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Archbishop Wenski (Miami) on the law, marriage, and moral relativism

Preaching at a “red mass” on Tuesday, April 23, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami told the attendees, many of them members of the Miami Catholic Lawyers Guild, that redefining marriage in the law “will open a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen and, to be sure, unintended consequences.” His words have a particular poignancy now, as the Supreme Court is currently reviewing two cases involving the definition of marriage: United States v. Windsor, about the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and Hollingsworth v. Perry, about California’s Proposition 8. If the Court rules negatively in either or both of these cases, marriage could be redefined throughout the country. A ruling is expected by June.

In his homily, Archbishop Wenski reminded the judges and lawyers in attendance that “we should oppose any and all unjust discrimination” (seeĀ Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358). He added, however, that when it comes to the law, “the state has long provided benefits and concessions to encourage or reward behaviors that serve the common good of all.” Marriage is one of these behaviors. Society has long supported marriage because “only in the marriage of a man and a woman can ‘two become one flesh’ (cf. Genesis 2:24) and thus create a conjugal society – a family – which provides that the individuals who give life to children should be the ones to raise them in a bonded and enduring relationship.”

In other words, marriage is the only institution that brings a man and a woman together for life, bonding them to each other and to any children that come from their union. Catholic social teaching describes marriage as the “cradle of life and love” and says that “the unborn child must be guaranteed the best possible conditions of existence through the stability of a family founded on marriage, through the complementarities of the two persons, father and mother” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 209 and 235).

Archbishop Wenski cautioned that the approval of so-called same-sex “marriage” would redefine marriage “for all” from an institution “expressive of the complementarity of sexual difference between a man and a woman, ordered for the raising of children” to something “existing solely for the gratification of two (and why just two?) consenting adults.”

In the second half of his homily, the Archbishop provided an analysis of how we arrived at the current debate about marriage’s meaning. He described two opposing worldviews: On one side, those who claim “a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own will.” Those who share this view believe “that one’s individual desires are the locus of authority and self-definition.” Archbishop Wenski said that the question about marriage’s meaning is “only [the] most current poster child” of this way of thinking. He drew a connection between this worldview and abortion, for example, pointing out that once truth is based not in reality but in one’s will, every ethical principle is negotiable, “including every human being’s fundamental right to life.”

On the other side is a worldview steeped in Judeo-Christian principles and beliefs. Those on this side believe “that men and women are not self-creators but creatures. Truth is not constructed, but received, and it must reflect the reality of things.” The natural law tradition fits squarely in this worldview, as does the belief that marriage is not created by the state, or by a religious entity for that matter, but is rooted in the nature of the human person, created male and female (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1603.)

Archbishop Wenski said that when a society loses its connection to a “common truth” found in natural law, and rooted in the reality of things, “the only recourse is that of judicial positivism,” basing truth and law in the will of the lawmaker. This, warned the Archbishop, is “on its way to totalitarianism. The might of right quickly becomes might makes right.” Pandora’s box, indeed.

Read Archbishop Wenski’s entire homily on the Archdiocese of Miami website.

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