Archbishop Cordileone: Responding to same-sex marriage must be done with “truth and compassion”

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As the institution of marriage faces unprecedented challenges, the Catholic Church continues to promote and defend marriage as being between one man and one woman, said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone.

As chairman of the bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, Archbishop Cordileone gave bishops at the Spring General Assembly an update prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.

On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution requires a state to license a civil marriage between two people of the same sex and also requires a state to recognize same-sex marriages when it was lawfully licensed and performed in another state. Dissenters were Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts.

In a statement released June 26, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson stated, "The decision issued today by the Supreme Court to effectively change the legal definition of marriage in the United States does not alter the unassailable truth that marriage is, and always will be, the life-long, life-giving union of one man and one woman." 

Prior to the anouncement, 36 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territory of Guam had legalized same-sex marriage. The status of same-sex marriage in a 37th state, Alabama, remained unclear because of conflicting state and federal rulings.

"Nothing the Court says can change what marriage truly is, and we will continue to promote and defend it," said Archbishop Cordileone, who received sustained applause from his brother bishops at the end of his talk. "We may have to suffer this lie about marriage in the law, but we must not participate in it or keep silent about it.

"The importance of responding to this challenge with truth and compassion remains paramount," he later added.

Those who advocate for the Church's definition of marriage will be increasingly marginalized under the law and within society, he said. Depending on the rationale, they would be viewed as proponents of discrimination and targeted with discrimination themselves.

In this atmosphere, the Church continues efforts to support public policy issues, including a version of the marriage and religious freedom act, which would prohibit the government from discriminating against those who act in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is the union between a man and woman. Protections would extend to areas including federal employment, contracts, grants and tax-exempt status.

The Church also supports the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would protect child welfare service providers against discrimination by the government, in situations where workers refuse to place children in certain households against their religious beliefs.

The Church is following legislation and executive action that would inject into federal law classifications of sexual orientation and gender identity. "We see advances on what Pope Francis has referred to critically as 'gender theory or gender ideology,'" said Archbishop Cordileone. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a document on best practices in restroom access for transgender workers.

Pope Francis has said that the responsibility of the Church is to "rediscover the beauty of the creative design, that also inscribes the image of God in the alliance of the covenant between man and woman." The Church teaches that the difference between man and woman is a positive difference that makes new life possible, Archbishop Cordileone said.

The U.S. bishops' Fortnight for Freedom, which will take place June 21-July 4 to promote the importance of religious liberty, the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September and the bishops Synod in October will serve as moments for catechesis, and to support families who are struggling as well as uphold strong families as positive examples.

"As the institution of marriage in our society faces unprecedented challenges, we humbly acknowledge our own responsibility and service to all and our total reliance on God's grace ... seeking God's face in all we encounter," said Archbishop Cordileone. 

Regardless of the court ruling, marriage already had been redefined by the culture, he said. The Church must have a role in helping to rebuild a culture supportive of marriage. If it were simply a matter of providing legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples, the Church, in theory, wouldn't have an issue with that, he said.

"States for years have had civil union laws, which equate them to marriage, but didn't call them marriage," he said. "It's not really a question of the rights and benefits, though. There's something more going on here. The heart of the matter is the question of the definition of marriage."

While it may not be possible for the Church to find common ground with those who support same-sex marriage, it is possible to encounter and accompany those who hold an opposing view. "We need to speak about (marriage) but we need to encounter each other as human beings. We need to listen more to each other. It's meeting people where they are at, but then accompanying them ... and helping them grow in virtue. We all have the same deepest yearning, and that yearning of course is for love."

Archbishop Cordileone, who has faced a barrage of criticism over proposed morality clauses for Catholic school teacher contracts and other policies in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, called for an attentiveness to those who say they don't feel welcome in the Church. That can be a challenge for large parishes, where a newcomer can feel left out. "I've often said we can learn from the megachurches that are very well organized in that regard," he said. "As soon as someone steps on the grounds of the church, somebody connects with them. I think we can do better at that."

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