Are The Bishops Folding On Gay Marriage?

CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter

May 14, 2004


Dear Friend,

This could be big news.

You're probably familiar with the current move in Congress to pass
the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) to the Constitution. With
activist judges in states like Massachusetts beginning to rule in
favor of homosexual marriage -- against the will of the general
public -- many are worried that it will become the law of the land by
judicial fiat.

The idea behind the FMA is that it would define marriage strictly as
the union of one man and one woman and then leave it up to the states
to decide if they want to recognize other unions (civil unions, for
example). That way, the people have a say in what becomes law while
the fundamental integrity of marriage is protected.

Many feel that a federal amendment is our last best hope to prevent
homosexual marriage from becoming the law. Indeed, people of all
faiths and backgrounds have come together on this issue to support
the amendment, and more legislators are signing on every day.

Of course, the amendment is also running into opposition from
homosexual activists and the radical left. But now it looks like it
might be encountering resistance from another source: the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Yes, you read that correctly.

How could the USCCB be anything but 100% behind an amendment
protecting the inherent dignity of marriage? All of their public
statements have supported it. They even came out last September with
a statement titled "Promote, Preserve, Protect Marriage" where they
explained that duty "requires, among other things, that we advocate
for legislative and public policy initiatives that define and support
marriage as a unique, essential relationship and institution." To
that end, they went on to say, "we offer general support for a
Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as we continue to
work to protect marriage in state legislatures, the courts, the
Congress and other appropriate forums."

That seems pretty clear. But are they now backing away from their
previous position?

The first warning signs emerged at a meeting convened last week by
Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). The meeting was a veritable "who's
who" of evangelical groups, Jewish rabbis, and Catholic clergy,
including several well-known senators who are backing the amendment.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver was present, as was Monsignor
William Fay, General Secretary of the USCCB, and Frank Monahan from
the USCCB's Office of Government Liaison.

Inside sources at the meeting said that the over-all tone was quite
positive, as the various religious leaders discussed the current
marriage crisis and voiced their support for the FMA. Archbishop
Chaput even read a personal statement tracing the breakdown of
marriage back to the advent of the Pill (that must have raised a few

After some general comments, a more particular discussion arose on
the subject of the FMA itself. At one point, Monsignor Fay, as a
representative of the USCCB, was asked what the conference's
particular position was on the amendment. Fay explained that the
bishops believed marriage should be defined as the union of one man
and one woman. But he then, according to others present, went on to
say that the bishops didn't want to see this become a "political

Nevermind the fact that the statement released last September by the
bishops' conference clearly said it was their duty to press this
issue "in state legislatures, the courts, the Congress," and any
other appropriate forum. How could that be anything other than
political? What's the point of supporting marriage in word without
being ready to support it in action?

Fay also reportedly said they didn't want to impinge on anyone's
rights. But the current language of the amendment says nothing about
rights, only that no state law "shall be construed to require that
marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union
other than the union of a man and a woman." In other words, no state
will be required to grant marriage benefits to unions other than
marriage; those incidents are left up to the voters to decide.

The bishops' conference itself has been clear that limiting marriage
in this way isn't an infringement on anyone's rights. In their
statement "Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About
Marriage and Same-Sex Unions" from last November, they clearly state:
"It is not unjust to deny legal status to same-sex unions because
marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. In
fact, justice requires society to do so. ...The state has an
obligation to promote the family, which is rooted in marriage.
Therefore, it can justly give married couples rights and benefits it
does not extend to others."

So if the bishops' conference has been clear in its statements on
the matter, why was Monsignor Fay hedging his comments at the
meeting? As an official representative of the USCCB, his reaction is
considered a barometer of general opinion on the FMA at the
conference. And needless to say, that opinion is now pretty doubtful
about the bishops' support.

Not surprisingly, the meeting lost much of its steam at that point.
One would hope that the leaders of the Catholic Church would be the
first behind a fight to defend marriage. But with a USCCB spokesman
offering such a tepid response to the FMA, legislators might now
doubt Catholics' dedication to the issue.

Fay's comments -- if accurate -- are especially discouraging because
the "don't politicize the issue" tactic is identical to what's coming
from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The Democrats have been
forced to tread carefully around this issue -- they usually have the
political support of homosexual groups. However, they also realize
that most American voters are against same-sex marriage.

So what do they do? They give lip service to traditional marriage
but also say the issue shouldn't be addressed before November. That
way, they appease the general public without angering their
homosexual supporters. Furthermore, if they can table the amendment
issue until after the election, their seats will already be secure
and then they'll be free to quietly kill the amendment later.

Look, it's common knowledge that the lobbying staff of the USCCB
supports the Democrats on just about every issue but abortion. But
the question of same-sex marriage has put these staffers in the
tricky situation of needing to support the FMA while also wanting to
help those Democratic congressmen who could likely oppose it. No
wonder they're hedging on the issue.

Wanting to be clear on Fay's comments and whether they represented
the USCCB's position, I contacted Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, the
communications director at the USCCB, to get his take on what
happened in the meeting. Maniscalco emphatically denied that Fay had
ever said the issue shouldn't be "political," but instead said that
it shouldn't be "partisan."

While the sources I spoke to all agreed that Fay said "political,"
let's assume that Maniscalco is correct. It doesn't actually make a
difference, since "partisan" is just as problematic.  First off, the
FMA already has bipartisan support. True, Republicans took the lead
on this issue, but there are important Democratic co-sponsors of the

In fact, the only thing that's partisan about the FMA is the
opposition... it's all liberal Democratic. Furthermore, the USCCB has
made no bones about supporting other partisan issues in the past --
for instance, opposing the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which had strong
bipartisan support but only liberal Democratic opposition.
"Bipartisanship" didn't seem to be a concern then. And what about
partial-birth abortion? Should the USCCB not have supported the ban
just because it was a strong Republican issue?

In the end, what this really boils down to is a reluctance to
support anything that might be seen as a Republican plank, in spite
of the fact that it's in line with Church teaching and the bishops'
stated objectives.

This issue needs to be addressed now. The conference's hemming and
hawing about "partisanship" will only undercut the very congressmen
who are the best hope for the FMA's survival.

Fay may not be intentionally trying to undermine the amendment, but
that could very well be the ultimate result... especially if the
bishops' conference doesn't start speaking up more forcefully on

We'll keep you updated as we learn more.

Have a great weekend,



Sex abuse scandals... irreverent liturgies... homosexuality in the
seminaries... liberal theology preached from the pulpit...

You know all about the crisis in the Church. But you've never heard
the full story. When did the collapse in the Church occur... and what
REALLY caused it?

Fr. Benedict Groeschel knows. He was there when it happened... 10
years BEFORE Vatican II.

What he saw will surprise you.

Click here to learn more:

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