Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Frank Cocozzelli and Maggie Gallagher: The Voice(s) of American Catholicism

Frank Cocozzelli has an interesting essay entitled “Who Speaks for American Catholics?” at Talk to Action’s website (here). Cocozzelli notes the wide diversity of viewpoints of American Catholics on social and political issues, including issues with connections to Catholic moral teaching. As he notes, American Catholics frequently disagree with each other (and with official church teaching) on issues such as stem-cell research, abortion, and gay and lesbian rights.

Many of us find the political and moral positions of our brothers and sisters of the Catholic right morally repugnant precisely because of our commitment to Catholic moral teaching about economic and social justice and war and peace. As Cocozzelli rightly notes, “A strong case can be made that these icons of the Catholic Right are using abortion and LGBT rights as wedge issues primarily to elect laissez-faire economic conservatives.”

It’s interesting to read Maggie Gallagher’s latest contention that “Catholics”—by implication, all Catholics—will be penalized if the United States fully recognizes the human rights of gay and lesbian citizens, including the right to marry. Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan nominated Gallagher for one of his Malkin awards for the following statement (here):

After gay marriage, the most religiously committed Americans will be effectively marginalized as a public force—because they cannot act or support the idea that gay unions are marriages. Such people will, if we lose the marriage debate, be treated the way we treat bigots who oppose interracial marriage. Imagine: All it will take to make, say, a judicial nominee unconfirmable will be to establish that they are indeed Catholic.

I suspect Gallagher is fully aware that, in her interpretation of what Catholic moral teaching requires vis-à-vis her gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, she is already in the minority, and will soon be defending a position considered marginal and indefensible by the large majority of American Catholics. As I’ve noted on this blog, results of a Gallup poll released on 30 March indicate (here) that a majority of American Catholics (54%) do not believe homosexual relations are immoral, whereas only 45% of American citizens overall hold this position. The Gallup poll demonstrates that, even after several decades of sustained assault by the religious and political right, which has sought to force Catholics to walk lockstep with its political and moral positions, Catholics are to the left of other Americans on most moral and political issues.

I thought of these data recently when I watched Maggie Gallagher and Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign debate gay marriage on MSNBC’s “Hard Ball” program (here). Here, too, Gallagher speaks blithely of “the” Catholic position on gay issues, as if there is no disagreement at all among American Catholics about gay marriage and the morality of gay lives.

In fact, in this debate, Gallagher speaks as if the decision of Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston to close Catholic Charities in Boston in 2006 when that organization was required to place adoptive children in gay-headed households represents “the” Catholic position on such matters. And yet when the Boston archdiocese announced its intention to seek an exemption from this requirement in February 2006, 8 of the 42 members of the Catholic Charities board resigned in protest, noting that they considered it morally right for Catholic Charities to welcome gay parents (here).

Even as she speaks as though there is a unitary, dogmatically binding Catholic position on issues like gay adoption or gay marriage, Maggie Gallagher must know full well that there is a variety of Catholic viewpoints on these issues. And she has to know, as well, that this diversity exists for sound reasons, because a number of important moral principles are at play in the evaluation of these issues, and those principles can and do yield different moral outcomes as Catholics struggle to apply them.

Maggie Gallagher also has to know that the recent Gallup poll cited above explodes her claim to represent “the”—the right, the only possible—Catholic moral position on homosexuality. I can understand her political reasons for wishing to mislead the public into thinking that she represents the only thinkable Catholic position on gay issues. At the same time, I find that misrepresentation of the facts disingenuous and morally distasteful.

As a fellow Catholic, I would be much happier if Ms. Gallagher sought to ground what she says about the morality of gay people and gay lives in the truth. If a position is morally sound, it does not need lies to bolster it, and does not need to rely on cheap political tricks to compel people to assent to it.