Archbishop Addresses Marriage Amendment Aftermath

Promotes Reconciliation and Agreeable Disagreement

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, DEC. 4, 2008 ( The battle over California’s marriage definition amendment, passed in November, gave rise to misunderstandings and hard feelings that must now be addressed, said the archbishop of San Francisco.

Archbishop George Niederauer affirmed this in his column of this week’s Catholic San Francisco, in which he addressed the conflicts that have arisen in the aftermath of Proposition 8, California’s marriage amendment.

«Proposition 8 on November’s ballot,» he began, «added 14 words to the Constitution of the State of California: ‘Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.'»

He expressed the desire to clarify his role in the passage of the proposition, faced to the media’s speculations about the involvement of the Catholic bishops in California.

The prelate explained that the California Catholic Conference urged Catholics to contribute work and resources for the passage of Proposition 8, along with other referendums. He stated: «The Archdiocese of San Francisco did not donate or transfer any archdiocesan funds to the campaign in favor of Proposition 8.

«As far as I know, that is also true of other Catholic dioceses in California. The archdiocese did pay, and appropriately disclose, printing and distribution of flyers to parishes.»

The archbishop reported that he had approached leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) whom he knew from his 11 years as bishop of Salt Lake City, and who «were already considering an involvement in connection with Proposition 8.»

He affirmed, «I did write to them and they urged the members of their Church, especially those in California, to become involved.»

The prelate continued, «It is important to point out here that a wide range of churches became active in favor of Proposition 8: In addition to Catholics and [Latter-day Saint] members, evangelical Protestant churches and churches with many African-American members joined the effort, and, among the Orthodox churches, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of San Francisco and three other Orthodox bishops signed and published a joint statement in favor of Proposition 8.»

No redefinition needed

After this explanation, Archbishop Niederauer addressed the motives behind this work: «Some voices in the wider community declare that there could be only one motive: hatred, prejudice and bigotry against gays, along with a determination to discriminate against them and deny them their civil rights.»

«That,» he affirmed, «is not so.»

Instead, he said, the churches that supported this amendment «did so because of their belief that the traditional understanding and definition of marriage is in need of defense and support, and not in need of being redesigned or reconfigured.»

The archbishop responded to the criticism that churches should remain silent on political matters, even if they disagree. He affirmed that «religious leaders in America have the Constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy. Catholic bishops, specifically, also have a responsibility to teach the faith, and our beliefs about marriage and family are part of this faith.

«Indeed, to insist that citizens be silent about their religious beliefs when they are participating in the public square is to go against the constant American political tradition.»

He mentioned other political issues that also engage the «ethical, moral, and religious convictions of citizens: immigration policy, the death penalty, torture of prisoners, abortion, euthanasia and the right to health care […].»

The prelate explained that supporters of Proposition 8 «see marriage and the family as the basic building blocks of human society, existing before government and not created by it.»

He continued, «Marriage is for us the ideal relationship between a man and woman, in which, through their unique sexual complementarity, the spouses offer themselves to God as co-creators of new human persons, a father and mother giving them life and enabling them to thrive in the family setting.»

The archbishop recognized the cases in which the ideal is impossible, when children must be raised by single parents or foster parents, but emphasized «a definition of marriage that recognizes and protects its potential to create and nurture new human life, not merely a contract for the benefit of a relationship between adults.»

Proposition 8 is a defense of the «traditional understanding and definition of marriage,» emphasized the prelate, not an attack on any group, nor «an attempt to deprive others of their civil rights.» He added, «Proposition 8 simply recognizes that there is a difference between traditional marriage and a same sex partnership.»

2-way streets

Archbishop Niederauer ended by turning his focus to the question of how to move forward amid the hurt feelings of many opponents of Proposition 8.

«Tolerance, respect, and trust are always two-way streets,» he pointed out, «and tolerance, respect and trust often do not include agreement, or even approval. We need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.»

He encouraged churchgoers to «speak and act out of the truth that all people are God’s children and are unconditionally loved by God.»

The archbishop concluded by appealing to Catholics in his archdiocese to minister to all in their churches. «Whoever they are, and whatever their circumstances, their spiritual and pastoral rights should be respected, together with their membership in the Church,» he said. «In that spirit, with God’s grace and much prayer, perhaps we can all move forward together.»

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