Thursday, October 31, 2013

Don’t be surprised if they get violent

"But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase."  source

These two sentences should be read aloud, repeatedly, at frequent intervals, in private and in public, until those trying to make the case that the Roman Catholic Church is a force for good in the world see the absurdity of their claim.

The source of this license to hunt is Vatican City, the so-called Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the organization known in earlier times as The Holy Inquisition. Effectively, it is the voice of the pope, the “magisterium,” the “official teaching” the Roman Catholic Church puts up there as authority on a par with Biblical scriptures.

The church is behind such notions as the “white man’s burden” no longer.  Racism is out.  Sexism is still there, but at least they’re embarrassed by it and are making a feeble attempt to make us believe there is nothing sexist about claiming that only men – and not women – are authorized by God to turn bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ.   But they’re still not making the slightest effort to hide the church as a major source of homophobia.

Your church may love you, they tell you, but only if you admit that you are “disordered” by nature.  Christ may have loved you unconditionally, but we have made some adjustments.  Our love for you is conditional upon your agreement to live without a helpmate in life, without expression of physical affection, and with the recognition that if some thug hits you over the head in a dark alley, you yourself are responsible.  Not just for being in the dark alley, but for being who you are.

“We made a mistake,” this document tells us.  We put out the word in 1975 that a distinction is to be made between being and doing.  It was OK to be gay.  You just can’t act on it.  We were wrong.  We should not have given you license to think that being gay was OK.   Should not have suggested that landlords should rent to you, or that you should be allowed to teach children.  The inclination to be gay or lesbian should be seen as a “tendency…towards an intrinsic moral evil…an objective disorder.”

And there it is, in paragraph #7, the warning that neither the Church nor society should be surprised when “violent reactions increase.”  No word about the wrong being done by people with violent reactions.  Merely a warning that they are part of the natural order of things.

Paragraph 11 uses the word “discrimination.”  At least the holy fathers of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith call a spade a spade.  But note the two words immediately preceding – “not unjust.”  We can discriminate, yes.  And it is just to do so.

Paragraph 12 makes a comparison with those who are contagious or mentally ill.  The government has a right to restrict their behavior.  In like manner, they have the right to limit how you come and go, Mr. or Ms. Disordered Person.

Paragraph 16, the final paragraph, sums it up.  “(I)t is inappropriate for Church authorities to endorse or remain neutral toward adverse (i.e., pro-gay) legislation even if it grants exceptions to Church organizations and institutions (italics mine).”

This wretchedness was written by Ratzinger in 1986.   Lots of things have changed in the past twenty-seven years, but to my knowledge, this “teaching” is still in effect.  [For an extensive background treatment of the issue, see here.]  

Have no doubt about it.  The official Roman Catholic Church is Homophobia Central.

Voices within the church like to claim that they are now the victim of a concerted effort to bring the church down.  “My guys” on the left rush to deny such claims and decry conservative church leaders’ attempts to play the victim.  With all due respect for “my guys” on the left, though, my response is not to deny the claim at all.  On the contrary, my response is

1.     Bet your ass.
2.     You ain’t just a-whistlin’ Dixie
3.     No shit, Sherlock
4.     Bingo!
5.     Got that right!
The question is not whether to fight homophobia – fighting homophobia is a cause millions of us, gay and straight, will engage in as long as we live and breathe.  The question is how.   If left to my own devices I’d go on calling for a Samson to bring the entire church structure down on their wretched heads. 

But I recognize there is another way.  There is a critical mass of Catholics working within the church who believe the church can be brought closer to the image of the Christ who preached the Sermon on the Mount.  That is, after all, just about the only place in the Bible, supposedly, where you find the actual words of Christ.  We can at least cheer these Catholics of good will on in their efforts to “get their church back.”

I have no idea what the odds are.  Many are finding encouragement in the direction the new pope seems to want to move in.  I’m not so sure he can make it happen – or even that he wants to.  But the Ratzinger voice behind this updated (in 1992) promulgation has been toned down a bit by the new pontiff.   Let's hope he can remind his flock there’s no Beatitude which goes, “Blessed are the violent, for they shall surprise no one when they beat up on gays.”

Note: I wrote this in response to a blog posting by one of those Catholics working from inside – although he has to pedal pretty fast to stay there, I understand.  It’s definitely worth a look.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Viddy viddy vit boom boom

“Henry’s Church,” the village of Heinrichskirchen, in the Upper Palatinate, in Bavaria, seems to consist of only two roads and a fire station.  Highway CHA35 runs north and south, and Highway CHA34 runs east and west.  Heinrichskirchen was combined in 1972 along with seven other villages with equally delightful names: Bernried, Diepoltsried, Fahnersdorf, Grassersdorf,  Hillstett, and Pillmersried I and II, and attached to a town with the anything but delightful name of Rötz.   Together they number today some 3464 souls, according to the Bavarian State Office for Statistics and Data Processing (Bayrisches Landesamt für Statistik und Datenverarbeitung).  I am unable to come up with figures for Heinrichskirchen itself.

