Same-sex weddings; Catholic prosecutor and death penalty

| Father Kenneth Doyle | October 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

Q. Our family consists of a mixture of Catholic and Protestant Christians. One family member, who is gay, is contemplating marriage to a same-sex partner. My husband and I do not plan to attend the ceremony, in deference to our Catholic faith. (I assume that the Church would not want us there to witness and seem to approve such a union.)

Over the years, we have worked hard to promote cohesiveness in a family where everyone is loved and accepted. Several family members do not seem to have a problem in attending this “commitment service,” and I fear that our absence will create a major rift. We do expect to continue to welcome both this family member and the partner into our home, as it is not our place to pass judgment, but we are concerned that after this “hurtful snub” they will not want to come and that other family members may disown us as well. Please advise us as to how to be true to our beliefs while also keeping our family intact.

A. In 2013, when the state of Rhode Island was debating whether to approve same-sex marriage, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence advised Catholics that they should “examine their consciences very carefully” before deciding to attend a same-sex ceremony, lest their presence be taken as a sign of approval. Two years later, Bishop Michael Jarrell of Lafayette, Louisiana, was even more direct, saying that “all Catholics are urged not to attend same-sex marriage ceremonies.”

So although there is no absolute canonical prohibition against attending, Church leaders would likely advise you not to go. The consistent teaching of the Catholic Church over the centuries, based on biblical texts (and recently reaffirmed by Pope Francis in his 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”), is that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman — and Catholics in their daily decision-making are asked to give witness to that teaching.

At the same time, I recognize and admire your deep desire to maintain harmony in the family and to keep the bonds of love unbroken. Perhaps it would be good for you to sit down (over coffee or lunch) with the family member in question; in that setting, you could describe your inner conflict about whether to attend as well as pledge your continuing love and support.

Q. I am in prison. Since the Church opposes the death penalty, I am trying to understand how a Catholic prosecutor can be allowed to argue repeatedly in favor of it.

A. The Catholic Church today clearly and strongly opposes the death penalty. In June 2016, in a video message to an international congress against capital punishment, Pope Francis called for “a world free of the death penalty.”

The pope’s words in that message were perhaps the most definitive yet in the Church’s growing opposition to the execution of criminals. “Nowadays,” the pope said, “the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church stops somewhat short of that, saying that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” (No. 2267).

The catechism quickly adds, though, that in contemporary society, cases in which execution is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Interestingly, of the 195 independent nations recognized by the United Nations, more than two-thirds have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

I can understand how Catholic prosecutors or judges might argue that, since the Church’s historical position on the death penalty has not been categorical and absolute, they should be free to carry out the responsibilities of their jobs; but given the clarity of the Church’s current position, I would think it more proper for such officials to recuse themselves when the death penalty is on the table.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions may be sent to and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

Tags: , ,

Category: Ask Father Mike