Christianity and sexuality

Failed Formation: Archbishop Naumann’s Response to a Gay Couple

Many Catholics have been following the controversy regarding a married same-sex couple attempting to enroll their child in a Catholic elementary school in Kansas. Upon the advice of diocesan leaders, the school decided to refuse admission to the child, and after considerable media attention, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City provided a public response. Daniel Quinan, a canon lawyer and personal friend, considered Archbishop Naumann’s statement and identified a number of issues from a Catholic perspective. Because I found his comments penetrating and clarifying, I asked if I could share them here, and Dan agreed. Dan’s comments are included below as commentary on sections of Archbishop Naumann’s letter.


In his letter, Archbishop Naumann writes:

“An important part of this spiritual formation is helping our students develop the virtues necessary to live a moral life. Part of this virtue formation includes cultivating chastity, helping our students understand the meaning and purpose of their sexuality. Our students are also taught the nature of marriage as a call to heroic, faithful, fruitful and forever love which serves as the foundation of the family.”

This is all perfectly true and good. But it’s also not even remotely a coherent argument in this situation. Of course you should teach all of those things in school. You should also embrace the opportunity to teach those things to children whose parents or guardians are not in a valid marriage.

“Does this mean that children who grow up in single-parent homes or homes in which they are not raised by one or both of their biological parents are doomed to failure and unhappiness? I hope not, because I was raised in a single-parent family. However, do these children face additional challenges? Absolutely. These children need additional love and support. Catholic schools strive to provide assistance in many instances when parents in less than ideal circumstances are striving to raise healthy and holy children.”

Great, but let’s rephrase that and see how far it goes: Does this mean that children who grow up in same-sex parent homes are doomed to failure and unhappiness? I hope not. However, do these children face additional challenges? Absolutely. These children need additional love and support. Catholic schools strive to provide assistance in many instances when parents in less than ideal circumstances are striving to raise healthy and holy children… but this less than ideal circumstance appears to be an exception to that.

“Our schools enter into a partnership with parents. We require our parents to commit to the best of their ability to model in their home life the moral formation their children receive in our Catholic schools.”

This is praiseworthy and unobjectionable, except for the part where we suddenly hit a double-standard in the next few paragraphs.

“Some have posed the question: Why not admit a child of a same-sex couple, when there are other school parents not living in a manner consistent with Catholic moral teaching? I am not sure how those posing the question know the intimate details of other parents’ lives or how they propose the church should acquire such knowledge.”

I agree completely. But for the exact same reason, I am equally unsure how the Archdiocese is supposed to know the intimate details of two same-sex partners’ lives, or how they propose to acquire such knowledge about whether or not they are living chastely. It is possible for same-sex partners to live chastely, just as it is possible for an invalidly-married man and woman to live chastely. Of course they might not be, but unless a couple is blatantly broadcasting their sex lives, we can only presume.

We can argue all day about reasonable and unreasonable presumptions, but at the end of the day presumptions are not facts. Thus the Archbishop himself wisely and correctly proposes a standard of facts, rather than presumptions about the intimate details of other parent’s sex lives. And yet, he then immediately seems to contradict his own standard when it comes to same-sex couples.

“However, let us consider the case of a heterosexual couple where one of the spouses has a previous marriage that has not received a decree of nullity. In such a case, the pastor would normally request that they seek an annulment. It is possible that their situation can be brought into conformity with church teaching.”

Here we arrive at the heart of the double-standard. For in the case of a homosexual couple, the pastor should normally request that they commit to living in chastity without sexual activity. It is possible, precisely by this means, that their situation can be brought into conformity with church teaching. (Note: This is the exact same standard that should equally apply to heterosexual couples who are invalidly married, and have not yet obtained, or cannot obtain, a declaration of the nullity of their previous marriages.)

But extending an opportunity for same-sex couples to live in conformity with Church teaching is not even considered. Rather, they are simply rejected as a lost cause. And the enrollment of any child of same-sex parents, to any Catholic school in his Archdiocese, is apparently rejected as a matter of policy.

“However, even if it cannot, it does not engender a similar confusion occasioned by the same-sex couple, because their invalid marriage does not contradict a fundamental component of the nature of marriage.”

