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BY Jeanette DeMelo
This week on Register Radio, we talked about marriage—and why it’s worth saving and how it might be saved.
During the first half of the show I spoke with Robert Royal of The Catholic Thing about why Catholics should avoid a preemptive surrender of marriage to the same-sex lobby and instead must continue to stand for traditional marriage while at the same time evangelizing the culture.
I took up this issue this week, because of a controversy that erupted in Catholic media and the blogosphere. On Aug. 23, Joseph “Jody” Bottum, the former editor of the journal First Things, which is well-known for its reasoned defense of conservatism and orthodoxy, wrote a very long essay in Commonweal entitled The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-sex Marriage. Further complicating his already unclear message, the New York Times published an article on Aug. 25 with the headline A Conservative Catholic Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage, and the article gave the impression that Bottum thinks the Church is wasting its time and even harming itself opposing gay “marriage.”
My guest on this week’s show, Robert Royal responded forcefully in an Aug. 25 column called The Preemptive Surrender of Jody Bottum.
Said Royal during our radio interview, “The New York Times is rarely accurate when it comes to Catholic things … but it is not quite accurate to say that Jody supports same-sex marriage. He has said repeatedly since [his essay appeared] that he remains orthodox in his views that marriage is what traditional Catholics believe it to be.”
Bottum’s argument, says Royal, was a political one. While Royal doesn’t agree, he explains Bottum’s point: “What he was saying is, it is just not possible to win this battle in many ways it stirs up animosity against the Church… so it’s less a change of views of same-sex marriage as such…he’s more concerned about what the Church should be doing in the U.S. at this point, this ‘strange cultural moment’ as he says.”
For Royal, a surrender to the gay lobby at this point isn’t the solution. “In the U.S. the Church really gains no friends by not being absolutely true to itself.”
He said we are in the “defense of six of the earliest words that establish our western civilization: ‘Male and female he created them,’” and he pointed out that marriage is a profound notion in all cultures. In no culture known to anthropology has homosexuality ever been incorporated into society in the broad sense we see today. Instead there has been a great emphasis on marriage of a man and a woman is the primordial relationship of society, said Royal.
“To back off on that is really to allow a very toxic culture to have its own way in our lives.”
“This is a looming legal battle,” said Royal. “I believe to grow soft is not to make friends. It is not even to gain neutrality. It is an expression of weakness that people who dislike the Church and want to push an agenda are going to push even harder if we back off.”
Bottum wrote in his essay that there’s no principled and compelling legal argument that will hold. Is the legal battle lost? I asked. “No,” Royal said emphatically.
“It may be true that within legal culture it is a minority position…but in factual terms there are many people, and not only Catholics by the way, who have been arguing that this is a fundamental relationship on marriage law that has been understood traditionally in ways that can be perfectly defended rationally, without resorting to revelation.”
Regarding the legal arguments, “We have arguments. We just have to make them better, make them more often, make them more forcefully, and to try to spread the sense that there is a way to speak back to this mistaken notion that equality of two very different things—which is to say that homosexual so-called marriage and traditional marriage are really about the same thing. They are about very different things.”
In his Commonweal essay, Bottum makes the case that the bishops and the Church would be better off trying to re-enchant or re-evangelize the world than to continue this legal battle.
Royal agrees that society needs to be re-evangelized, but for him this doesn’t replace the legal battles. The situation requires a “both/and” response — the re-enchantment must happen but Catholics must continue to engage in the cultural battles.
“With Pope Francis we are involved in an evangelical Catholicism, that really seeks to reach out personally to people and make them understand the world in a different way, but we can’t wait for that to take place to fight the battle that must take place to protect marriage.”
Said Royal, “For me the only way we can carry out the re-enchantment while protecting ourselves has got to include making a legal stance.”
Listen to the show to hear more.
Saving Marriages One by One
During the second half of the show, Dan Burke spoke with Julie and Greg Alexander, who work with couples through the apostolate they founded The Alexander House, which helps repair marriages.
For the Alexanders, once upon a time, life was all about financial and professional success and after that didn’t bring them happiness, they sought other relationships to fill the void and they became unfaithful to their marriage. While they still were going to mass, they were contemplating divorce.
They talked to a priest about the possibility of divorce. He listened, then began to ask them a few questions: What is God’s plan for marriage? What does the Church teach about marriage? What does St. Paul teach about marriage?
They didn’t know any of the answers, they simply wanted out of their own unhappiness.
The priest suggested they find answers to the questions before pursuing divorce. They had enough grace to look for the answers. As they became more knowledgeable about the Church’s teaching on marriage, as they talked about what marriage meant, their own relationship began to grow and their love was rekindled.
For the last 14 years they have been helping other couples grow in their marriages through the apostolate The Alexander House. Now they are doing the Great Marriage Challenge, a tour going to parishes around the nation teaching them about the true nature of marriage, putting forth a challenge to couples to do something for their own marriage, or challenging them to start marriage support in their own marriage.
So far this couple has worked with 1500 other couples to help them strengthen their marriages.
Listen to the show for more information and to hear the Alexanders’ story.