You can walk to Rötz from Nuremberg in about 24 hours, according to Google Maps – or drive it in about and hour and a half.  From Regensburg it’s an hour by car, twelve hours on foot.  That’ll get you to the center of Rötz; it’s still another ten minutes up the CH35 to the firehouse in Heinrichskirchen.

The presence of a firehouse in this village too small to register on the map may have something to do with Rötz’s history.  The city’s website lists the following historical events, among others:

1017 – founded by Emperor Henry II
1255 – first church built and pastor named
1408 – established as legal seat of the Schwarzenburgs
1433 – inhabitants join the battle of the Hussites at Hiltersried
1505 – officially called a town
1600 – great fire in the northern part of town
1634 – Schwarzenburg tower destroyed by invading Swedes in the Thirty Year War
1705 – people’s uprising against conscription by occupying Austrian troops in their war over Spanish succession
1709 – 23 houses destroyed in a town fire
1742-44 – rape and pillage by Austrian troops
1771 – 87 main buildings and 69 minor ones burned to the ground in a fire
1840 – largest fire in the history of the town: 143 major buildings, 145 minor ones.
1868 – founding of the Rötz Voluntary Fire Department
1915 – rail connection established; water line connected
1921 – connected to the electric grid
1924 – streetlights introduced

Just to the northwest of Heinrichskirchen, and still on the main highway, is the town of Oberviechtach.  Oberviechtach’s main claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Doctor Johann Andreas Eisenbarth, a barber-surgeon who practiced medicine without a license and specialized in bone fractures and cataracts.  Although Eisenbarth abandoned his birthplace and never seemed to have done it a bit of good, they have named their Middle School after him and established an Eisenbarth fountain.  The local pharmacy sells an “Eisenbarth Elixir”.  Eisenbarth travelled with an entourage of up to 120 people all around Germany, with harlequins and musicians performing as he did his surgery to drown out the cries of pain.  In 1800 a song was written which went, “Ich bin der Doktor Eisenbarth (My name is Doctor Eisenbarth), that functions like a folk-song and is still sung today.  “My name is Doctor Eisenbarth, viddy viddy vit boom boom.  I make the blind walk and the lame see, viddy viddy vit boom boom.”  It loses much in translation.

Today this picturesque region of Germany near the Czech border is a center for tourism and relaxation.  The wealth of modern Germany has enabled the inhabitants to leave the misery of war and  destruction behind and hold folk festivals and bring tourists in from around the world.

It wasn’t always so.

Barbara Gebhard's Passport to America
For the past day or two I’ve been helping a friend of mine decipher a document from 1840.  It’s the passport issued by the Bavarian State Court Authorities to his great great great grandmother, Barbara Gebhard, who was born and was still living in Heinrichskirchen at the time but went to Oberviechtach to get permission to leave Bavaria and travel by way of Hamburg to her not-yet husband and father of her child Johann Baptist.  The document is written out in longhand in the script in use in Germany as late as the 1940s, a horrible system of up-and-down lines and letters (e, n, c, m, i and u) which all look alike to the uninitiated).  I learned this script as a child and remember my grandmother teaching me to make a loop over the u “so you don’t get it mixed up with the n”.  The year was 1840, the year of the fire that burned Rötz to the ground, but Barbara Gebhard may have known nothing about that, since we know only of her travels between Heinrichskirchen and Oberviechtach.  On the other hand, Rötz was less than seven kilometers to the south and it might have spurred her on to get the hell out of Dodge all the faster.

Looking at old documents is almost as much fun as a good read, for me.  Certainly a great distraction from watching the United States of America burn to the ground thanks to our modern-day invading Austrian army equivalent, the Koch Brothers and their Tea Party troops.  I was able to correct notions I had had all my life about German script, for one thing.  (See footnote)

For another, I reflected for the first time on the reason so many old documents had detailed descriptions of people involved.  Obvious, once you think about it, but I had never considered the consequences of living in a world before photography.  From a historical perspective it dawned on me for the first time that a vivid description of the pass holder was necessary, because photos were not yet invented.  And that meant that every time Barbara had to present her travel document she had to watch as the officer checked to see if indeed her forehead was rounded and her nose came to a point.  And know that they were thinking, “Here she is, big and bold, traveling just like anybody else with her little bastard son.  What’s this world coming to?”

