Is the Catholic Response to 'Obergefell' to Obey the State, or to Disobey It?

Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII (photo: Register Files)

Is the Catholic response to Obergefell to obey the State, or to disobey it?

That wise old sage Pope Leo XIII has left us a huge amount of little-known writing that often seems to speak directly to our own times. For example, this extract from the 1881 encyclical Diuturnum illud is worthy of greater familiarity:

15. The one only reason which men have for not obeying [their rulers] is when anything is demanded of them which is openly repugnant to the natural or the divine law, for it is equally unlawful to command to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated. If, therefore, it should happen to anyone to be compelled to prefer one or the other, viz., to disregard either the commands of God or those of rulers, he must obey Jesus Christ, who commands us to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Mt 22:21), and must reply courageously after the example of the Apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And yet there is no reason why those who so behave themselves should be accused of refusing obedience; for, if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, they themselves exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice; nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null.

Leo takes this argument even further in his 1888 encyclical Libertas praestantissimum.

13. … But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God. Thus, an effectual barrier being opposed to tyranny, the authority in the State will not have all its own way, but the interests and rights of all will be safeguarded—the rights of individuals, of domestic society, and of all the members of the commonwealth; all being free to live according to law and right reason; and in this, as We have shown, true liberty really consists.

30. …for this Christian liberty bears witness to the absolute and most just dominion of God over man, and to the chief and supreme duty of man toward God. It has nothing in common with a seditious and rebellious mind; and in no tittle derogates from obedience to public authority; for the right to command and to require obedience exists only so far as it is in accordance with the authority of God, and is within the measure that He has laid down. But when anything is commanded which is plainly at variance with the will of God, there is a wide departure from this divinely constituted order, and at the same time a direct conflict with divine authority; therefore, it is right not to obey.

If the Supreme Court has legitimate authority to find as it did in Obergefell v. Hodges, it is clear, from a conventional understanding of the Magisterium, we have a duty to obey the law. 

But if the Court has no such authority to redefine marriage (regardless of the fact that two-thirds of its members “identify” as Catholic) – Leo is unambiguous that it must be rejected: “it is right not to obey”. 

What this disobedience, instructed by the same Pope who gave us Rerum Novarum, might mean in practice, will unfold in time. But for now it is essential to be under no illusions: a declaration of war has been made against all faithful Christians of all denominations. 

To borrow Ronald Reagan’s classic phrase, we are presented with “a time for choosing”. Each person must choose his allegiance: will it be to God, or will it be to the secular State which claims His prerogatives for itself, and in so doing, brazenly places itself in His divine throne?

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