A bishop corresponds on the subject of “Gay Marriage”

For some very strange reason, I enjoy reading other people’s letters. I hasten to add that this enjoyment is usually restricted to reading the published exchanges of deceased rather than living correspondents. That being said, I have a particular enjoyment in reading the letters of bishops. I especially enjoy it when some unwitting innocent initiates the exchange with their episcopal addressee only to receive a witty and pointed letter in response.

This all is by way of background to explain why I found such great enjoyment and edification in the brief correspondence, published just before Christmas, between Mr Peter Furness, the Acting National Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell. I think you, like me, will also find it educational.

(HT to the Warden. BTW, this might be the place to mention that Cooees seems to be going through one of its “moments”. We had noticed the excitement dying down over there, but are glad that Mr Harding will be continuing to share his wit and knowledge with us).

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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18 Responses to A bishop corresponds on the subject of “Gay Marriage”

  1. Alexander says:

    Peter Furness replied on Christmas Eve, and has published his letter. The Australian has also published an article on the exchange.

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks, Alex. Yes, the reply is very interesting. I think this will be worth watching to see where it goes. The concession that Cardinal Pell asked for – recognition that when Catholics defend marriage as between one man and one woman they are not being discriminating or prejudiced towards “non-heterosexuals” – is important, I think.

  2. matthias says:

    three cheers for George Cardinal Pell. It is about time seculat bigots such as Peter Furness and co get over the fact that religious people have as much right to speak in the public forum as they do.

    • Stephen K says:

      I certainly agree with your statement, Matthias, that religious people have as much right to speak in the public forum as anyone, but I think it is clear that Peter Furness explained what sounded like an authentic concern over a potential incongruity or difficulty for pastors to deliver effective pastoral care for homosexual members of their flock in regard to this and related issues if they were at the same time engaged in vigorous advocacy against same-sex marriage. His letters do not strike me in any way as to characterise him as a “secular bigot” and so I must say I thought your characterisation of him as such was misplaced and unfair. Actually I found the correspondence in both directions edifying.

      • PM says:

        Is the situation you describe any different from a pastor providing senstive suppport for someone with a drink problem while still maintaining that drunkenness is objectively bad?

        • Stephen K says:

          Perhaps it is not, PM. Although one might argue that there could be significant nuances. It might make a difference depending on how exactly some pastors expressed their advocacy against same-sex marriage and their condemnations, and it may seem arguable to someone like Peter Furness that a condemnation of a drinking problem (which most people would agree has obvious negative effects on both the person and those around him/her) might be in a different class than a condemnation of things which a person feels immanent and normal, namely their sexuality and feelings of love for another person of the same sex.
          However, please note, I don’t necessarily say your comparison is wrong, indeed, I think that some pastors could do both well and sensitively, and thus your point is a good one. But I was not arguing Peter Furness’ case: I was simply making the point that from the tone and construction of both Peter Furness’ letters, it seemed he was raising a genuine concern, and that I could see nothing in his correspondence (I had never heard of Peter Furness prior to this article, by the way) that would warrant him being thought a bigot, secular or otherwise.

  3. Jeff Tan says:

    Very informative, David. Thanks for that! And many thanks to Cardinal Pell for this charitable and very clear response. Very edifying!

  4. Schütz says:

    Stephen, I don’t think I anywhere characterised Peter Furness as a “secular bigot”. I did say he was an “unwitting innocent”!

    • Stephen K says:

      Peace to you, David. Let me assure you, at no time did I think you thought him a secular bigot. I had no problem whatsoever with your leader. It was the reference to “secular bigot” in Matthias’ reply that I thought was misplaced.

      In any case, it is true that often when people, whom I assume to have been formed outside one institutional culture, challenge others (in this case Cardinal Pell) from and representing another insititutional culture, their reasoning or approach can sometimes display either a necessary missing substantive consideration or a significantly different logic or causal sequence – that stands out as an “outsider” perspective. Mind you, we are all capable of being in this position as we are all “outsiders” in relation to everything outside of our own life-forming experience, so I don’t suggest this as anything to automatically devalue any “outsider” logic or approach, simply as a consideration why communication and resolution can, even with good intentions, derail on the shoals of, as you put it, “unwitting innocence”.

  5. Christine says:

    I think Cardinal Pell was quite gracious in his response.

