Friday, June 27, 2014

As Same-Sex Couples Bring Children for Baptism, How Will Church Respond: Purity Code or Love, Justice, and Mercy?

Here's an example of what I meant when I just wrote, "The testimony of the prophets is very clear about these issues: love, justice, and mercy trump purity codes every time, since God cares about the former and not the latter." This is Doug Erickson of the Wisconsin State Journal reporting on a memo sent last month to all priests of the Catholic diocese of Madison, from the office of the diocese's vicar general Monsignor James Bartylla. A copy of the document has been leaked to the State Journal.

The concern of the memo: handling requests of Catholic same-sex couples to have their children baptized. The response of Msgr. Bartylla to this concern:

The process now will be centralized, with requests coordinated through the office of the vicar general, the bishop’s second in command, in consultation with parish priests. Previously, such decisions were left largely to priestly discretion and sensitivity.

Erickson cites Jesuit journalist Father Thomas Reese regarding the question of baptizing children of same-sex couples: 

"In general, the Catholic church does not punish the child for the sins of the parents," Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, told me. "As archbishop of Buenos Aires, (Pope) Francis got angry at priests who would not baptize children born out of wedlock. I would presume the same principle applies here." 

But here's Monsignor Bartylla on why there's a need for centralized diocesan control of all requests to have a child of a same-sex couple baptized:

In the memo, Bartylla says there are "a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording."

The parents of these children, you understand, are living in unnatural unions. And so these children are somehow different from the children of any other couple who present their child for baptism in the Catholic church.

We need to set up special centralized and coordinated control of these requests, a process under the direct control of the bishop's "second in command." The request of a same-sex couple to have their child baptized can no longer be handled in the customary way in which all such requests have traditionally been handled in Catholic parishes, with confidence that parish priests know how to make judicious pastoral decisions within the context of a community they know intimately as its pastor.

The process must now be centralized, coordinated, placed under the direct command of the bishop's right-hand man, because these couples are different: they live in unnatural unions.

The trumping of love, mercy, and justice by purity codes, which are growing ever more rigid, ever harder and faster, in many Catholic institutions today in direct response to the refusal of gay people to hide, live in shame, lie about our identities, could not be clearer. When this happens — when purity codes begin to trump love, mercy, and justice — institutions that claim to be, at their very core, all about proclaiming the good news of God's all-embracing love of the world through Christ have a very serious problem on their hands.

To wit: their own behavior towards some members of the human community has come to belie their good-news message in very gross, very stark, and entirely insupportable ways.

(My thanks to Kathy Barrett for emailing Doug Erickson's article to me.)

The graphic is from the Flickr photo stream of chelled and is available for sharing through Creative Commons license.

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