In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Brown, Cardinal Francis George makes repeated attempts to frame marriage equality as irrational. He makes arguments about marriage being geared toward the optional element of children, about men and women being different, about what he sees as the state's proper role, and more. And all of it, the Cardinal argues, comes from his rational core before it comes from his faith life.
The Cardinals full comments can be found at link:
Mark Brown: Cardinal George says same-sex marriage is irrational [Chicago Sun-Times]
The columnist, Brown, does a good job picking apart the flaws in George's reasoning and makes it clear that he himself supports equality. In fact, I'm confident there are far more readers who will come away from the piece having good feelings about civil marriage equality than there are ones who will be swayed by the faith leader's attempt to position loving same-sex couples as at war with rationality. His failure to acknowledge the living, breathing LGBT human beings who do, in fact, live, love, and pay taxes both in Illinois and around the world is nothing short of disrespectful, and his apparent lack of need to find room or posit any kind of workable solution is wholly unsustainable. The Cardinal's words only highlight the harsh truths that are defeating the anti-equality movement.
But while I have no problem with (and in fact like) how this mainstream media column played out, I do have to wonder what role is served by a Roman Catholic leader who himself says that his comments are not coming from his faith. I mean, leading with his faith should be why the Cardinal is in the news at all. When he and bishops across the country come out against civil marriage equality, theirs is a fight in which they position their particular doctrinal theology against what they see as the limitations of the state. While many of us making the pertinent constitutional arguments resist what we often see as an unfair overreach, at least we understand where they are coming from. We at least get that they are attempting to speak as a representative voice of a particular denominational view, regardless of how few or many adherents to that church's teachings themselves support the view (reminder: everyday Catholics support civil marriage equality in outsized numbers).
So when a faith leader like Cardinal George explicitly says that he is speaking more as a "rational thinker" than as a faith leader (“This is first of all a rational issue before it’s a faith issue"), I have to wonder where he even falls on the scale of punditry. This is someone who is, per his life calling, bound more to the Roman Catholic hierarchy's interpretation of canonical law than he is to any civil policy found on Earth. As a dedicated Roman Catholic, he takes strong vows and even stronger stands that proudly challenge highly popular culture customs and mores (contraception sticks out as a big one) and makes certain decrees directed primarily to his flock. This is his role. People choose whether or not they believe in the same thing Cardinal George believes, and citizens, acting on their own volition, decide if his eternal view is the lighthouse toward which they choose to steer their eternal boats. Sometimes this involves speaking to the press about matters of faith and why they matter.
But when the Cardinal plays the role of the civil law scholar? When he acts out the role of political pragmatist? When he speaks to a journalist in a way that his suggests his studied opinions do not rely on the deep religiosity to which he has dedicated his life? Well, that's when the whole thing starts to break down. If Cardinal George, who took his vow to the priesthood a full fifty years ago, is not appealing to his theological training, why should we accept his opinions as holding any greater weight? Or at the very least, why should we accept his opinions as holding as much weight as someone who has dedicated his or her life to an objective understanding of civil law that is predicated on its separation from any one church teaching?
Those on the other side who wanted to dismiss my questions would accuse me of "attacking faith." The truth, however, is that this is a pertinent question for people who hold deep respect for faith. While I might disagree, and strongly, with any number of Cardinal George's faith-driven teachings, I respect that they come from his religious understanding. I, as a strong supporter of America's religious freedom protections, would fight for his (or any other) faith leader's right to express them, in press or otherwise.
But respecting Cardinal George's faith goes both ways. If I am to respect that this man is trained on biblical matters and feels tasked with shaping the world through his theological prism, then he must acknowledge that this is, in fact, the prism that colors his every word. When he strays outside of it, he loses his credibility.