Vatican Condemns Homosexual 'Marriage' in Wake of Spanish and Canadian Legislation

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid, accompanied by 1,600 pilgrims, came to the Vatican July 4 — just five days after Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero's Spanish government legalized same-sex “marriage” and adoption of children by homosexual couples.

Cardinal Varela, a leader of the Church's campaign against the Spanish legislation, marked the occasion by again condemning the government's move. “Not only is the faith threatened,” he said, “but human reason as well.”

Bishop Ricardo Perez, president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, denounced the law the same day at a news conference near Madrid, saying that it “throws moral and human order into confusion.”

Pope Benedict XVI was less directly critical of the Spanish government when meeting with Cardinal Varela and the pilgrims in Paul VI Hall, but commentators interpreted his willingness to grant them an audience as a signal of support for Spain's bishops. In his remarks, the Pope called on Spanish Catholics to spread the Gospel in a “society thirsting for true human values and suffering so many divisions and fractures,” and he said that the Church should be “present in all areas of daily life.”

In an address a month earlier at Rome's St. John the Lateran Basilica, the Holy Father explicitly rejected homosexual unions.

“The various current forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and 'trial marriage,’ including pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are on the contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man's authentic liberation,” Benedict said.

For its part, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano delivered a forceful denunciation of Spain's new policies, calling them “violent attacks against the family” and a “defeat for humanity.”

Catholic Politicians

The July 3 article said the family “belongs to the whole of humanity because it is inscribed in nature from its beginning. And it has survived, throughout the centuries, the screening of philosophical, scientific, anthropological and social systems.”

With respect to Spain, L'Osservatore Romano said, “It is singular that a state that proclaims itself ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ attempts to impose its own ideological system on such a complex reality.”

In late June, Canada's Parliament voted in favor of similar legislation to enshrine homosexual “marriage” (see page 1 article). In both Spain and Canada, the government is headed by a Catholic, giving rise to questions whether denial of holy Communion, or even excommunication, is warranted against Catholic politicians who promote such legislation.

A denial of the sacraments can be invoked under Church law only if an individual's action is deemed to cause sufficiently great scandal. According to the Code of Canon Law, “The external violation of a divine or canonical law can be punished by a just penalty only when the special gravity of the violation demands punishment and there is an urgent need to prevent or repair scandals” (No. 1399).

But does the promotion of homosexual “marriage” fit that requirement of “special gravity”?

“It depends on the degree of involvement of the politician concerned,” one Vatican official explained. “If he or she is spearheading the legislation and publicly contradicting Church teaching, then it's perfectly right to deny the sacraments.”

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that such an action would be a pastoral decision and not a penalty because, in his view, such politicians have already severed themselves by the Church by their actions.

In the United States, the question of withholding Communion from Catholic politicians who supported legalized abortion figured prominently in last year's presidential elections, with respect to pro-abortion Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Pastoral Guidance

U.S. bishops were divided on the subject, and Pope Benedict, then serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, became involved in the discussion after being asked to provide guidance by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C.

In a June 2004 memo to Cardinal McCarrick, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger outlined a process of pastoral guidance and correction for politicians who consistently promote legal abortion and euthanasia. That process could extend to a warning against taking Communion, and in the case of “obstinate persistence” by the politician, the minister “must refuse to distribute” Communion, he said.

Cardinal Ratzinger's memo did not cite any specific politicians whose actions would require a denial of Communion, however, and it did not discuss whether such a sanction is appropriate with regard to a Catholic politician's promotion of same-sex “marriage.”

Denial of Communion to a European politician — especially in Spain where Church-state relations are particularly sensitive — would probably prove even more contentious than in America. And as with disciplining pro-abortion politicians, much of the onus on whether to act depends on the judgment of the local bishop, not the Holy See.

“The bishop must first of all try and bring reconciliation between the person in question and the Church,” said Father Edmund Kowalski, associate professor of philosophical anthropology at Rome's Alphonsian Academy. “Only then would he be in a position to prohibit Communion dependent on the bishop's own interpretation of the scandal.”

‘Moral Duty’

The seriousness of publicly supporting same-sex union legislation has been explicitly noted by Benedict himself.

In a June 2003 document entitled “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” Cardinal Ratzinger unequivocally stated that Catholic lawmakers have a “moral duty” to express their opposition to same-sex unions “clearly and publicly.”

“One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws,” Cardinal Ratzinger stated. Voting in favor of such a law, he stressed, would be “gravely immoral.”

For now, though, the Vatican appears to be indicating that it remains up to local bishops and canon lawyers to judge if any measures should be taken to rebuke public figures, such as Spain's Prime Minister Zapatero and Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin, who have flagrantly ignored that clear articulation of their responsibilities as Catholic politicians.

(Register staff and wire services contributed to this story.) Edward Pentin writes from Rome.