Everyone living in the state of Florida knows by now that various judicial rulings in recent months has led to a change in state law allowing same-sex marriages to be recognized as legal. I write not as someone schooled in the law, which I am not. Were I, I would love to study how courts can overrule a decision of the citizenry passed as a state constitutional amendment. I am also not a sociologist or psychologist. Were I, I would love to plumb deeper into my uncertainty about the consequences of this new definition of marriage for the future of society. I am rather a pastor and shepherd looking to the peripheries for people in the Church who long have felt alienated, unwanted, embarrassed, angry and marginalized.
In this moment in Florida, I take some comfort in that my beloved Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Pope Francis had already begun a discussion about how we might reach out in love to those same people in the peripheries while upholding the traditional sacramental definition of marriage even as the civil society appeared to be moving away from it. It is indeed a tightrope to be treaded but I find myself akin to the Wallenda family standing at one end attempting to gain some balance to begin a thoughtful journey across the seeming chasm.
As I was beginning yesterday to develop my first thoughts on what was happening for this space, I received an email from the editor of the “Perspectives” section of the Tampa Bay Times editorial section asking if I would submit my thoughts on all of this for publication this morning. He accepted that work product and I agreed that I would wait a day before posting it here and in our diocesan web page. What follows is what appeared in today’s Times.
In light of the judicial decision effective January 6, 2014, I wish to lend an additional voice to the discussion regarding the challenges we face as we strive as a Church to preserve the traditional sacramental understanding of marriage even as the law now accommodates couples of the same sex.
As one of our seven sacraments, the Catholic Church upholds marriage as an indissoluble relationship between a man and a woman committed to mutual consolation and open to procreation. Such a view is rooted not only in the Church’s longstanding theological understanding of married life, but in the Church’s understanding of Christian anthropology as well, which views the conjugal and complementary relationship between a man and a woman as part of God’s Providential design whereby human beings are able to be co-creators of life with God.
Therefore, any dialogue which reaffirms such a view of marriage and which seeks to ensure that such a view continues to be respected and enabled to serve and edify both the Church and the wider society is to be commended and supported.
However, together with Pope Francis and in light of the discussions at the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family held in Rome, I also recognize that the reality of the family today, in all its complexities, presents the Church with pastoral challenges as the Church strives to accept people in the specific circumstances of their lives and support and encourage them in their search for God and their desire to be members of the Church. Therefore, I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the Church and the wider society.
In the midst of changing societal definitions and understandings of marriage, there may no doubt be some confusion. However, with patience and humility, our Church must continuously strive to discern what the Spirit is saying and respond to the Synod Fathers’ suggestion to discern what pastoral response faithful to Church teaching and marked by respect and sensitivity might be appropriate for same sex couples, even as God’s creative designs for and the Church’s sacramental understanding of marriage are also affirmed.
Bishop Robert N. Lynch
Diocese of St. Petersburg