The description of Barbara’s son as illegitimate took me back to the day in 1960 when I went in to register my residence as a foreign student in Munich.

“Name?” – asked the police official, poised to write down my answer, rather than let me fill in a form myself.  Was that because there were so many illiterate people still around?  Or was it simply German officiousness, and it took an official being to make marks on an official paper?  It can’t be for fear of bad handwriting, if Mr. Wolf’s writing is the standard.

I gave the officer my name and he wrote it down as best he could, leaving off the Mc in McCornick as a kind of “von,” which he had no use for, being working class, I suppose.  (I can only speculate, but I do remember being told at some point that it was arrogant of me to be using the Mc, that “democratic” people got rid of the honorific titles of nobility.  I had to explain the Mc was Gaelic for “son” and not a marker of nobility at all.)


Torrington, Connecticut.

He writes down “Torrington, USA”

“Legitimate or illegitimate?”


“Were you born legitimate or illegitimate?


I was only 20 at the time and still sensitive about my identity, and there I was standing in a room full of strangers, all within hearing distance.  I don’t remember what other information he wanted after that.  I just remember making a bee-line home to write a letter of gratitude to my mother and father for getting married before bringing me into the world.

Oh, there was one more question I remember:

“Where were you on September 1, 1939?”

An honest and true answer would have been, “in my mother’s uterus,” but I lacked the moxie to make that plain and simply muttered an apology for not yet being born.

That memory flooded in as I noted on this travel document for my friend Steve’s great-great-great grandmother that she had to declare before God and all the world that her little boy standing next to her was born out of wedlock.  No matter that she was leaving Germany to emigrate to America to join the boy’s father, and presumably marry at some point, that she was one of thousands and thousands of immigrants who left tired old Europe for a new start in the new in the 19th and early 20th centuries, people who now make up America’s educated ruling class as well as the modern-day equivalent to the peasant and worker class which most of them stemmed from.

Barbara Gebhard got her passport and a scribe of the Bavarian State Court named Wolf asked the world to give her “safe and unhindered” passage as she made her way to her ship in Hamburg.  For that, I suppose some gratitude is in order, although I find it astonishing how much care went into documenting the rounded foreheads and pointy noises of ordinary citizens of the German lands.

What a picture this all makes, when you put it all together – the ravages of the Thirty Years War, invasions by Swedes from the North and Austrians from the South, fires that burn your town to the ground and make you start from scratch, separation from your loved ones who go on ahead to make their fortune in the new world and bureaucratic humiliation as you wait patiently for the bureaucracy to document your comings and goings.

Barbara Schindler and her son John the Baptist Schindler made it.  Her great-great-great grandson is here to tell the story and poke around looking for details of his family’s origin in the Oberpfalz, the “Upper Palatinate.”  Such a noble sounding name, reminiscent of the Palatine Hill in Rome, the home of the Caesars.   (How the name travelled through the centuries of the Holy Roman Empire is a story for another day.)  Much of Southern Germany carries the name Palatinate in one form or another.  Upper Palatinate is a more out-of-the way and separate region of Bavaria, only recently come into its own as a tourist destination, a place to stop and rest on a whizz-bang tour as you run from the Romantic Road of old half-timber houses (the ones that managed not to burn to the ground) to the delights of modern-day Prague and beyond.

One could do worse than be a child of the Palatinate, methinks.

An Zucker sparengrundverkehrt!
Der Körper braucht ihn, Zucker nährt!" -
"To skimp on sugar -
fundamentally wrong!
Your body needs it, sugar nourishes!"

Footnote on the Fraktur and Antiqua Scripts: 

Barbara Gebhard’s single-page laissez-passer, the “Reisepass,” the same word used today in German for “passport,” is written in the so-called “Kurrent” script, a way of writing by hand which corresponds to the typeface we know as “Gothic Script” or “Fraktur” (from the way the letters appear to be “broken” or “fractured.”  (See the Brühl Sugar Factory ad on the right to see what I’m referring to.)  

My German grandmother, wanting to make a good little German of me, naturally taught me to read this “old” script, insisting that I’d need it if I wanted to read the Bible in the original Lutheran version.  She didn't call it "Kurrent" - she used the name Sütterlin Script, which I only today learned is a version of Kurrent introduced only in the 1930s and used for a mere fifteen years or so.  Close enough for government work, I suppose, but it’s nice, after all these decades, to have some mush swept clear from my brain, however trivial the detail.

It remains a curiosity, however, why Barbara Gebhard’s passport has both Fraktur and Antiqua styles together.  Were they both written by the same scribe, the Mr. Wolf, whose signature appears at the bottom, with Antiqua functioning as a kind of bold face or italics?   Or were there two hands at work, with another person filling in the individual biographical details, I wonder.  

