UPDATE Pastoral Letter from Archbishops Nichols and Smith on Same-Sex Marriage

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This is the full text of the pastoral letter written by Archbishop Vincent Nichols (above right and Archbishop Peter Smith ( above left), on ‘gay marriage’ which is to be read out in all Catholic parishes in the UK this weekend:
This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.
Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.
The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion.
Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.
There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.
The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage.
The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: ‘The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.’ (para.1601)
These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.
This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.
In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.
In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.
The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.
Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.
We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.
With every blessing
Most Reverend V. Nichols, Most Reverend P. Smith
11 March 2012
Prime Minister David Cameron has signalled his intention to legalise gay marriage and later this month the Government will begin a public consultation on the issue. Church leaders have set up the Coalition for Marriage, a pressure group that intends to lobby against any equalisation of Britain’s marriage laws.

 Catholic theologian and author James Alison pictured with the Revd Darren McCallig, Dean of Residence and Chaplain in Trinity College Dublin, prior to 'An Evening with James Alison' in the college. The event was organised by Partners in Faith, the Student Christian Movement of Ireland and The Church of Ireland Chaplaincy at TCD.

 In a previous post this week I pointed to a piece in Commonweal magazine and an interview with theologian James Alison ( above left.)

That post is here and I urge you to read it as it contains arguments which I agree with and I include some extra extracts below which are hugely relevant to the issues.

Whilst Archbishop Nichols has less of a homophobic shrill about it than the recent words from Cardinal Keith O'Brien see previous post here, there is still a defensive homophobic fear of the "other" behind it. 

Sunday's letter portrays a closed and subtle defensiveness and does nothing to open up the debate in a non adversarial way to consider what sort of pastoral support should be created in our modern world to ensure the integrity and fidelity of Catholic gay partnership within the church. 

I share James Alison's views. I will not be signing the petition. Fidelity and integrity are the crucial issues as I have said numerous times before.

Alison on labeling lesbian and gay people “objectively disordered”:
“My disagreement with the current teaching of the Roman Congregations is about what I consider to be their fundamentally flawed premise of the objectively disordered nature of the inclination.
I don’t think it’s even worth beginning to talk about what acts might be appropriate before there is a recognition that we are talking about people whose way of being cannot properly be deduced from other people’s way of being.
To do so would be like discussing different moves within a game of rugby while agreeing to hold the discussion under an enforced misapprehension that those moves are somehow defective forms of soccer playing.”

Salkeld: Would I be right to assume that you advocate for church recognition of same-sex marriage?

James Alison: I’m not sure this is a discussion that is even worth having until the basic parameters can be agreed upon. 

Those who are committed to the notion that the people about whom they are talking are indulging an objective disorder, are impenitent practitioners of grave sin, and thus would be seeking to sanctify something that can never be approved, are not useful conversation partners if we are in fact dealing with people who are acting appropriately in seeking a form of flourishing that is an entirely legitimate option given who they have found themselves to be. 

Once we’ve agreed that we can talk at all, then I would say that from my perspective, the appropriate liturgical shape by which we bless God for the gift of the love between two same-sex spouses, and beseech God’s blessing to incarnate itself in their lives for us as Church, is something for which we have little jurisprudence as yet! 

And the same is true for our understanding of the analogies and differences between the relationships of same-sex married couples, and those opposite-sex couples who choose to live out the sacrament of matrimony (with its concomitant implications of the munus of the mater). ***** My own translation of this is "Functions of the mother."

 It is the protagonists of these relationships who will, by lives lived publicly over time, yield for us knowledge of their essence.

 No sense trying to hurry what is necessarily going to be a process of learning over several generations.

What is certainly true is that no purpose at all is served by seeing these realities as in principle in rivalry with each other, as though same-sex marriage somehow cheapens opposite-sex marriage.

 Likewise, should it indeed turn out that marriage between two baptized persons of the same sex is not sacramental in exactly the same sense as opposite-sex marriage, then whatever form of sacramentality does turn out to be proper to same-sex couples would certainly not be “second best” to the sacrament of marriage. 

God’s summons to flourishing involves people being called in tailor-made ways, not forced to endure invidious comparisons. 

There are many mansions in God’s house, and he invites each of us to discover what is his plan for each one of us—we are called by name, not by category."

 Needless to say, there are other perspectives to add to the debate and here are just a few....
English: A Marriage or Husband and Wife tree.
Image via Wikipedia

  • The Guardian's editorial here
 "The argument that gay marriage undermines straight marriage is as unconvincing as it is insulting......"

  • and because of its length a very useful summary of its main points from Bilgrimage here.
  • UK theologianProfessor Tina Beattie, Director of The Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholci Studies, University of Roehampton explains the Catholic view of marriage from here. and also I agree with what she says below:
    “If we want to understand the sacrament, we need to look to Christ and the Church, not to the abundant diversity of participation within that sacramental love that constitutes our bodily human relationships.
    I’ve been married for 37 years and I have four children, but the loving relationships of my gay friends have helped me to understand more deeply what marriage means as a partnership of equals. I hope that they in turn have been enriched by their married heterosexual friends, and have better understood what their love means within the sacramental love of Christ and the Church.
    In these times of radical change in our understanding of sexuality and human dignity (especially the full and equal dignity of women in this life and not just in the life to come), maybe we heterosexuals need the marriages of our homosexual friends to help us to understand what marriage looks like when it’s not corrupted by traditions of domination and subordination.”
  • A useful piece (in parts), here

Hold the tension !!
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