Saturday, July 10, 2010

The All Male Priesthood Maybe The Key To Marriage Equality

This really has nothing to do with the post, I just thought it was too funny not to post.

Theologian Mary Hunt has written a very compelling analysis of sacramental marriage and ordination vs secular and legal definitions of marriage and ministry. The following excerpt makes a very important point and suggests a new pathway for reconciling official Catholic opposition to gay marriage with the majority support for gay marriage in the lay Catholic population.

The parallel to the Catholic sacrament of ordination to the priesthood is the most telling one. Priestly ordination as understood in institutional Catholic theology, though I hasten to add not in Catholic theology at large, is reserved for men only. This is similar to limiting the sacrament of marriage to heterosexuals only. History demonstrates that no one can compel the institutional Roman Catholic church to ordain women even if nearly all other Christian denominations do so. But neither can the institutional Roman Catholic church, which -- I repeat -- represents only one among many Catholic views, impose its will in the public arena.

Ministers, rabbis and other religious professionals, both men and women, function as agents of the state when they witness marriages. They receive certain tax benefits because of their ordination. Institutional Roman Catholic opposition to women priests based on its sacramental theology does not equate to a ban on women in ministry in the world. To the contrary, almost every other Christian denomination ordains women. Neither should a sacramental theology of opposite-sex-only marriage equate to a ban on same-sex marriage in a democracy. Nor do I think it will in the long run.


Mary Hunt's observation here is almost so obvious it's a wonder it hasn't been shouted from the roof tops. Imagine the brouhaha if there was a Prop 12 or something demanding full gender access in ministerial positions with in the United States or face loss of all governmental perks and tax breaks. It would almost be poetic justice because the Catholic Church would then face the same institutionalized second rate status partnered gays now face vis a vis marriage. I strongly suspect that if it ever came down to a battle between protecting the all male clergy and dropping the political opposition to same sex marriage, protecting the all male clergy would priority numero uno.

One of the other things that struck me when reading the entire article is that the evolution of marriage is a great metaphor for the Power of Love breaking into society and changing social institutions. Marriage has gone from a property contract, with all it's inherent notions about the secondary status of women and children and it's ability to control the genetic expression of blood line and tribe, to a matter of a love contract between equals with shared family responsibilities. In pluralistic societies the notion of love in marriage has overcome all the taboos associated with 'mixed' marriages designed to protect genetic, religious and racial purity. The last taboo love must overcome is sexual purity, and it will, because love is an unstoppable evolutionary force.

It seems to me that if Christians really looked at the gay marriage debate as just another example of love willing itself into human expression it would be a very positive and hopeful sign that Jesus knew what He was talking about. If love has the capacity to reorganize the basis for such a fundamental social arrangement as marriage and family, imagine what it could do for the relationships between and with in religions, nation states, and cultures.

It so sad to me that the Church Jesus founded to spread His message of love is so obstructionist when it comes to where love leads. There's a part of me that sort of understands the importance of loyal opposition in helping to produce the energy necessary to propel change forward, but still, even knowing that, I wish the Institutional Church wasn't so good at it.


  1. The main problem with same-sex marriage is the misuse of the term 'marriage'.

    N.B. I am very much in favor of same sex unions, as civil weddings.

    The term 'marriage' refers to a sacramental union of a man & woman. Where the two parties publicly announce their intentions 'in the presence of God' & vow faithfulness to each other. This construct applies whether we speak of such a ceremony before a Catholic priest, Protestant minister, Rabbi, Mullah, Iman, Buddhist priest, Shaman, etc.

    The only reason 'marriage' has any context in civil law is in re guardianship of children, inheritance, property rights of survivorship. In plain English: the state recognizes it as a virtual Corporation. That's it.

    A man & woman who are wedded before a judge of Justice of the Peace, etc., are NOT married! Yet, their union is 100% recognized with legal parity to a "Marriage", for the above stated reasons. NOT because of any religious dogma or construct!

    Thus the whole argument has taken the wrong tactic. Same sex couples SHOULD be allowed full civil rights, including entering into civil weddings/unions.

    Same sex couples can most certainly be blessed by God in their relationship & wedded union.

    Those who feel that the above is in any way disparaging or homophobic, should take that matter up with God. As He does NOT condemn nor does He hate gays! Nor does He prohibit them from loving.

    That a same sex union cannot be a valid sacramental marriage has nothing to do with the Vatican, nor any alleged 'homophobia'. 'Marriage' is supposed to have at least the physical (potential...) possibility of natural childbirth. Though that is a secondary aspect of 'Marriage'. The primary being the sacramental consecration of the unity of the man & woman.

    Of course, the Vatican has used the issue - in a most hypocritical manner - as a (very loud) talking point. Of hysteria & fanaticism, intentionally breeding hatred (on BOTH sides).

