Father James Martin, S.J., says Catholics must place orphan children with homosexual men, or else they become guilty of a new sin: homophobia. He says religious liberty should not be used as a cover for this new sin. He also compared sodomitical relationships with (of all things) Methodism. After all, just like sodomites, Methodists don’t follow the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Father Martin got all spun up early in November when the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether a Catholic adoption agency in Philadelphia has the right to follow Church teaching when placing kids in foster care. The City of Philadelphia said Catholic Social Services could no long place foster children at all because the group discriminated against homosexual couples. Two African-American women, both Catholic, sued the city so that they could still continue to receive foster children—something they had done 45 times over the years.
Always oily, Father Martin admits that Catholic institutions and agencies “have the right to require their employees to follow church teachings, and the right to decide whom they serve and under what conditions. But”—there is always a but with Father Martin—“increasingly, ‘religious liberty’ exemptions are focused only on LGBT people.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Father Martin seems to want Church officials to poke around the medicine cabinets of foster families to ensure they are not using the Pill. Or to sniff around bedrooms to ensure their sexual acts are in line with Church teaching. This seems to be his beef: that some couples are getting away with it, but gays can’t. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that Father Martin has no problem with the Pill, or with any such sexual acts. Let a hundred flowers bloom, you might say. Who are we to judge?
Now, if a Catholic couple was going to marches in favor of the Pill, or rode on floats in Swinger Pride parades, they probably wouldn’t be allowed to adopt from a Catholic agency. But since those sins tend to be private—since this cannot be shown in a typical relationship—Father Martin has his nose out of joint. The problem for Fr. Martin and “married” homosexual couples is that there is prima facia, in-your-face evidence of sin. Out and proud doesn’t always cut your way.
Let’s talk about social science. Better yet, let’s not. Let’s talk instead about Church teaching.
The Church teaches that homosexual behavior is deeply indeed mortally sinful and that placing a child into such a household does “violence” to him. But you will not hear this argument among the respondents to the case just heard at the Supreme Court. A cursory review of the amicus brief show that the words “Bible,” “encyclical,” and “sin” are not mentioned even once.
The problem for the agency and other respondents is that can’t talk about religion. They have to talk about “conscience.” We can’t allow this, because it goes against our conscience. Well, why? Because we believe that two men cannot marry, and that children need a mom and a dad. We believe that homosexual relationships are mortally sinful. We cannot knowingly send kids into a mortally sinful environment.
Yet we can’t say that because it’s forbidden by the Courts, and we have internalized the arguments. Remember that “wall of separation.”
This started in the early Sixties in a case called Abingdon Township v. Schempp that decided Bible reading in school was unconstitutional. Law professor Steven D. Smith puts it this way: “The Constitution requires that governments in this country be neutral in matters of religion, and governments can be neutral only if they limit themselves to actions serving secular purposes and having primarily secular effects.”
Secular has come to mean “without God,” “without religion.” For governments to insist upon secularity is to insist upon a politics and a law without God, without religion. The question then becomes, If the government is to be neutral, then how can it insist upon secularity? In the Abingdon case, the Supreme Court came down on the side of a longtime argument about who we are as a people. The Court formally chose a side in the Culture War. They ruled against religion.
And, so, advocates are stymied. They must dance around the central objection to certain proposals. In Obergefell v. Hodges, we had to argue that children need a mother and a father. We couldn’t say that sodomy is sinful. There was even the sadly comical moment in the California gay marriage case when the homosexual judge chided our side for not making the moral case against homosexual marriage. As he knew full well, our side was not allowed to make that argument.
It has even come to pass the motivations of religious folk are suspect, even if they use only social science or purely scientific arguments.
“Oh, you are only saying that because of the Bible.”
“But I haven’t mentioned the Bible, only social science.”
“But you are motivated by religion and we have a wall of separation.”
Father Martin will continue to make his silly but sadly harmful argument: that there is uneven application in Catholic hiring and adoption that disfavors gays. We should fight him every step of the way.
But the larger problem is that we are not allowed to make our central claims in the public square—that is, that our God has decided these issues and so has our Church. Even hearing this argument sounds wrong, doesn’t it? This is how much we have internalized the assertions. What we are up against is not “seculars.” Our opponents who are deeply religious, but they fly under the flag of secularity. And they’re out to silence the heretics—that is, you and me.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article confused Catholic Social Services with Catholic Relief Services. We have since amended the error, and apologize for any confusion.
[Photo credit: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images Entertainment]