If I could go back in time, I'd not only check in on Jesus to see if he really did marry Mary Magdalene.  I'd also go back and ask Mr. Wolf why he was writing in two different scripts.  No sense in not using your powers to the limit.

I'd then probably want to suggest to Barbara that if she had any money from the old country with her after arriving in America to hang onto it and pass it on to her kids.  I noticed she paid 3 Kreuzer to get her passport.  If by any chance she had a 20 Kreuzer coin in her possession, it would be worth over a million dollars today and I could hit her great great great grandson up for a free lunch, I'm pretty sure.

credits: Sugar man
Barbara Gebhard's pass, courtesy of Steve Schafer

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Bishop of Bling

I’ve been following with great interest the latest church scandal in Germany.  This one involves the revelation that a prince of the church decided he wanted to actually live more like a prince.  As can often happen with news events, this is turning out to be a veritable Rashomon of a story, with so many ways of telling it and a list of implications as long as your arm.

I’m talking about the Roman Catholic Bishop of Limburg, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.  You can tell from the Dutch-looking name that his roots are in the low German lands.  Also Dutch-sounding is the name of his birthplace, Twisteden – low German for Twin Cities.   The “Elst” in his name is the Dutch city of Elst, a town just the other side of the Dutch university town of Nijmegen, about 35 miles to the Northwest.

All of these facts are totally irrelevant to the scandal.  It’s just that when you’re digging around for background information on somebody these days, you come up with all sorts of curious trivia.  My North German mother came from Plattdeutsch speaking people who counted to ten – een, two, tri, vier, fif, sex, seven, acht, negen, tin and asked the time with “Vo feel klock hev vi” (How much clock have we?) instead of standard German, “Wieviel Uhr ist es?”  I have always felt some kind of connection with lowlanders, whether German, Dutch or Flemish folk.

Franz-Peter is interesting to me much more, however, because, like his fellow German Catholic Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, he began his life as a liberal cleric and had a crisis of faith at some point which turned him into a conservative.  Ratzinger was turned off by watching the students of the sixties run wild.  I don’t know what turned Franz-Peter.  That’s another trivia tangent to chase down some day if I ever run out of things to do. 

In any case, Franz-Peter bought the line of the traditionalists that authority in the church needed to be restored and respected, that his word as a bishop required unquestioned obedience, and, it would seem, that he could enhance that authority by living like a prince.  What got him into trouble was his decision to spend over forty-two million dollars on a residence in a town with only about 33,000 inhabitants.  (There are several Limburgs – one in Holland, one in Belgium.  This Limburg is usually distinguished by the river it’s on, and the town is commonly called Limburg-an-der-Lahn.)   Moreover, I’d have to dig some more to find the latest census for Limburg, but the 2011 figures for the state of Hesse, where Limburg is located, shows it has fewer than a quarter of the population listed as active Roman Catholics.  These are rough hasty calculations, but doesn’t that suggest an outlay of $42 million for about 8200 local citizens?  Even if you consider the importance of the cathedral (it appeared on the back of a 1000 Mark bill at one time), that’s a lot of bucks for not a lot of people.  Particularly when you consider these 8200 people, most of them, would never actually get to take a bath in the 15,000 euro bathtub. or sit at the 25,000 euro conference table.  Or, for that matter, even worship in the 2.9 million euro chapel.

Bishop Tebatz-van Elst has brought his
own chair to the audience, Holy Father
Headlines in this morning’s papers reveal that the pope has relieved him of his duties.  Church officials appear to be greatly relieved, thinking this decision by the Poverty Pope will quiet things down.  Maybe the story will go away.

Don’t bet on it. 

The cat’s out of the bag.  Not only are people like me entertaining themselves with all sorts of trivial information – the number of towns called Limburg, for example – but some people are asking far more piercing questions.  Like where the hell did all this money come from in the first place.  And what on earth gave this bozo the idea that he could spend it on his own digs?

Why, many are asking, did Franz-Peter break down the projects into small pieces, each costing less than five million.  It couldn’t be that if a project costs more than five million you have to get Vatican approval, could it?

Why did Franz-Peter take a first-class plane trip to India to have his picture taken caring for the poor?  His own excuse, that he needed to arrive well rested, because it wouldn’t do the kids any good to have him arrive with bags under his eyes, might be excused as an exaggeration, but not a lie.  But then why did he insist he went Business Class when he actually went First?  And why, for heaven’s sake – is the guy stupid? – did he submit two false affidavits to this effect to the Regional Court of Hamburg, thus make himself guilty of perjury?

