Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, is a book written in 1996 by the late Robert H. Bork. Bork served as a Yale Law School professor, Solicitor General, Acting Attorney General, and a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The title of the book is in reference to the biblical city of Gomorrah, which God destroyed along with Sodom for their wickedness (see Genesis 19). According to traditional interpretation, the sin of Sodom was homosexuality, which is therefore known as sodomy.

The introduction by Judge Bork summarizes the themes of his book: "This is a book about American decline. Since American culture is a variant of the cultures of all Western industrialized democracies, it may even, inadvertently, be a book about Western decline. In the United States, at least, that decline and the mounting resistance to it have produced what we now call a culture war. It is impossible to say what the outcome will be, but for the moment our trajectory continues downward. This is not to deny that much in our culture remains healthy, that many families are intact and continue to raise children with strong moral values. American culture is complex and resilient. But it is also not to be denied that there are aspects of almost every branch of our culture that are worse than ever before and that the rot is spreading."

In 1987, Judge Bork was nominated to the United States Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, but the Senate rejected his nomination largely due to a scurrilous speech given by Senator Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor. Bork responded, "There was not a line in that speech that was accurate." The Economist magazine remarked that Bork may well have been correct, but the damage was done. Instead of Bork, the vacant seat on the Supreme Court went to Judge Anthony Kennedy.

So it is quite prophetic and in keeping with Bork's thesis of Slouching Towards Gomorrah that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the Supreme Court's 5-4 opinion in last month's Supreme Court ruling in the case of United States v. Windsor striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Kennedy is also the justice who wrote the Court's opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case in which the Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas, thereby making same-sex sexual activity legal in every U.S. state and territory.

As in the case of Roe v. Wade striking down abortion laws 40 years ago, the United States Supreme Court has again usurped its legitimate prerogative through a raw exercise of judicial power by giving legal protection to an intrinsic evil, this time by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in the case of United States v. Windsor and in refusing to take up the defense of Proposition 8 in California in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry.

These hollow decisions are absolutely devoid of moral authority. It is becoming increasingly and abundantly clear that what secular law now calls "marriage" has no semblance to the sacred institution of holy matrimony. People of faith are called to reject the redefinition of marriage and bear witness to the truth of holy matrimony as a lasting, loving and life-giving union between one man and one woman.

Until now, secular law in the United States and the canon law of the church have shared a common understanding of the essence of marriage as a lawful union between one man and one woman. This common understanding is reflected in the fact that the civil government grants recognition to religious wedding ceremonies and, in fact, requires priests, rabbis and ministers of religion to obtain a civil marriage license before performing a religious wedding ceremony. This has not always and everywhere been the case. In the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, as well as in the anti-clerical regime in Mexico, couples were required to get married civilly before entering a religious wedding ceremony if they wished their marriage to have effect in civil law. We may well be headed in that direction due to the fundamentally different definition of "marriage" that is emerging in secular law.

The common understanding of marriage shared by church and state has been eroding for some time now. In light of the widespread acceptance of "no-fault" divorce, many people of faith have already begun speaking of "covenant marriage" to describe the life-long commitment of man and woman until parted by death. Now, with the government's redefinition of marriage, additional adjectives must be added to differentiate between "natural marriage," that is, the union of one man and one woman, and "unnatural marriage," which embraces the novel idea of marriage between people of the same sex and whatever else the government may add to that definition.

The Catholic Church makes further distinctions. A marriage between two unbaptized people or between a baptized person and a non-baptized person (with the proper dispensation if the baptized person is Catholic) is described as a "valid marriage." A marriage between two baptized persons, in addition to being a "valid marriage," is also a "sacramental marriage," which in the Catholic Church we call the sacrament of matrimony. A valid, sacramental marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman is also called "ratified and consummated" if the spouses "have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of children" (canon 1061).

So what do we do when the church and the state have different understandings of "marriage"? First, we remind ourselves that Christianity emerged in the persecutions of the pagan Roman Empire. The church does not depend on the state for her existence, but upon the will of Almighty God. Second, we would do well to respond to secular authorities the same way that Jesus did when he was interrogated by the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. Jesus answered the emperor's procurator by saying, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. ... The reason I was born, the reason I came into the world, is to testify to the truth" (John 18:36, 37).

May God give us this grace. Amen.