Except, it does. It absolutely and unequivocally does. Someone who divorces their spouse and attempts to marry again while their first spouse is still living absolutely contradicts a fundamental component of the nature of marriage. Several fundamental components, in fact. There are no two ways around this.

And here the double-standard bears its ugly fruit: If the heterosexual couple cannot receive an annulment and marry in the Church, then apparently the Archdiocese just shrugs and says “oh well, they tried”. Nobody kicks their child out of the school, do they? Meanwhile the homosexual couple has never even been given the option of trying to live in accord with Church teaching. And far more critically, the child is denied an opportunity to be taught the Catholic faith. All under the misguided banner of sparing them confusion. The Archbishop effectively says: “These children might get confused, so we just won’t teach them at all.” It would not be incorrect to wonder, if that child grows up to be poorly catechized, what degree of culpability the Catholic school bears for having refused to educate this child in the faith when they were asked to do so.

“Similarly, marriage by its nature gives a couple a right to sexual intimacy.”

This is of course true, in a qualified sense, but now we are talking about theological truths that are profoundly irrelevant to this debate. For it is evident that our corrupted modern version of “marriage” completely rejects this view. Nobody in our secular culture actually believes that sex is reserved for marriage: the widespread belief is clearly that any two consenting adults can have sex whenever they so please. Accordingly, nobody in the secular world is getting married in order to have sex, because the culture says that they can already have sex whenever they want. Secular “marriage” is purely about exclusive commitment and partnership: it has no longer has any inherent link to sexual activity. Modern civil “marriage” no longer flows from the same natural law principles that the Catholic Church upholds. It’s troubling that the Archbishop doesn’t seem to recognize this.

“Frankly, I fail to see how admitting a child of same-sex parents to one of our schools is merciful or helpful to the child.”

This conclusion is bizarre in the extreme. If the Archbishop genuinely cannot see how admitting a child with same-sex parents to a Catholic school, for the sake of teaching them the Catholic Faith, could be merciful or helpful to the child… I truly don’t know what to say. But giving a Catholic education to a baptized child does not logically amount to moral approval of the parents. And it certainly does not damage the Church’s constant witness to the truth of marriage – at least, not any more than Christ’s sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners damaged his constant witness to the New Covenant.

Finally, it bears noting that the Archbishop’s logic should (if it is embraced rigorously, and not hypocritically) similarly lead to the conclusion that Catholic schools should not admit the children of Protestant parents, via a claim that Church’s constant witness to the truth of the Roman Catholic faith would be damaged, if not completely abrogated. This argument would follow the exact same structure:

  • Parents are the first teachers of their children, especially as regards faith and virtue. Our schools enter into a partnership with parents. We require our parents to commit to the best of their ability to model in their home life the faith their children receive in our Catholic schools.
  • Let us consider the case of a Protestant couple. In such a case, the pastor would normally request that they convert to Catholicism. It is possible that their religious beliefs can be brought into conformity with church teaching.
  • However, if it cannot, it engenders a confusion occasioned by the Protestant parents, because their heretical belief contradicts fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith.
  • Frankly, I fail to see how admitting a child of Protestant parents to one of our schools is merciful or helpful to the child.

Of course the Archbishop is allowed to decide when and where to make a public stand on certain sensitive issues. But the fact that he’s allowed to decide doesn’t mean that he is incapable of deciding poorly, or discerning imprudently, or simply being profoundly wrong. The graces of episcopal ordination do not magically make a bishop always correct: that idea is nothing other than an insidious form of clericalism, as any adult Catholic living in the year 2019 should be painfully aware.

In my view, despite his good intentions, Archbishop Naumann has done nothing other than choose to defend the dignity of marriage and the teachings of the Catholic Church at the expense of other Catholic truths, starting with the Church’s profound duty to help the child attain his right to receive a Catholic education. I believe he has thus failed in his duty to defend the truth in its fullness, by sacrificing some inconvenient truths in order to defend more comfortable truths. I find this simply unacceptable.


More on Catholicism and homosexuality here.

2 comments on “Failed Formation: Archbishop Naumann’s Response to a Gay Couple

  1. If we can accept that the bishop was right as to the result of his decision, but not the reasoning, what would a better argument be that did not invoke the specter of unjust discrimination?

    Like

  2. Quite an incisive and insightful piece!

    Like

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