I think a lot of us, myself included, are excited whenever new Late Show host Stephen Colbert wears his Catholicism on his sleeve. I especially enjoyed the candor that Colbert and Biden shared early in the new Late Show's run, which brought the centrality of their faith to the forefront as they discussed tragedy and hope acutely (below).
All along this route, I've been excited. I think the best way to confront issues is to get them out into the open, into the mainstream, and foster activity - get people talking, making suggestions, trying to articulate positions, and work toward deeper, clearer understandings of what is right. I am an agitator at my core, so I love the opportunity to recognize frictions and find ways to respond in faith.
Unfortunately, some of the activity hasn't been positive. As we seek to find better, stronger, clearer ways to live out our faith, some of our leaders have faltered in ways that are significantly damaging and regrettable for the public image of our faith, which needs all the help it can get.
Earlier this year, Vice President Biden openly and publicly officiated a gay marriage. While it's maybe a little debatable whether or not it's ok for a Catholic to officiate at a non-religious marriage ceremony (though I'd discourage Catholics from doing so), it's not really debatable whether or not a Catholic can officiate a same-sex marriage. We believe marriage to be a lifelong bond between a man and a woman for the procreative and unitive creation of a family.
Then a few days ago, Senator Kaine, who has already publicly come out in favor of same-sex marriage, went even further by addressing the Church directly. As reported by America Magazine, Kaine elaborated on his position:
“I think [the Church's position on marriage is] going to change, too,” he said to applause, invoking both the Bible and Pope Francis as reasons why he thinks the church could alter its doctrine on marriage.
“I think it’s going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world including mankind and said it is very good, it is very good,” he said.
“Pope Francis famously said, ‘Who am I to judge?’” Kaine continued, referencing the pope’s 2013 comment when asked about gay priests in the church.
“To that I want to add, who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family?” Kaine asked. “I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.”
Here's a few things I'm not out to do in my writing:Sometimes Sen. Kaine, though I like him a lot, says things that make me feel squishy #morethanredandblue https://t.co/gpqVbrzdrp— Dan Masterton (@jesusandchicago) September 11, 2016
I'm not here to call for Mr. Biden, Mr. Kaine, or other public figures to be denied Eucharist. That is the decision of the Church's local leaders according to their application of Church norms and the discernment of their leadership.
I'm not here to claim that Mr. Biden, Mr. Kaine, or other public figures are not "really Catholic" for acting like this. We are Catholic by our baptism, our membership in the Church and in Christ, and our reception of the Word and Sacraments as celebrated by our Church.
I'm not here to judge the souls of Mr. Biden, Mr. Kaine, or other public figures. I don't know the content of these people's internal character. I do know that discerning a call in complicated, and I hope that these people are in consistent prayer and discernment over how to do what God calls us to do, just as all of us should be as we live out our vocations.
Here's what I am out do to in my writing: make some suggestions on how to dissent responsibly.
For starters, every Catholic - and really even non-Catholics - should presume the good will of the magisterium as teachers. The bishops and priests do not set out to hamper or constrain people. Their intentions and aims are to empower us in our moral lives to live out the faith according to the Gospel of Christ.
There is some extent to which it is awkward for older celibate men to tell us how to live out our sexuality, for example, but their vows and spiritual commitments, in collegiality with their brothers throughout the Church, as well as the authority vested in the bishops from Christ and apostolic succession, give framework and context for the teachings they unpack.
Moreover, I don't know that Mr. Biden or Mr. Kaine is guilty of this but other critics and some Catholics often are - learn the Church teaching thoroughly. Study what the Church actually teaches. I would also add that it's important to distinguish principle from practice.
For example here, the Church does not hate or exclude gays; it teaches that we must be warmly hospitable toward homosexual people with compassion, respect, and sensitivity. However, some communities may ignore this principle and practice inappropriate discriminations or mistreatment of LGBTQ people. We need to be sure to chastise wrongly practiced teachings as deviations from the teaching rather than excoriating the whole Church for those few who ignore her teachings.
