Photo By Edgar Jiménez from Porto, Portugal (Papa rock star) [CC-BY-SA-2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
The last time I prepared a piece for "Echoes from the Bell
Tower," I was just back from the Second Conference of the
International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith
Stein and the Supreme Court had just issued its opinions in the
Windsor and Hollingsworth cases (the same-sex marriage cases).
I was perplexed by the Supreme Court's rulings, because they
represent a third major area in which Catholic moral teaching is at
variance with the laws and regulations of the United States:
abortion, contraception and, now, same-sex marriage. The focus of
my concern at that moment was on how the Catholic Church in the
United States would respond.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan's immediate response grabbed headlines:
"Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation." My own bishop
gave a more nuanced response: "The Supreme Court's rulings … were
indeed disappointing and discouraging…. It is time for us to
redouble our efforts to reaffirm the dignity of marriage and to
stand for the truth of marriage for the sake of society and the
good of our children."
I was at sea. It was not difficult to foresee that there would
soon be married couples of the same sex in my courtroom and in the
pews of my parish church. I expect that, at some point, I will
receive invitations to attend, or even to officiate at, the
weddings of my same-sex couple friends.
How should I respond? Because of the delicacy of these questions
and the fear that years of hatred and persecution of gay people
have engendered both in and outside the Church, it was difficult
for me to find persons to talk to.
Joseph Bottums' article, "The Things We Share: A Catholic's Case
for Same-Sex Marriage," created a bit of a firestorm. Those who
read it to the end and/or listened to a recorded interview with him
realized that the subtitle was misleading.
The article did not attempt to make a Catholic case for same-sex
marriage, but instead presented the author's personal reflections
on where we find ourselves now and his hope that same-sex couples
seeking marriage were not simply motivated by animus against the
Bottums' musings begin and end with grieving the loss of his
friendship with a gay friend, which I think has the effect of
highlighting how deeply and unavoidably personal questions about
sexuality and sexual orientation necessarily are. Bottums
acknowledges that much damage has been done on all sides, but that
he is "not sure what can be done about it."
That was pretty much where I found myself, too. Not sure that I
could see a way through. I felt that I was trying to balance my
natural tendency toward following rules (I didn't become a judge by
not following rules) against my genuine love and concern for my gay
friends. I wanted someone - my bishop, my pastor, my spiritual
director - to help me find another way.
In the midst of this perplexity, Pope Francis showed himself to
be a true "papa" by responding to my prayer. No, I'm not one of
those who have written him a personal letter, but his comments in
the recent interview published by America seemed to be a gift
intended just for me. The pope gave me renewed hope that there is a
I'm not just talking about the sound bites that have been widely
publicized, as important as they are. I am talking about the deeper
message. Pope Francis tells us that we must "focus… on the
essentials, on necessary things…. The proposal of the Gospel must
be more simple, profound, radiant." We must begin with the message
of salvation, because "the saving love of God comes before moral
and religious imperatives."
We must learn to take people where they are, knowing that we,
too, need that same grace. Pope Francis emphasized his own identity
as "a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon." We are all sinners. I
am not the person that I was five years, or 10 years, or 20 years
ago. I have changed, I have learned, all by the grace of God.
And it is pure grace. If I know this to be true of myself, it
should not be difficult for me to realize that it is true of
everyone around me. I must learn to see them as persons who, like
me, are seeking the way of the Lord.
I must give them, and me, room to make mistakes along the way,
because, of course, mistakes are inevitable. I must not only be
willing to see myself as the repentant prodigal daughter, but also
as the loving mother, who forgives freely and lavishly, just as I
hope to be forgiven.
Thank you, Pope Francis, for reminding me that "the church with
which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel
that can hold only a small group of selected people."
i Bishop J. Terry Steib, Statement on the Defense of Marriage
Act and Proposition 8, West Tennessee Catholic, July 4,
ii Commonweal, August 23, 2012, available at https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/things-we-share.
iii Antonio Spadaro, S.J., "A Big Heart Open to God,"
America (September 30, 2013), available at http://americamagazine.org/pope-interview.