Like many drunk with the power of their office, Tebartz-van Elst seems to be clueless about how many of his flock have his number.  He has issued statements which suggest he was guilty of little more than a peccadillo here and there.   And the arrogance knocks your socks off.  “Even a bishop,” he notes in a letter to his flock about the scandal, “is not immune to doubts and must be able to bear criticism,” as if it were about his doubts and not about deception and stunning malfeasance.

It’s all over when a bishop becomes a laughing stock.  Light artist Oliver Bienkowski  yesterday projected a caricature of the bishop onto the facade of the cathedral with "Thou shalt not steal" underneath.   One German TV comedian on the Heute-show (The Today Show), evidently realized the best way to satirize the bishop was to let him hang himself with his own words.  At minute 3:57 it shows him explaining why he needed to sleep in a first class bed on the plane.   Speaking of the folks he went to visit in India, he says, “You have to see it through their eyes.  I kept these people waiting for four years. Imagine if I arrived overtired.  That would be no fun for them.”

At least one conservative Catholic blogger has come to his defense.  According to Mark de Vries of In Caelo et in Terra, Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, the former Apostolic Nuncio to Germany, was not only aware of the construction plans but also agreed to the splitting of the plan into ten smaller pieces.  De Vries cites the German press agency KNA as the source of this information.  Curiously, Archbishop Périsset retired eight months early.  Could be another coincidence.

And, by the way, you’ve got to love the comment to this article, “Let’s pray for the Bishop.”

Yeah, right.

To get back to the questions people are asking, on the Anna Will talk show the other day where a panel of guests discussed the “Bishop of Bling” and all the goings-on, somebody implied that this was money paid for by Catholics through their church taxes.  But that misconception quickly got clarified.  Only part of the church’s expenses (and this goes for the Protestant Church in Germany, as well) is paid by church taxes assessed on its members.  There is also this thing known as the Dotatio.

For history buffs, this is where the plot thickens.  Apparently when Napoleon took the lands from the church west of the Rhine he agreed to compensate the churches east of the Rhine.   Details make your eyes spin in their sockets, but somehow the state inherited that obligation which obtains to this day.  Church taxes, which amounted to €4.3 billion ($6 billion, U.S.) in 2011, go only so far.  A great deal of money for clerics’ salaries and church property upkeep comes from that Dotatio, which came to €480 million ($661 million, U.S.).  That means that every German taxpayer, Jew, Muslim, Protestant, non-believer as well as church members, is paying for that 15,000 euro bathtub.   And to put numbers to that group, some 30.8 million Germans are not members of a church.  That’s a lot of people to piss off, if they ever get wind of what’s going on here.

Two facts behind these figures twist the knife in the back of those the church has no use for.  One is the church tends to get credit for all the Catholic schools and hospitals, even though in many cases 100% of the costs are picked up by state.  They do not come from church funds.  Second, despite using general taxpayer funds, the Church can still keep gay people from working at those institutions or fire gay employees on the spot if they reveal they are gay.  It can also fire at will a man or woman who divorces.  Keep birth control information under wraps.  The argument runs that this is a church-run institution and it therefore has the right to dictate how it is run.  Many people have made it their life’s work to correct this form of taxation without representation.  One such person is Ingrid Matthäus-Meier, for example - who points out (the lecture is in German) that although many people think there are two official state churches in Germany, one Catholic and one Protestant, in fact neither of these, according to the constitution, is official.  Germany has official separation of church and state.   Now that Tebartz-van Elst has brought Ms. Matthäus-Meier's cause into sharp relief, who knows what will come of this story in the days to come.

There’s a new pope and he’s embarrassing everybody by focusing on things like Matthew 19:21 where it says, (using the Douay-Rheims version approved by the Catholic Church): “Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.”

Bishops in silks and satins have been around as long as anybody can remember.  Bishops with jewel-encrusted fingers are old news.  Much as people would like to take them away from them, too many people still labor under the conviction that clerics deserve veneration, despite a few bad apples “on the periphery.”

Even with the child-abuse albatross around their necks, the Roman Catholic clericalists (those who argue clerics are a cut above normal people and have earned special benefits) still miss the point it isn’t the bad apple priests with stunted sexualities at the heart of the story but the clericalist idea of a solution: to hide the problem under the rug, pay victims to keep silent and shuffle the victimizers around where they can continue to commit sexual abuse.

Sex and deception scandals have done great harm to the institutionalized church.  But in the long run, it might just turn out that widespread anger and resentment over church finances will be even harder for the church to deal with.   The church rode out corruption in the Vatican Bank and suggestions of Mafia involvement.  But that was some time ago, before the current disillusionment with the state of the hierarchy set in.  People today have a shorter fuse.

