Opinion: Opinion: Let Catholics Support Marriage Equality

Photo Credit: Meredith Geaghan-Breiner

According to Archbishop John Myers, Catholics in favor of marriage equality are not true members of the faith.

Last week, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, the religious leader of over a million Catholics in New Jersey, declared that Church members who support same-sex marriage should “refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they can do so with integrity.”

“I urge those not in [agreement] with the Church regarding her teachings on marriage…to reexamine their consciences,” wrote the Archbishop in a tone-deaf 16-page letter in which he compares homosexual love to incestual relationships and effectively wields the Holy Communion as a political weapon.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist to which the Archbishop refers constitutes an integral aspect of the Catholic identity and the most important act of the Mass service. I know this because I have been a baptized Catholic all my life. Born into a family that has practiced for generations, I attended Catholic school from preschool through fourth grade and have undergone the sacraments of First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation. I now teach a Sunday School class and attend Mass every week.

But, according to Archbishop Myers, I am not really Catholic at all, simply because I want to extend God’s message of acceptance and equality to gay people.

I wish the Archbishop’s position on gays amounted to nothing more than one clergyman’s unfortunate dip into politics, an isolated incident of small-mindedness in the Church. But we can’t simply shake our heads and laugh at his comments, because his beliefs represent not the exception but the rule. They typify the disconnect of a religious hierarchy out-of-touch with its laypeople.

As reported by the Public Religion Research Institute, Catholics in the U.S. show stronger support for legal recognition of same-sex relationships than any other religious group in the country, and in fact Americans overall. 53 percent of Catholics in the U.S. favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, a number that climbs to 72 percent among Church members between the ages of 18 and 34, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

Yet the Church as an institution is moving in a decidedly backwards direction. Forbidding women to serve in positions of spiritual authority, condemning the use of contraceptives to stop the spread of AIDS, and maintaining the infamous doctrine of infallibility, the Church perpetuates conflict within its members and provides its own critics with ready ammunition.

The disparity between the the liberalism of the world’s Catholics and the reactionary agenda of that infamous old boys’ club known as the Vatican – the last standing absolute monarchy in the world – helps explain the dwindling numbers of Catholics and Catholic priests-in-training worldwide.

“We live in a time when Catholics are walking away from the faith in record numbers,” said James Salt, executive director of the liberal organization Catholics United, in a press release. “When so many families live paycheck to paycheck, pew-sitting Catholics like myself want our faith known for its service to the poor, not for the far-right politics of the bishops.” Indeed, by making Catholicism unattractive to a forward-thinking new generation and frustrating its current followers, the Church acts contrary to its own interests in the survival and propagation of the faith.

New Jersey State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, a Roman Catholic himself, also released a statement in response to Myers. He pointed to the Church’s participation in the abolition movement and the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s as evidence that “the Catholic Church is capable of amazing acts of kindness, generosity, and social progressiveness throughout its history.”

But “when church officials promote an unblinking worldview that invalidates the loving relationships of others as wrong or evil, they are not following that most basic of Catholic teachings – ‘God is Love.’” 

To legitimize its own doctrine of goodwill and social justice, the Church must reconsider what it means to be a Catholic in the 21st century. As the gap widens between the orthodox agenda of the Roman Curia and the increasingly liberal mindsets of the world’s one billion Catholics, the need for the Church to grasp the realities of the modern world will only grow more pressing.