    ...a Strategy of Tension.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  2. Anon, you seem to be using a version of the argument that b/c male and female exist then it follows that all unions should be male/female- this is not rational and does not follow.

    Likewise the argument from procreation is flawed as well. Just because people do procreate it does not follow that not procreating is morally wrong. Were that so, many sterile couples (regardless of gender) would be up a creek w/o a paddle, not to mention this calls the whole celibate nun/monk/priest thing into serious question too.

    It's time we drop these obsolete prejudices and definitions, acknowledging the goodness of Love itself.

  3. There was no fixed notion of 7 sacraments until around the 10th/11th century. And marriage was not considered a sacrament nor a priest's presence considered necessary for a marriage till around that time. The church's control over marriage (which till then had been considered a contract between 2 people) happened around the time that celibacy was imposed on priests.

    (I get this info from Diarmaid MacCoullouch's huge tome on the history of Christianity - published in 2009; he is Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford.)

    Thus, while (he notes) Augustine loosely described marriage in terms of "sacrament" these things were not "fixed" in either doctrine or canon law till very late in the middle ages.

    In fact it would seem there is some direct connection between the imposition of celibacy and the "control" of marriage by the church.

    Even church doctrine admits that the couple confer the sacrament on each other. Thus you could consider a lot of wiggle room there for understanding "who" is married to "whom".

    Word: "behumin" = Be human. I take it the security system may be in favor of gay unions/marriages.

    For the record, my view is that marriage must be available to all. And in particular that no child should have to carry the burden that their parents are not married.

  4. TheraP -

    You may well be correct, as per the formal defining of the '7 Sacraments'. Yet they were not invented in the 10th/11th century; they existed long before that.

    'Marriage" (in the correct context I defined earlier) has always existed. And always in said religious context. Jews have sacraments too - though not called by that term. So did adherents of the 'volcano god'.....

    I am not speaking of the form of the ceremony. But of the general construct that the two contracting parties are making their mutual 'contract' consciously in the presence of God. Thus the essence of the sacramental.

    ...and that DOES NOT mean that God only blesses church weddings. He blesses civil weddings too!

    At the same time, every Sacramental NOT a 'Marriage'! One entered into insincerely ...hiding for money, status, social convention, or to please Grandma....are NOT Sacramental Marriages! They are affronts to God.

    You are 100% correct about the Church manipulating & controlling marriage as a hegemonic influence on human society. Daring to determine who may/may not wed. Turning a blind eye to obviously insincere marriages. And using it as a tool to create division, elitism, & control ppl in general.

    Correct also - that the sacrament is mutually conferred by the two parties upon each other. The Priest merely acts as a Notary. For this reason, there is absolutely NO reason a Deacon (male OR female) could not do this!

    Of course I completely agree with you that children should not 'carry the burden that their parents are not married'.

    But you know as well as I do that the Church is to blame for this! Stigmatizing those who DARED to wed outside 'Holy Mother Church', as "not married in the eyes of the CHurch". And for intentionally creating the myth that no marriage takes place without the approbation of the Church!

    Anon Y. Mouse

  5. Anon -

    You obviously did not READ what I wrote with objectivity & detachment. Try again.....

    Turn on your higher critical functions & you will see very clearly that I am NOT supporting what you claim I am. Read carefully.....

    One cannot possibly cover all possible marital scenarios in a comment. Obviously couples who wed - who are sterile, elderly, or do not want children - can be sacramentally Married in the terms in which I defined.

    God did not create ppl to be Gay. Neither is being Gay the 'fault' of the person, nor even a sin of itself! Nor do gay sex acts, of themselves, have any specific religious context. Nor are they condemned in the Commandments - or mentioned by Christ. Nor did He condemn much less even mention homosexuals.

    A major causative factor for homosexuality is some form of early childhood trauma or abuse (of ANY kind). Villifying & scapegoating ppl for being homosexual - which is obviously beyond their control - is sick & un Christian.

    And no....gays are not 'sick' or' intrinsically disordered'. Neither can they be 'cured' nor do they need 'curing' via application of "Jesus Camp" or a Cilice!

    They need love, understanding & support - as Christ taught.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  6. Mouse, your theory is almost there, but as anon below you points out, it has the same logical inconsistencies with Catholic theology of marriage. These problems are not inherent to the concept of marriage. They are inherent to Catholic sacramental marriage. My personal wish is that the institutional church would keep their logical inconsistencies in their own backyard.

    I do agree with you that the virtutally everything associated with homosexuality is used by the Church in a Strategy of Tension. Until both sides see this the hate will continue to fester. The canonization of John Newman is another example of this strategy.

    TheraP I appreciate your thinking here that celibacy and marriage are products of the same time and same kind of thinking. I sometimes wonder if the Church will ever get sane on the sex and gender issues. I guess for that to happen someone would have to get the bright idea that procreative sex and gender roles have had more to do with economic and culutural considerations than spiritual considerations.

