by Deacon Nick Donnelly
I’m hearing that some parish priests are concerned that Catholics, who are devout and regular Mass-goers, are intending to vote ‘Yes’ in two weeks time in Enda Kenny’s Marriage Equality referendum. In my experience the vast majority of ordinary Catholics want to do the right thing, so the fact that so many are considering voting ‘Yes’ indicates a shocking level of misunderstanding and confusion over these important issues of Faith and morality.
On such an important moral decision, that will impact the lives of future generations, genuine Catholics will be asking themselves, ‘How does Our Lord Jesus Christ want me to vote?’ We can be assured that Our Lord has given us the means, through Holy Mother Church, to come to the right decision, knowing that we will have to give an account of our actions before the judgment of God. This divine judgement should be uppermost in our thoughts rather than the judgment of our secularist neighbours and the judgment of the anti-Catholic media.
‘Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. (Mk 12:38-40; Lk 12:1-3; Jn 3:20-21). Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 678).
Therefore, I want to look at some of the possible reasons Catholics could propose for voting ‘Yes’ from the perspective of the Gospels and the Church’s teaching.
Who am I to judge?
Many people have mistakenly assumed that Pope Francis’ famous declaration, ‘Who am I to judge?’ means that the Church now approves of homosexuality and accepts homosexual sex acts. This is not true.
What did Pope Francis mean by ‘who am I to judge?’ The Holy Father immediately preceded this statement with an explicit reflection on the need for conversion and repentance from sins committed by homosexual persons and all of us. He said, ‘if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets’. This is the context for Pope Francis then saying, ‘If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?’ Clearly, Pope Francis was talking about homosexual persons who have repented of the sins of homosexuality in their search for the Lord with good will.
Following the long established tradition of the Church, founded on God’s Word, Pope Francis presented homosexuality in the context of the need for repentance from sin, which we all share. Voting ‘Yes’ would be a rejection of the Church’s teaching on sin and our need for God’s forgiveness.
Jesus was tolerant and compassionate
It is common to hear people justifying the acceptance of active homosexuality, and sex outside of marriage, by claiming that Jesus was tolerant and compassionate. This is to mistake Our Lord’s compassion for sinners with a moral laxity towards sin. The Gospels show that Jesus did not mince his words when naming our inclination towards evil, ‘If you then, who are evil’ (Lk 11:13). Our Lord sees sin as a mortal sickness and sees His own role as the Divine Physician sent to cure us of the sickness of sin. A good doctor is compassionate and caring towards his patients, but is definitely not tolerant towards the diseases causing our sickness:
‘And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."’ (Lk 5:3-32).
Our Lord is compassionate and caring towards homosexual persons engaging in homosexual acts, in the same way that He is towards all of us when we sin, but He is not tolerant and accepting of the sins that make us mortally sick. Voting ‘Yes’ would be a betrayal of Our Lord’s mission to save us from sin.
God forgives us no matter what we do
Another possible reason for why some Catholics’ are thinking about voting ‘Yes’ is the mistaken notion that God forgives us even if we don’t repent and change our behaviour. This common error confuses God’s love with God’s forgiveness. It is true that God loves us no matter what we do, because as St Paul wrote, ‘But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ (Rm 5:8). However, Our Lord’s very first words at the start of His public ministry spoke of the necessity for repentance and conversion, ‘”The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”’ (Mk 1:15). In order to avail ourselves of God’s freely offered loving mercy, we have to first repent of our sins, and determine to make a firm amendment of life according to God’s commandments.
The Church clearly teaches that homosexual sex acts, along with adultery and masturbation, are gravely sinful because they misuse the procreative purpose of sex, and make a nonsense of its meaning as self-giving love between man and woman.
It is a serious mistake to presume on the forgiveness of God when He has so generously given us not only the means to avoid the self-harm of sin, through the Church’s moral teaching, but also the grace to strive to overcome sin through the sacraments of healing – Confession and the Sacrament of the Sick. Voting ‘Yes’ misleads people to presume on the forgiveness of God without the need for repentance.
This is about equality, not morality
Some people argue that the Marriage Equality referendum has nothing to do with morality, but is purely about legal equality. Our Lord categorically rejected the separation of the law from morality, especially regarding marriage. When a Pharisee tested Jesus about the law concerning divorce He returned to the moral source of marriage established by God in the creation of man as male and female:
‘"Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."’
The Marriage Equality referendum is a profoundly immoral act, because it seeks to change the God-given, exclusive, meaning of marriage as the loving union of man and woman for the procreation of children. Voting ‘Yes’ would be a repudiation of God’s purpose for marriage.
Love is good, marriage is good
Some Catholics may have come to the conclusion that because homosexuals love each other they should be allowed to marry. This reasoning is confused in a number of ways. God’s creation of the complementarity of the sexes shows that the wonderful gift of erotic love is ordered to the self-giving of husband and wife for the procreation of children. Marriage, with the exchange of vows of fidelity, permanence, and openness to life, creates the conditions for the self-giving of erotic love between man and woman.
Homosexual persons can genuinely experience the love of friendship and affection, but homosexual erotic expression is a disorder of the nature and purpose of eros. As Our Lord taught about erotic love, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh', ‘So they are no longer two but one flesh’. (Mt 19:6).
Voting ‘Yes’ will be a rejection of God’s purpose for erotic love and marriage and a devaluing of the true love of friendship.
Sex is a private matter
It is commonplace to hear the complaint that the Church is obsessed with sex and should stay out of the bedroom. However, this ignores the fact that the Church’s moral teaching on sexuality has its origins in Our Lord’s commands. Jesus did not see sex as a private matter which people were free to exercise according to their desires:
‘You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (Mt 5:27-28).
Jesus clearly saw the human sexual drive as powerful force that should be controlled according to the moral commands of God, especially the Sixth Commandment that restricts sexual acts to marriage. Voting ‘yes’ is to abandon Our Lord’s teaching on sexuality.
Follow the lead of the bishops and priests
Some Catholics will no doubt be considering voting ‘Yes’ as a consequence of confusion caused by statements made by a number of bishops and priests. I find such confusion in the thinking of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin when he defends marriage as the union of man and woman while at the same time talking positively about homosexual relationships without mentioning the necessity of sexual abstinence. An example of this was contained in his latest address on the referendum:
‘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 recognised and cherished in a culture of difference, while respecting the uniqueness of the male-female relationship.’
The confusion comes from the fact that the archbishop presents homosexual relationships as being equivalent to, but different from, heterosexual relationships. His omission of any reference to the morality of chastity and continence is at the heart of this confusion.
When Our Lord confronted the moral anarchy that was harming people’s lives He spoke directly and clearly out of a profound sense of compassion. His words to the woman caught in adultery were not confusing:
‘"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."’ (Jn 8:10-11).
Our Lord’s compassion is shown by the fact that He did not condemn the adulterous woman, and that He commanded her not to sin again. To vote ‘No’ on the 22nd May is not to condemn homosexual persons, rather it is an act of loving compassion which embraces us in all in our desire to follow God’s will that we may not sin again.