A Catholic friend on facebook sympathetically links to this story about the dissenting homily given by Fr. Richard T. Lawrence, pastor of Baltimore’s St. Vincent de Paul church, after reading aloud a letter asking Catholics to vote against Maryland’s “Question 6,” the Civil Marriage Protection Act. The letter was from Fr. Lawrence’s own Archbishop, William Lori, which urged Catholics to vote in accordance with natural marriage on Tuesday. (Oddly, the National Catholic Reporter quotes from but does not link to Lori’s letter, and St. Vincent de Paul’s website does not link to Fr. Lawrence’s homily.) Fr. Lawrence opines:
I will continue to stand in genuine awe of all those couples — straight, gay and lesbian — whose day-to-day, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade faithfulness to each other is to me a sacrament, a believable embodied sign, of the absolute faithfulness of God to us all.
A sacrament is not just “a believable embodied sign,” it is an outward sign signifying an inward reality. The outward sign of Baptism is water washing over our skin, cleansing it, and the inward reality is that the action really does cleanse our souls of sin. The outward sign of the Holy Eucharist is the partaking of bread and wine which sustains our bodies, and the inward reality is that only the accidents of bread and wine remain and we are really partaking of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ which sustains our souls.
The outward sign of a same-sex union certainly does not correspond with the inward reality. Yes, God’s relationship with us is one of faithfulness but it is also one of fecundity, something which a same-sex union biologically lacks by nature. Fr. Lawrence presumably would consider natural marriage and same-sex unions to be equal to my relationship with my old high school buddies who, decade-to-decade, have remained faithful friends.
Turning to decisions at Vatican II (1962-65), Lawrence said an eventual change in church teaching was possible, “and we could come to recognize the total, exclusive and permanent union of gay and lesbian couples as part of the sacrament of matrimony.”
Ah, Vatican II: the go-to reference to support any sort of dissent. Few of your hearers or readers will have read all the documents, and if you don’t specify which actual document you are using to bolster your dissent, all the better!
The church has always “been willing to marry couples in the church even though their ages suggest strongly that the procreation and education of children is no longer a possibility,” Lawrence said.“Could we not then say that their devotion to and support of each other … could be recognized by the church as a valid sacrament of God’s unrelenting faithfulness to us just as much as the union of an elderly straight couple?” he asked. “Neither will procreate children, but both can be sacraments of God’s faithfulness in the living out of their commitment to each other.”
Any middle-schooler instructed in the theology of the body would be able to point out the flaw in Fr. Lawrence’s reasoning. The bodies of an elderly straight couple are still naturally complementary to each other; if God wished he could bless such a couple with a child, as he did with Abraham and Sarah.
Lawrence stressed such was not the teaching of the church, but said, “I personally believe that this is a possible line of future development in theology and perhaps eventually even in church teaching. And if this is even a possibility, could we not judge that civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples ought to be allowed by the state at this time?”
It is doubtful that a faulty understanding of the nature of man and woman represents a possibility that the church could change its teaching on the sacrament of marriage. Do pastors have the right to teach their flocks anything they want as long as the pastor himself can contort logic into a presumed “theological possibility?” Don’t the laity deserve to be taught the truth? It is also possible, by his reasoning, that the church could allow communion to non-Catholics in non-extraordinary circumstances because their digestive systems are just like ours, and many of them express belief in the Real Presence, as understood by their own denominations.
Catholics have enough of an uphill battle in the fight for natural marriage against well-funded LGBT groups, an oppressively secular and sexually confused culture, and undercatechized parishioners; it doesn’t help that a few of our own pastors willfully dissent from the successors to the apostles and distort Church teaching on the sacraments.
P.S. It’s difficult to say whether Fr. Lawrence is influencing his flock or they are influencing him, but “The St. Vincent parishioners gave Lawrence a standing ovation.”
P.P.S. St. Vincent’s “Our Pastor” site is pretty revealing about Fr. Lawrence:
He can be pretty opinionated and challenging in his homilies, but he doesn’t insist or even expect that everyone will agree with him: he encourages people to learn and think for themselves.
Um, aren’t you supposed to be teaching people about the faith? Do shepherds let the sheep fend for themselves?
He has been active in social justice ministries all his life, starting with the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and the Peace movement in the 70’s, and is today one of the leaders in the Inclusive Housing movement.
It’s hard not to be predisposed to presuming that a dissenting priest is “active in social justice;” those terms don’t seem to mean much in modern Church life other than an alignment with typically politically leftist movements. A priest who undermines his bishop’s teaching in front of his own flock and refers to himself as “active in social justice ministries” risks propagating the belief in the laity that care of the poor and marginalized is more important than being in union with one’s bishop and the clear teaching of the Church.