The Church and Its People
Two recent polls show that America’s devout, church-going Roman Catholics support gay and lesbian families, and think they should have legal recognition of some sort--either marriage or civil unions.
For many, this may seem surprising; for some (conservative Catholic especially, I am guessing) this may seem like an outrage.
But I have to say that I’m not surprised. Catholicism prevails throughout Spain, and yet that nation not only legalized marriage equality, it recently dedicated a memorial in Barcelona to the gays and lesbians who were persecuted and murdered throughout history.
Here in the States, we are on a similar trend. It may not have as great an impact on the civil rights scene, given that there are more Protestants and Evangelicals here than Catholics, but it may be possible that we will see a day dawn when religious objections to full legal equality for gay individuals and their families has diminished, and civil law--along civil rights--are universally and equitably available.
For Catholicism to play a role in that transformation would only be fitting. The very word "Catholic" means universal in scope: true, valid, and relevant no matter where you are. In that sense, the only saying that "the Church is its people" is a good one.
Speaking for myself, the Catholics in my life are also some of the most important people in my life: my parents and their spouses; my mentors; my best friend; early role models whose imprint I carry still. One of them wrote a book to his grown children--all of whom had fallen away from the faith--and reminded them that the Church is not a repository for the dull-witted or the passive, but a social and spiritual hub for vital, intelligent people who choose both a life of the mind and of the spirit. Catholicism does not flee from inquiry, but rather embraces it as a tool for greater alignment between human beings and the Divine. It is that quality of the Church, he argued, that makes the Catholic faith forever refreshed and enduring.
It is hard, at times, to look at the Church and recognize in its hierarchy and doctrines the faith that my mentor’s book describes. In his vision of the Church, freedom of thought is encouraged, and material, worldly evidence is admissible. We may know the universe as the Word of God because it is the Work of God. This being the case, rational investigation--science--is also a path toward truth, and therefore to atonement.
It’s a touching and deeply democratic vision--a vision rooted in the strength and moral character of the individual, requiring and promoting personal engagement and personal responsibility. It’s very an American view of the Catholic faith.
But the Church, alas, is not a democracy. Theological reasoning is full of antiquated--medaeival, in fact--patterns of thought. God is a "King" who rules over the earth, and we humans are His "subjects"--not a very reassuring depiction, for those who love freedom and believe that the individual, if left unmolested by bureaucracy and tyranny, will by nature prove to be upright, responsible, and moral, which is to say, capable of managing his own affairs.