  6. matthias says:

    but I am getting heartily sick and tired of the undercurrent which says that religion has no right to be out in the public domain. For example the Sex party’s advertisments says “keep religion out of politics” . Thus it is alright for their hedonistic philosophy to be public ,but not alright for someone to have a strong Christian belief and make a opinion over things.
    It may be that Furness is having “authentic concern over a potential incongruity or difficulty for pastors to deliver effective pastoral care for homosexual members of their flock in regard to this and related issues if they were at the same time engaged in vigorous advocacy against same-sex marriage.”. However Phillip Yancey in his book SO WHAT’S AMAZING ABOUT GRACE, shows from a personal perspective how he handled his best friend’s coming out ,whilst clearly saying he disagreed with his friend on sexuality ,he nevertheless did not demean his humanity nor friendship,but at the same time he made a clear statement from the Christian perspective . My comments is an ungracious act and I accept that ,but I was referring to a general consensus. ( I have been invited to attend the next Mass held by Acceptance Melbourne ,which is an organisation for for GLBT catholics ,even though i am not GLBT inclined.)

    • Stephen K says:

      That’s good, Matthias. All I can conclude from what you say is that you must be doing something right. Let me hasten to assure you of two things: (1) one’s belief framework – whether religious or non-religious – whether incoherent and unreflective or philosophical – is an integral part of one’s self, and so I absolutely agree that all ideas and frameworks have a place in the “ekklesia” of human discourse; I would say that anyone who participates in David’s forum would be one to whom the religious dimension is somehow (i.e. in various ways) central and important and would probably agree with you that religious perspectives have a potentially positive or healthy role to play; (2) I am under absolutely no illusion that I am in any position to morally judge (i.e. cast sentence) on anyone on anything – all I responded to is what I thought might not have been able to be sustained by the apparent facts, and offered my personal view for consideration. My sincere wishes to you that 2011 will bring you all good things.

  7. Marcel says:

    Wow! Cardinal Pell’s letter was awful and scandalous. I cannot understand why so many here are lauding it.

    “Allow me to state briefly our position on this question. The issue of same-sex marriage is not about the rights of non-heterosexual people or about equality. We already have “relationship equality” in Australia, because marriage, homosexual relationships, and unmarried heterosexual relationships are all treated equally before the law. As a way of ensuring that everyone is treated fairly, I support this…”

    That is not the Catholic position and once again illustrates the yawning gap between Cardinal Pell’s reputation for orthodoxy and his actual views on matters.

    • Schütz says:

      Not quite sure what your problem is here, Marcel. The Church does recognise the rights of “non-heterosexual people” – not because of their sexual orientation but as human beings. The Church would object, for instance, to any law in any country that demanded the death penalty for homosexuals. They have rights just like anyone else to have their relationships appropriately protected – but they do not have a right to “marry”.

  8. Jim Ryland says:

    We have a basic problem that is at the heart of this discussion and at the heart of many others… we lack a common understanding and definition of a word or concept. Marriage, for those on the non-hetero side (and indeed for many on the hetero side) is a civil bonding. The Church’s approach is sacramental.

    Marcel: There are many forms of civil partnerships and where they encounter civil law there are often inequities. I think that it was this sentiment that Cardinal Pell was addressing.

    • Marcel says:

      Jim, there is a fundamental difference between say St Peter Damian’s rhetoric on the subject of unnatrual relations and this example from Cardinal Pell. We are talking about a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance, which, these days, is a sin that cries out to Centrelink for benfits.

      I have a problem with statements like this of the Cardinal: “There are other relationships, and I acknowledge that love and genuine companionship are often part of them, but they have a different nature from marriage. Nothing is gained and many significant things are lost by pretending these differences do not exist, or by trying to erase them by calling them by the same name.”

      Practicing homosexuals and de facto ‘partners’ by definition cannot love one another. That is unless we have reduced ‘love’ to a Hallmark sentiment instead of abiding with true supernatural Charity which is always self-sacrificing.

      • Schütz says:

        Cardinal Pell had in mind, I think, “other relationships” such as friendships, the relationship between a carer and the one they care for, sibling bonds, etc. A proposal for the legal protection of a “civil union” between homosexual couples has been criticised because it singles out one particular kind of relationship. The question is “Why protect only this kind of relationship? Are there not others that could ask for similar legal protection?” None of these, of course, is marriage.

    • Schütz says:

      The Church also recognises “natural marriage” which is not sacramental (eg. a marriage where one or both are not baptised), so the situation is not quite as simple as that, Jim. The Church fully accepts the current Australian legal definition of marriage as being “between a man and a woman entered into for life”. Sacramental marriage is a separate theological and canonical reality superadded to natural marriage.

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