    Love the word verification. To behumin is to love and beloved and know God. Maybe that's why I got prayi

  7. Mouse I see where we cross commented and your extended explanation deals with my concerns in your original post.

    As to your theory on gays. That I don't fully concur with. There may be multiple etiologies for gayness. There is some evidence for a genetic base. There is some evidence for an in utero causality, there is some anectdotal evidence for early childhood trauma and on and on and on.

    There are also a whole bunch of causes for some people occupying the righthand end of the intelligence curve. It is the way it is and God called it good. He may not personally have created any of these deviations from the pack in the center, but He did create the process which brought all this forth and He called that good. It's not His fault humanity refuses to grow up and appreciate it.

  8. For the record, I have NO problem with marriage as a sacrament. But we need to distinguish sacrament, from the canon law efforts to regulate marriage, from the civil authority to perform a civil function. The church has no right to regulate the civil meaning of marriage. Nor does it have a "right" to perform the civil function of certifying that a marriage has taken place. We have a form of govt which mandates the separation of church and state. In my view the European method whereby a couple can participate in a sacramental celebration of their union quite apart from the necessity to have a civil process whereby that union is documented legally.

    Too much muddying of the waters has occurred and needs to be rectified.

    And not until tonight, when I looked up the information on marriage did I notice that it was in the same time-frame that celibacy was mandated. And to me it seems unlikely this is pure coincidence. Indeed, by regulating marriage, the church could ensure itself that priests would be unable to hide marriages (and thereby pass along any inheritance).

    Primogeniture dates from the same time-frame.

    The sad fact is that the closer one examines church history, the more murky and authoritarian and self-serving so many of its actions appear to be.

    I'm not going to be commenting as much - and hadn't planned on commenting at all this weekend, but this post sparked my recollection of the issues I've mentioned.

    I need to back off from the problems of the RCC and place my focus on things over which I have more control and which bring with them less historical baggage and frustration.

    Peace to all!

  9. Even though this article is from a couple years back, I'd say it's MUST reading - for it may point to where some of the fault lines are in the RCC (or christianity in ANY form - as we go forward):

    It looks at the "splits" very differently than we tend to see them and forecasts future alliances that may surprise you.

  10. That's a long read TheraP, but well worth it.

    The southern trend combining liberation theology and charismatic approaches seems counter intuitive at first, until you really think about it. I found a quote at the very end of the piece perfectly sums this up:

    "that accepting the whole Christian message as they see it, as they imagine it, is essential to what they want, which is healing for the body, the mind, the individual, the community. Do I see a weakening of orthodoxy there? No. Any kind of liberalizing would have to take that as the basis and move from there. The only way it would be likely to happen is in terms of prophetic inspiration."

    I've seen this desire for an integrated total healing expressed in many traditions. Really I guesss, it's what we all want.

    Progessives sometimes make the mistake of equating change and evolutionary thought with healing. That's a mistake and is not what Jesus actually did. Jesus healed people where they were at, making them safe and whole. It was only then that people found the courage and energy to entertain a different point of view, a different concept of social organization.

    I can't wait for the African bishop of some denomination or another to express the thought that what the West needs healing from is not their decadent sexuality, but their consumerism.

  11. I'm wondering about Ethiopian Orthodoxy - a Christian tradition that goes back at least to the 4th century. And at some point I'm going to ask the Ethiopians at my parish how they view these events in other African countries - what sense THEY make of what's going on.

    I personally wonder if the Spirit could be working one way within some cultures and another way within other cultures. Toward ends we can hardly envision.

    Glad you forged through that long article, Colleen. I found it after reading about what happened in England with this problem of ordaining women bishops. That is "through and through" related!

  12. TheraP, I hear you and find myself in a similar zone when you say "I need to back off from the problems of the RCC and place my focus on things over which I have more control and which bring with them less historical baggage and frustration."

    There is so much baggage & frustration in & from the RCC today, enough to sicken and make bitter even the most enlightened. Yet, were it not for the discussion, at least I would feel no sense at all that anyone were connecting on a higher level than those in the current RCC hierarchy.

    Mouse, I agree with much of what you say except that I don't believe that trauma of some sort causes ppl to become gay in all cases. I do agree with Colleen and I believe we really need to try to stretch our understanding to a God that is good & loving. Catholics, it would seem, are too enculturated in the belief that God is full of wrath and we should fear Him on that basis. God is love and when we come to realize this we also realize that the RCC is not promulgating a God of love, but a God to fear and it also seems the RCC wants a lot of fear & division in the world so that people who are afraid will join the Church in its fear-based ideological and theological political agenda.

