedict's move from being one of the most significant Popes of all time to being an almost completely hidden figure in a life of prayer in the Vatican as being anything else but a manifestation of simplicity.

3. The third component of my answer has a somewhat philosophical root. I think we should approach the question with a phenemenological methodology. Instead of trying to read Pope Francis within the framework of a particular hermeneutic - be that the hermeneutic of the liberal Catholic or be that the hermeneutic of the traditionalist Catholic, or be that any hermeneutic in between - we should seek to determine the essence to be found in the reality itself. This can be exemplified very well by reflecting on Pope Francis choice to live at the Casa Santa Martha rather than in the apartments of the Apostolic Palace. For some, this a great sign of simplicity and poverty. For others, it is a sign of a turning away from a dignity of the Papal office. But what does Pope Francis himself say?

From the dialogue with the pupils and alumni of Jesuit schools, with my emphasis added:
A woman: I am Caterina De Marchis of the Istituto Leone XIII, and I was wondering: why you [Lei]— that is, you [using the familiar tu] — have renounced the riches of a Pope, like a luxurious apartment and an large car. Instead you have opted for a small apartment close by, and you even took the bus for bishops. Why ever did you give up riches?

Pope Francis: Well, I believe it is not only a matter of wealth. For me it is a question of personality: that is what it is. I need to live with people, and were I to live alone, perhaps a little isolated, it wouldn’t be good for me. I was asked this question by a teacher: “But why don’t you go and live there?”. I replied: “please listen, professor, it is for psychological reasons”. It is my personality. Also, the apartments [in the Papal Palace] are not so luxurious, they are peaceful…. however, I cannot live alone, do you understand? And then I believe, yes: the times speak to us of such great poverty throughout the world, and this is a scandal. The poverty of the world is a scandal. In a world where there is such great wealth, so many resources for giving food to everyone, it is impossible to understand how there could be so many hungry children, so many children without education, so many poor people! Poverty today is a cry. We must all think about whether we can become a little poorer. This is something we must all do. How I can become a little poorer to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher. This is the thing. But it is not a problem of my personal virtue, it is only that I cannot live alone, and the matter of the car, as you said: to not have too many things and to become a little poorer. It is this.
And it is worth noting that, though much was made at the time of Pope Francis setting aside his prepared text in favour of having more time for the question and answer session, it was clearly his intention to make the full text available to the participants in the meeting through Jesuit channels and through the press spokesman of the Holy See. I expect that a more phenomenological approach to Pope Francis will reveal for us the particular charism the he will have for us as Successor of St Peter.

A couple of Pope Francis' recent activities have caught my attention. The first was a short greeting addressed to members of the Senate and National Assembly of France  - a legislature that has recently passed legislation to legalise marriage between people of the same sex. The parallel between Pope Francis' remarks and those of Pope Benedict XVI speaking at Westminster Hall are striking, and all the more so given the very different religious/political contexts of France and Britain:
Le principe de laïcité qui gouverne les relations entre l’État français et les différentes confessions religieuses ne doit pas signifier en soi une hostilité à la réalité religieuse, ou une exclusion des religions du champ social et des débats qui l’animent. On peut se féliciter que la société française redécouvre des propositions faites par l’Église, entre autres, qui offrent une certaine vision de la personne et de sa dignité en vue du bien commun. L’Église désire ainsi apporter sa contribution spécifique sur des questions profondes qui engagent une vision plus complète de la personne et de son destin, de la société et de son destin. Cette contribution ne se situe pas uniquement dans le domaine anthropologique ou sociétal, mais aussi dans les domaines politique, économique et culturel.
The second is the letter sent by Pope Francis to Prime Minister David Cameron on the occasion of the G8 summit taking place at Lough Erne. It is very striking in its placing of the human person at the heart of economic activity - and one can see in that a continuity with the teaching of Gaudium et Spes, with the particular contribution with regard to the dignity and nature of the human person represented by Pope John Paul II (both as Pope and as philosopher) and similar contributions from Pope Benedict XVI.
I am pleased to reply to your kind letter of 5 June 2013, with which you were good enough to inform me of your Government's agenda for the British G8 Presidency during the year 2013 and of the forthcoming Summit, due to take place at Lough Erne on 17 and 18 June 2013, entitled A G8 meeting that goes back to first principles.

If this topic is to attain its broadest and deepest resonance, it is necessary to ensure that all political and economic activity, whether national or international, makes reference to man.....

The priorities that the British Presidency has set out for the Lough Erne Summit are concerned above all with the free international market, taxation, and transparency on the part of governments and economic actors. Yet the fundamental reference to man is by no means lacking, specifically in the proposal for concerted action by the Group to eliminate definitively the scourge of hunger and to ensure food security. Similarly, a further sign of attention to the human person is the inclusion as one of the central themes on the agenda of the protection of women and children from sexual violence in conflict situations, even though it must be remembered that the indispensable context for the development of all the afore-mentioned political actions is that of international peace....

The long-term measures that are designed to ensure an adequate legal framework for all economic actions, as well as the associated urgent measures to resolve the global economic crisis, must be guided by the ethics of truth. This includes, first and foremost, respect for the truth of man, who is not simply an additional economic factor, or a disposable good, but is equipped with a nature and a dignity that cannot be reduced to simple economic calculus. Therefore concern for the fundamental material and spiritual welfare of every human person is the starting-point for every political and economic solution and the ultimate measure of its effectiveness and its ethical validity.

Moreover, the goal of economics and politics is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers' wombs. Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.

In this sense, the various grave economic and political challenges facing today's world require a courageous change of attitude that will restore to the end (the human person) and to the means (economics and politics) their proper place. Money and other political and economic means must serve, not rule, bearing in mind that, in a seemingly paradoxical way, free and disinterested solidarity is the key to the smooth functioning of the global economy.

UPDATE: Posting almost simultaneously: Reading the Pope - towards a papal hermeneutic.  My own post has arisen from reflection on Fr Hugh's earlier posts: The Pope of our Punishment strikes and Papal integrity – matters arising from the previous post

Sunday 9 June 2013

We will surrender nothing

The speech of Ludovine de la Rochere at the 26th May La Manif pour Tous has been posted at the site of First Things: We will surrender nothing. Worth reading.