Bishops, on 'ad limina,' talk about marriage, immigration
VATICAN CITY — The U.S. Catholic bishops have an obligation to defend traditional marriage to ensure Catholic clergy are never in a position where they would be forced to perform a wedding the church would view as illicit and invalid, said Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla.
"What we're fighting for is to maintain the definition of a sacrament, one of seven instituted by Christ to give grace," the bishop said May 10 during an interview with Catholic News Service.
Bishop Lynch was at the Vatican for his "ad limina" visit. After four days of meetings with Vatican officials and Masses at the major basilicas of Rome, he and the other bishops of Florida met May 11 with Pope Benedict XVI.
As part of the 14th group of U.S. bishops to make their "ad limina" visits since November, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami told CNS that although the pope was engaged in the discussions, "you can see he is not a young man any more. It must be a great sacrifice on his part to put up with us day after day."
The archbishop kicked off the Florida bishops' group discussion with the pope by explaining "the challenge and the opportunity" of the state's growth through people coming from other parts of the United States and, especially, through immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean. He said the bishops also spoke to the pope about the need to strengthen Catholic families.
Bishop Lynch told CNS that in his experience, even if the government offers "all kinds of assurances" about exemptions for religious communities on same-sex unions, "if we give in on this one or blink on this one, which I don't think theologically we could do, but even if for any reason we did, we could suddenly find ourselves" facing a situation in which the government says, "You've got to do it" or all government funding for church programs would stop.
If the federal government recognized gay marriages, for instance, he asked, would Catholic military chaplains be obliged to officiate at the wedding of a same-sex couple?
"At least for me, the whole effort is about protecting something that has been a part of our Christian heritage, our Christian belief, our Christian ethos for well over 2,000 years," Bishop Lynch said. "You cannot walk away from that."
"It's not a condemnation of domestic partnerships; it's not a condemnation of people. It's a church trying to protect something that it views as very sacred," he said.
Bishop Lynch did not speak specifically about President Barack Obama's statement May 9 that he thought same-sex couples should be able to marry.
But Archbishop Wenski said Obama supporters always suspected the president would support gay marriage and, being a "shrewd politician, Obama has made a calculated guess that the culture had moved" since he was elected four years ago and that by supporting gay marriage "he wins more votes than he loses." The archbishop noted that Obama won California and Florida in 2008, the same year voters in both states passed referendum measures defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
If general popular support for gay marriage has shifted significantly since 2008, the archbishop said, "then the job of the bishops has gotten much more difficult."
Archbishop Wenski said Blessed John Paul II used to ask bishops "not what are you doing to change politics, but what are you doing to change the culture."
The definition of marriage is not a political question, he said, but a cultural one and "the task of the bishops of the church is to have the faith shape the culture. There are signs of hope. For instance, young people are more pro-life than they were 20 years ago."
"We need to articulate better the reasons we feel the way we do about traditional marriage," and explain that it is not an issue primarily about fairness or discrimination, he said. "As Christians, we oppose any unjust discrimination, but protecting marriage does not discriminate other people. The fact that one defends traditional marriage does not, because of that, make one a homophobe."
From the point of view of natural law -- the code of right and wrong the church believes is naturally present in each human person -- it is clear that a family based on the permanent union of a man and woman is best "for human flourishing" and best for bringing up children, Archbishop Wenski said.
Bishop Lynch, in his interview with CNS, said the U.S. bishops' positions on religious freedom, protection of marriage and defense of human life are not partisan political positions.
However, he said, "it can become partisan and has" because of people who take the bishops' words and say, "You must be speaking of candidate so-and-so running for the Senate or candidate so-and-so running for the state House of Representatives."
"In reality, we really aren't telling people how to vote; we're telling people how to form your thoughts when it comes time to vote" and telling them "these major issues of life and death" should be an important consideration when they cast their ballots, Bishop Lynch said.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
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