  13. butterfly:

    Always there are monastic orders where people are connecting at a higher level. That was my comfort and my solace for many years. It is within some of these monastic communities (particularly the Cistercians in my view) that the early Fathers and Mothers of the Church still speak today, forming men and women who are "God-Bearers" in a broken world. There are many others of course. The sisters who live the Gospel in the work for the poor and outcast etc. as well. And I too am heartened that here and elsewhere so many Catholics "get" the Gospel and seek to allow the Spirit to enliven them. That one thread where the Bishop's comments appeared that NCR - and the comments in particular - were highly reassuring to me on that score.

    So I feel ok trying to move forward in other ways. As, for me, to say the same things over and over serves no purpose. Better to allow myself to see where the Spirit blows me. (though I may comment from time to time)

    In a couple of areas my life is at a crossroad - like being faced with more than one crossroad - in different dimensions simultaneously. So things are "opening up" - big and little things. And as is said in both the Old and the New Testaments, sometimes you can't look back - you need to keep your eye on the plow, as you go forward. And let the dead bury their dead.

    Sometimes I feel like, for the first time, I really understand certain verses or concepts. There is so much to learn!

  14. TheraP, it was the writings of Thomas Merton that really set me on the right path to understanding and yes, there are still many in the RCC who get the Gospel message such as the Bishop in South Africa and the Sisters who work endlessly for the poor and needy and many more. I was speaking more about the hierarchy of the institution that is making itself very busy these days at selectively excommunicating and otherwise being condescending and pompous to those who do not agree with them. Those who have transcended the hierarchy's level of spirituality, if they are reading the Gospels and praying, are always in the process of building their faith, searching for God, definitely hearing from the Holy Spirit and gaining more grace.

    The spiritual process can seem like a two-steps forward and one step back sometimes and as you say, it is important to remember when plowing the field to not look back and always look forward and continue plowing and planting to make for a good harvest, a fruitful journey.

    Peace, TheraP. Your comments are very much appreciated.

  15. Anon Y. Mous

    I don't know if you're following this conversation anymore, but if you are, I wondered if you might clarify something.

    You wrote:

    The term 'marriage' refers to a sacramental union of a man & woman. Where the two parties publicly announce their intentions 'in the presence of God' & vow faithfulness to each other. This construct applies whether we speak of such a ceremony before a Catholic priest, Protestant minister, Rabbi, Mullah, Iman, Buddhist priest, Shaman, etc.

    I'm not sure I understand your use of the term "sacramental."

    You're obviously not using it in the specifically Roman Catholic sense, but in a wider, pan-religious sense. But you also assert that "marriage" is, by definition, between "a man & woman," and therefore monogamous and heterosexual.

    I'm sure I don't have to remind you that monogamy is hardly universal, even in religious contexts. Polygamy is found not only in our own Biblical tradition, but even today in many countries. Do these qualify as "sacramental" in your view? Why, or why not?

    The fact is that marriage is a social construct, it does not have a universal, carved-in-stone definition. It has changed in the past and there is no reason to think it won't change in the future.

    If a marriage is to be "sacramental" in the wider sense, this can only mean that it serves as a mediator of the sacred for those involved. Maybe you understand the word "sacramental" differently than I do, but if we understand it this way, then what impediment is there to a same-sex union being sacramental?

    You also wrote:

    'Marriage' is supposed to have at least the physical (potential...) possibility of natural childbirth. Though that is a secondary aspect of 'Marriage'. The primary being the sacramental consecration of the unity of the man & woman.

    But this is begging the question. The issue is not, "Since the primary meaning of marriage is 'the consecration of the unity of man & woman,' can same-sex couples get married?" It's, "Is a sacramental marriage only possible between a man and a woman?" You're clearly arguing that it is, but you seem to be asserting that this is so because of some natural and universal law.

    But there are no natural laws governing marriage per se, because marriage is a social construct and not a product of nature, nor does it have a universal meaning.

  16. Anonymous stated: "God did not create ppl to be Gay. Neither is being Gay the 'fault' of the person, nor even a sin of itself! Nor do gay sex acts, of themselves, have any specific religious context. ...

    A major causative factor for homosexuality is some form of early childhood trauma or abuse (of ANY kind). Villifying & scapegoating ppl for being homosexual - which is obviously beyond their control - is sick & un Christian."

    Anonymous obviously has no clue what being gay means and despite his/her feigned "acceptance" of gay persons, his/her comments are offensive. There is no "cause" of homosexuality. (Can you tell me what "causes" heterosexuality - perhaps some type of childhood abuse?).

    I read the blog posts with interest but often find the discussion deteriorates in the comment section.

  17. Thanks, I am glad my article occasioned some discussion. All good wishes, Mary E. Hunt

  18. This may help:

    It's about political framing in crisis situations, but it fits this situation perfectly!

  19. Good wishes back to you Mary and may your voice continue to provoke needed discussion--whether some people want the discussion or not.