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Marriage & Justice

The former director of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, Brian Cahill, recently decried the external (i.e. Catholic) influence that eventually led the agency to cease offering adoption services rather than comply with the injunction to place children into same-sex homes. This is he deems, “sacrificing children for Catholic identity.” Before openly declaring that, “I tried to ignore my disgust for this particular church teaching,” he discloses that he felt a conflict during his tenure between “what our Church teaches in the area of sexuality,” and “how we carried out our mission to serve the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized.”

This is a classic example of what Pope Benedict XVI has concluded about the nature of contemporary society: “I see ever more clearly that in our age morality is, as it were, split in two.” By this he meant that some dimensions of morality – including peace, justice, concern for the poor, and respect for creation – have become an ethical whole that, for many, forms a substitute for religion. This new, if vague, moralism almost inevitably slides into the political realm, and is frequently invoked “with the seemingly great purpose of thereby serving the future generations.” 

Meanwhile, other dimensions of morality – those pertaining to life, marriage, and the family – are regarded as controversial in the political realm since these clash with the concept of freedom understood “as non-discrimination,” as “the approval of every type of possibility.” Benedict has described this confused ideology of freedom – prized above all else in our culture, even though it leads to a dogmatism that, paradoxically, undermines authentic freedom – as “a sort of anti-morality.”

Only if both strains of morality are inseparably united, Benedict insists – and specifically only if the pre-political goods of life and marriage and family, which any just state must respect, not manipulate or demolish, are guaranteed, can true peace, true service to the poor, and true justice – including justice owed to future generations – be achieved.

Cahill is by no means alone in claiming to be guided merely by “the best interests of the children” and “by state law prohibiting discrimination.” Martin O’Malley, the Catholic Governor of Maryland, also resorted to this specious pretext in explaining his intent to sponsor a “same-sex marriage” bill (pardon that oxymoron) – in direct opposition to the archbishop of Baltimore, to whom he wrote: “when shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice.”

Matrimony by Roger van der Weyden (1445)

A governor, above all, should see the essential public interest served by the pre-existing reality of marriage between one man and one woman, as this is what best promotes the common good (and not incidentally, the health of entire economies). There is nothing just about alternative proposals with no basis in reality – in what is, as Fr. Schall often stresses – which demote by willful indifference the best interests of children and sabotage the common good. Such proposals are, at root, expressions of egotism insidiously disguised as pleas for “justice.”

One wonders how a man so purportedly committed to justice reconciles his position with, for example, fresh (2010) data released by the Department of Health and Human Services which indicate that children living in various non-married arrangements suffer four to eleven times as much physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as those living with a married mother and father. So overwhelming is the evidence from study after study that the conclusion is inescapable: what is best for children is a married mother and father. Doesn’t justice require that free men and women seek to provide that? 

Those with eyes to see have been detailing the profound relationship between family breakdown – “the area of sexuality,” that Cahill dismisses  – and social pathology for decades, noting in particular that material poverty is not the culprit. British children are more likely to have a TV in their room than a father in the home.  Indeed, the need to rebuild the institution of the married family has been a consistent refrain in the aftermath of the London riots which, according to Prime Minister David Cameron, reveal the “shocking state” of the U.K.’s “broken society” – once the quintessentially civil society – now in the throes of “slow-motion moral collapse.”

Turning a blind eye to this plainly evident collapse (as political and intellectual elites here and in the U.K. have) suggests not commitment to the common good but captivity to unchecked self-interest, stunning intellectual dishonesty, and a sizeable moral courage deficit. These are not characteristics normally associated with champions of justice.

Cameron says, that “if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start.” But just as the family exists prior to the state, we can’t look to the state to repair the family. Attempting to inculcate “values” in a strictly humanistic context – severed from their Christian roots and thus subject to great distortion – has also been part of the problem. The riots, according to the Bishop of Leeds, are the product of a consumerist society that has not only lost its “values,” but has lost its Christianity.

Moralizing in certain ways presents hazards of its own. “The great task we have before us,” Benedict feels, is “not to make Christianity seem merely morality,” but rather a gift of unsurpassable love by which we find the strength to “lose our own life”– for God and others – in return.

Doesn’t this sound like a sane, balanced, and appealing way forward in our lonely, hyper-individualized culture – even for those who may not know by faith that marriage, in the total self-giving it requires, is an icon of the Trinity?

Matthew Hanley

Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.