“A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound – money makes the world go ‘round” sang the Berlin host in Cabaret.

It could also be the thing that stops the church from going around and brings the princes of the church to their knees.

And I’m not talking in a Hail Mary kind of way.

picture credits: the bishop and the gold bars;
...brought his own chair for his audience with you, Holy Father;
the bishop and the fancy car;
two shots from the Heute-show from German television

Saturday, October 19, 2013

To the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey

The New Jersey Supreme Court determined yesterday that there is no reason to stand in the way of same-sex couples who want to marry.   Protests from Republicans and conservative religious organizations notwithstanding, new freedom is coming to New Jersey.

Because the sea change in attitudes toward LGBT people is so heartening, I probably ought to focus on the positive and simply pop another champagne cork.  But I also know this is only the latest battle won and the war rages on.  For that reason, I stopped to read the arguments from both sides that went into making the decision.  One in particular caught my attention.  It’s from the National Catholic Register from January of last year, a statement signed by all five Roman Catholic Bishops running the Roman Catholic churches in New Jersey plus the Byzantine and Syriac Catholic bishops, all of whom take the line there is something wrong with homosexuality which justifies limiting the civil rights of LGBT people.

Both those with a vested interest in the status quo and those seeking progressive changes have made their cases almost to the point of exhaustion, and I doubt I can say anything that has not been said before.   But who knows?   Sometimes people think things over and change their views.  One can always hope.

So here’s what I have to say to the good Catholic bishops of New Jersey.  It’s a draft.  If you can think of ways to make it better, please chime in.  I may get around to sending it.

 *     *     *

Dear Bishops Myers, O’Connell, Galante, Serratelli, Bootkoski, Skurla, and Habash:

I have just read your collective statement arguing against extending the right of LGBT people to marry, and I take issue with what you have to say.   I have put your original letter in italics and written between your lines.

A Statement by the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey
On Marriage as a Union of One Man and One Woman
January 20, 2012

Marriage as a union of a man and a woman has its roots in natural law. Throughout all of human history marriage has been held to be a union of man and woman.   Marriage as a union of man and woman existed long before any nation, religion, or law was established.

The conservative argument that "things have always been this way" sounds good in a general abstract way, but it falls down when it comes to particulars.  Men have historically dominated over women, brutalized people outside their tribe, taken what they wanted.  “The way it always has been” would justify slavery, genocide, racism, sexism and homophobia.  People of good will seek a better world than the one that “always has been.”

Marriage which unites mothers and fathers in the work of childrearing is the foundation of the family and the family is the basic unit of society.

And that marriage will continue.  You are thinking in terms of “either/or” when you could just as readily think in terms of “both/and.”

Sadly, the institution of marriage is being challenged by a society so concerned with individual freedom that some view marriage as a temporary or disposable convenience.

You can’t blame us LGBT people for that.  The real challenge to the kind of relationships we in our society label “traditional” came when women decided it was time to get out from under patriarchal control.  It was women, not gays and lesbians, who shook up the status quo with the notion of individual freedom.

But you’ve got it wrong when you suggest the desire for individual freedom redefined marriage as a “temporary or disposable convenience.”   You are in an untenable position if you suggest marriage is or ought to be an institution without individual freedom.  The goal of most people who marry in modern times is to create a union of equals, not of master and slave.

Now, there is even an attempt in the New Jersey legislature to pass a law that would change the very definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Yes.  It is fast becoming accepted around the world that a marriage can be a union of two people of the same sex.

As citizens, we must protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

What exactly are you “protecting”?  You are trying to prevent change for the better.  You are not protecting anything.

Same sex unions may represent a new and a different type of institution – but it is not marriage and should not be treated as marriage.

No.  It’s the same institution.  It is simply more inclusive.  You say it’s not marriage; I say it is still marriage.  We differ over whether the institution can expand.  Time is on our side.  Marriage is still a strong institution and will get stronger as people who want to embrace it enter it and make it their own.

What can you do to help protect marriage? Today, we ask all people of good will to do three simple things. First, pray for all married couples and all families.

Most people would have no problem with that.

 Second, reflect on this important question, “How can I help my family and the families I touch to grow in hope, love, peace and joy.”

That is something I believe we can all endorse.

Third, we ask everyone to reach out to your neighbors, your legislators and the Governor with a simple message: “Preserve the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.”

No.  If you do that we lose the right to live our lives as married people and you gain nothing.  You are fighting a battle to keep us as a class of second-class citizens.  One wonders where this animus really comes from.

To help everyone understand why marriage can only be a union between one man and one woman, we offer the following facts.


