The Roman Catholic bishops of the United States have uniformly emphasized the notion that a marriage must always and only involve one man and one woman. They claim that same-sex marriage is an attack on traditional marriage, and on the traditional family God intended. On the local level and with each bishop in his own diocese, they reliably express horror whenever same-sex marriage is proposed in their backyards, delivering words that echo the sentiments of their boss, Pope Benedict XVI.
Their opposition to same-sex marriage took a significant and startling turn on September 20th with the issuance of a letter from New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to President Obama in which Dolan urges the President to end his administration's "campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom."
In the course of the letter, Dolan emphasizes that he is not alone in his disappointment with the President. He writes, "The content of this letter reflects the strong sentiment expressed at a recent meeting by more than thirty of my brother Bishops who serve on the Administrative Committee of our episcopal conference. I know they are joined by hundreds of additional Catholic bishops throughout our nation." His implication is that if the President does not reverse his stance regarding DOMA, he can expect the bishops to campaign against him when he is up for re-election. There are 430 bishops who lead 195 dioceses, or districts, in the US.
With 70 million registered members, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single religious denomination in the United States, representing 22% of the US population. The number of Roman Catholics who actually practice their religion is much smaller, with recent surveys indicating that Roman Catholics hold beliefs about same-sex marriage that match those of the general US population rather than those of their bishops.
The USCCB letter reached the President with an attached internally prepared legal analysis that Dolan hopes will show the President the extreme gravity of the situation and the huge consequences if the President does not bow to the bishops' pressure. He writes, "The Administration's failure to change course on this matter will, as the attached analysis indicates, precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions."
The analysis begins with a condemnation of the anti-DOMA actions of the Administration's Justice Department. "This new, more aggressive position poses a threat reaching well beyond the elimination of the federal DOMA. ... Also at risk would be any other federal or state policy that applies unique incentives for households where children are raised by a father and a mother who are legally married to each other.
"The Justice Department's position also denigrates the considered judgment of the American people. ... It falsely imputes the same supposed bigotry and hostility to the substantial, bi-partisan majorities in Congress--and to President Clinton--who were responsible for the passage of DOMA only fifteen years ago."
At the end of its legal analysis, the USCCB finally makes clear that its overriding concern about the repeal of DOMA, about the repeal of DADT, and about the Administration's support for gay adoption rights is a diminished revenue stream. "We will face an additional layer of government punishments, such as the cessation of long-standing and successful contracts for the provision of social services, and other forms of withdrawn government cooperation."
In the context of this letter, the suddenly thunderous saber-rattling of the US Catholic bishops appears to be rooted in the prospect of lost funding rather than in the imaginary moral outrage of its flock.
(This article also appears in the current edition of 10thousandcouples.com where you will find the link to the entire USCCB letter and analysis.)