Now, when it comes to dissenting actions and public comments, one needs to first evaluate their motivations. What are the sources of your dissent? What leads you to disagree with the Church's positions? One needs to first make sure they are not out to smear the Church for their own gain or satisfaction. It can't be about attention or arrogance for oneself with the Church as the easy target.
Next, dissenting people need to examine one's qualifications for disagreement. Does one have the breadth and depth of formation and study to lodge legitimate criticisms? If your dissent comes from first-hand experience, have you carefully reflected upon it and sought to filter it through natural law and grounded, humble reason?
We need to be careful at claiming personal expertise or overselling experiences; all of our process of reflection must be grounded in the ecclesiology of the Church and its leadership and authority.
Finally, dissenting Catholics need to proceed with humility. I'm not sure how Mr. Biden and Mr. Kaine fared with those previous pieces, but their public actions went quite astray with this last part. One should ask will my public comments hurt the Church? What is the fairest, most compassionate way for me to investigate and share my dissent in dialogue with others and with Church leaders? Dissenting Catholics need to be careful that their actions and comments do not call undue attention to themselves, compel others to dissent, or highlight divergences between themselves and the Church to which they belong.
There's not really a way to square Mr. Biden's and Mr. Kaine's public actions with this last but far-from-least piece of dissent framework.
Mr. Biden's publicly officiating a same-sex marriage might be motivated by humble service of others and their love, but it flies in the face being a humble believer. It actively disrespects the Church teaching. His action made him a personal agent in an action that breaks Church belief in marriage. And his action took place in the most public way possible - in a public building, with certification from a public agency, and broadcast widely on media. I was disappointed to see Joe do this.
Then Mr. Kaine's comments - he is already on record supporting gay marriage - went even further as to publicly put call out Church leadership by predicting that a change in Church teaching was coming. He does his own interpretation of Genesis 1 and then cites the disposition of Francis - including an oft-quoted and misconstrued quote of Francis on gay clergy - as evidence that the teaching will evolve.
Not only is this not humble, but it becomes deeply presumptuous. Mr. Kaine's usage of Genesis 1 does not match that of our Tradition, which upholds it as a bedrock of our marital theology. Then, he presumes a trajectory and agenda for Pope Francis that is reductive and self-serving. Francis is reform-oriented and has worked to reshape the curial offices, streamline bureaucracies like annulment tribunals, and renew Church teachings on issues like ecology and perhaps the diaconate. However, Francis has not and will likely not change any core teachings of the Church, as he is simply the lead bishop steering the magisterium as it discerns the deposit of faith.
I will say that I am sympathetic to those who feel strongly to advocate for LGBTQ people. I have learned a lot as society and culture have grown in the past decade, and I am looking for ways that the Church can respond better.
I think inclusion is key, inviting LGBTQ to engage in Church life Eucharistically. That includes making sure we do not hold LGBTQ people to higher moral standards than we do straight single people or married people; for example, we should not target LGBTQ people by placing tighter scrutiny on their sexual behavior (they may have homosexual activity) than we do single people (who may have premarital sex) or married people (who may use artificial birth control, IVF, or other immoral behaviors). I also wonder if there's a way for us to provide a communal support, perhaps even a blessing or commissioning, for LGBTQ people who may never marry but wish to consecrate themselves to the service of the communion of the Church. On a secular level, too, I support non-discrimination clauses, equality before the law and in hiring, benefits for same-sex partners with hospital visits, information services, and taxes and estates, and more.
However, I cannot fathom taking such public actions, that overtly contradict the Church, as performing a same-sex marriage or calling out the Church to change its teaching. I pray for Catholics to find courage in answering calls to public and civil service. But I cannot celebrate such dissenting actions by these people of faith.
I will continue to admire their courage in tackling the dilemma-laden seas of American politics, but I will also hope that they can act and speak with greater nuance and fidelity, that they can stay grounded in the faith that has sustained them to this point, and that they can choose their words and actions with greater humility.