Why should citizens care about the state’s definition of marriage?
Citizens must care about the government’s treatment of marriage because civil authorities are charged with protecting children and the common good, and marriage is indispensable to both purposes.

This is the point where you stop being simply mistaken about who LGBT people are (we are your sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors and not some “other” beings) and begin committing the sin (by your own definition) of false witness.  You speak of “protecting children” as if gay and lesbian people, as a class, would do damage to children.  It is a bold and ugly lie you spread through innuendo.  It makes you hateful people.

Citizens have the right and the responsibility to hold civil authorities accountable for their stewardship of the institution of marriage.

We agree with you on that.

Citizens also have the responsibility to oppose laws and policies that unjustly target people as bigots or that subject people to charges of unlawful discrimination simply because they believe and teach that marriage is the union of man and a woman.

We agree with you on that, as well.  People should not be unjustly targeted.  But when you declare that discrimination against LGBT people is required by your religion, you forget that your religion does not determine civil law.  When you break civil laws, civil authorities have the responsibility to oppose you.

Why should two individuals of the same sex be treated any differently than married
couples who cannot conceive children?

Marriage benefits society by bringing men and women – the two complementary “halves” of the human race – together.

That is one thing that marriage does.  It also brings together two people of the same sex.

Regardless of whether they can conceive children, a man and a woman united in marriage reinforce the importance of this ideal.

Where did this come from?  What does the uniting of people of opposite sexes have to do with the uniting of people of the same sex?  One can stand beside the other.

By contrast, if the government insists that same-sex unions are “equal” to unions of a man and a woman, the government will be teaching not only that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary for children, but also that uniting the sexes is no longer an important ideal.

You have made a giant leap of illogic.  The claim that the union of same-sex couples teaches that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary for children is pure nonsense.

In the first place, not all people who marry raise children.  Those who do not should not be governed by a practice you claim is universal.  You have your facts wrong.  It is not universal.  Marriage between one man and one woman is very common, but it is not universal.  Polygamy and polyandry may not be to your liking, but it has always existed.   There are places where “the whole village” raises the children, where mothers’ brothers play a greater role in raising children than their biological fathers.  The solutions to the challenges of raising children have been varied throughout time and place.   By shunting LGBT people aside and trying to keep them outside the institution of marriage, you are missing an opportunity to find allies in the struggle for forms of marriage and child rearing that are beneficial.  We could be working together to improve the institution of marriage, if you would recognize our common interests.

Persons of same-sex orientation have the right to live as they choose but they do not have the right to redefine marriage for everyone by altering the civil law.

They have every right to alter the civil law.  One would hope that when citizens find a law no longer reflects the values of the community, they change it.  And you should not suffer the mistaken notion that it is “persons of same-sex orientation” who are changing the law.  It is being changed by the entire community, most members of which are heterosexually inclined.

Don’t single parents make a valuable contribution to family life?
If so, why should same-sex partners not be viewed the same way?

The stable lifelong loving relationship of a mother and father, found only in marriage, provides the ideal conditions for raising and socializing children. Marriage represents the way we teach and reinforce this ideal.

No, the loving relationship of a mother and father is not found only in marriage.  No one seriously argues that a child is better with a single parent than with two.  Why are you making this connection between the right of LGBT people to marry and single parenting?  It is a red herring.  Are you unaware than when gays or lesbians raise their children they commonly (overwhelmingly) do it as a couple?  Raising the specter of single parenting is dishonest.

Of course, some children are raised in situations other than the traditional two-parent family, and responsible loving single parents and other family members make important and valuable contributions to the welfare of these children. But supporting single-parent families, as a just and compassionate society must do, is far different than deliberately creating motherless and fatherless families and holding them out to be the same as marriages.

Again, you are blurring the issues of marriage and child-rearing.  They are two separate issues.  You should not be limiting the right of one couple to marry because you don’t like the way another couple is raising their children.

Your way of describing a happy healthy home of a child with two daddies or two mommies  as “motherless” or “fatherless” not only reveals your unfortunate choice to view the glass as half empty; it reveals your lack of knowledge.  You really ought to get out and meet more gay and lesbian families and bear witness to the love.  Listen to children raised by same-sex parents.  Start with an open mind, and leave your ideology behind.  If you work with real people for a change, you will see things differently.

But isn’t prohibiting same-sex “marriage” unjust discrimination?
No. We must always remember that every person has an inherent dignity. Like all other human beings, our homosexual brothers and sisters are beloved children of God. As a result, the Catholic Church affirms that they “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard should be avoided” [Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2358].

Fine.  We all look forward to the day you practice what you preach.

Clearly, the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended, and everyone must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against homosexual persons.

Thank you.

But it is not “unjust discrimination” to treat different things differently. Same-sex unions are not, in fact, the same thing as the union of one man and one woman in marriage. One type of union may ever generate children, the other may never; one type of union respects and expresses the inherent complementarity of man and woman; the other does not. Therefore, treating one type of union as “marriage,” and the other not, is not only permitted, but required. Indeed, it is treating this differentiation as bigotry that constitutes an injustice.

Treat “different things” differently?  Doesn’t that depend on what those things are?  Would you treat black people different from white people?

Your insistence on tying marriage to child-rearing makes you look foolish.  We see all around us old people, well past the child-rearing age, choosing to marry.  We see couples who can’t have children deciding not to adopt and living contented lives without children.  And we see gay and lesbian people with children – more and more all the time.  The connection is bogus.  It does not match modern-day reality.

Is same sex “marriage” a civil right?
Same-sex “marriage” is not a civil right.

It is if we as citizens living in a democracy determine it is a right.

A strong desire does not make a civil right. Every man and every woman has a right to enter into marriage, but marriage as an institution can only be between a man and a woman.

You can repeat this mantra till the cows come home.  You might as well argue that only land-owners should have the right to vote, that a black man is only three-fifths of a white man, that only men can fly planes and become mathematicians.  The world has changed and in some ways become more just.  Extending marriage rights to LGBT people is one of those ways.

Governments do not have the power to define marriage otherwise, because it is a permanent human institution that does not owe its existence to governments.

On the contrary.  Marriage is defined in all modern states as a contract, and as such is subject to government control.  As much as your church would like to seize control of the notion, it is not yours.  It belongs to all of us.  As citizens.  Not as members of a church, mosque or synagogue.

In addition, same-sex “marriage” is not a civil right because same-sex couples cannot fulfill the core public purpose of marriage: bringing men and women into the only kind of union that can make new life and give children mothers and fathers.

You may continue to define the “core” public (public?) purpose of marriage as having children, and most people who marry will want to bring children into the world.  But unless you want to pull childless couples out of the institution, you cannot force your narrow “either/or” worldview on people who have come to understand the wisdom of “both/and”.

 *     *     *

I have no comments to make about the remainder of your statement, since your points are irrelevant to the discussion, now that New Jersey has determined the rights of its LGBT people are identical to the rights of the rest of its citizens.  I have put them in small print.

Would maintaining the definition of marriage as a union solely of one man and one woman deny hospital visitation privileges to civil union partners? Would defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman take away any benefits currently provided to civil union partners by employers?

No. In New Jersey, the Civil Union Act already provides practical rights, benefits, and
protections for persons who choose to establish non-marital unions. As clearly stated in the Act:

Civil union couples shall have all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage. [N.J. Statutes 37:1-31(a)]

The Act also provides that civil union couples are entitled to the benefits and protections of “laws relating to insurance, health and pension benefits.” [N.J. Statutes 37:1-32(e)] In addition, the Act prohibits an array of unlawful employment practices by employers who do not fully implement the Act.

The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Act, signed into law by Governor Christie in December 2011 guarantees by law that all adult patients have the right to designate a representative of their choice with the power to convey specifically how the patient would like to be treated including in the event the patient loses the capacity to express their preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments. The POLST Act even allows for a patient to authorize the patient’s representative to revoke or modify the patient’s decisions if the patient loses decisionmaking capacity.
Further, many organizations have approved Advanced Directives for Health Care that allow individuals to designate anyone they wish as a health care decision maker.

In short, there is no evidence for the claims that in New Jersey same sex couples are not able to assist in making health care decisions together with or for each other. That right is guaranteed by law.

Most Reverend John J. Myers
Archbishop, Diocese of Newark
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop, Diocese of Trenton
Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante
Bishop, Diocese of Camden
Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli
Bishop, Diocese of Paterson
Most Reverend Paul G. Bootkoski
Bishop, Diocese of Metuchen
Most Reverend William C. Skurla
Bishop, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of
Most Reverend Yousif B. Habash
Bishop, Our Lady of Deliverance
Syriac Catholic Diocese

I am not Catholic and I do not live in New Jersey, but I am writing to you because when you issue public statements such as the one above you are speaking not only to other Catholics who share your either/or view but to millions of us outside your faith.  And, I might add, the majority of Catholics who appear to share my both/and views.   I trust you will acknowledge my right to talk back.

I believe you are in error, and that your blinders keep your church a retrograde force.  Your new pope appears to understand the need for positive change.   Most Catholics, I believe, are behind him in his efforts to make your church more loving and compassionate.   Could you too not consider the possibility that some rethinking on your part is in order?

Yours sincerely,

Alan J. McCornick