The following is a translation of an interview that originally appeared in the Polish Catholic weekly magazine Gość Niedzielny (Sunday Visitor).
Q (Gość Niedzielny). In recent months, Ireland and the United States have joined the list of countries who legally recognize same-sex marriage. The process of this legalization was different. In Ireland it was achieved by referendum, in the U.S. by decision of Supreme Court. Could you compare these events? If there were a same-sex marriage referendum organized in the U.S., what results might have been expected?
A (George Weigel). It’s not easy to say. There is polling data indicating that a majority of Americans now favor so-called “same-sex marriage.” But that is when the issue is posed, so to speak, abstractly. If there were a genuine national debate and national referendum, the results might be different when people have had a chance to reflect seriously on the issue and its implications for other aspects of public life. Still, we must face the fact that we lost the battle for a true understanding of marriage in the culture before we lost the legal battle in the Supreme Court. And the heterosexuals are responsible for that loss in the culture, through measures like no-fault divorce and practices like serial re-marriage, which is, de facto, polygamy, but one-at-a-time.
Q. Many people, even Catholics, don’t see any dangers here. They say: “Oh, this is the law for a small group of people, we should be tolerant, gay-marriage doesn’t harm traditional marriage, etc.”. Why is protest against the idea of same-sex marriage a moral obligation?
A. Because a state that claims the right to redefine reality is a danger on many fronts. If the state asserts the power to make us believe what we know is not true in this matter, it can assert the same authority in other matters. Moreover, if “sexual preference” (itself an oxymoron) becomes a protected category in American civil rights law, then the Church is going to be under intense legal pressure to bend its hiring practices to the “new normal,” which I described in your magazine recently as “there is no aberrant behavior.”
Q. The first law providing for marriage of people of the same sex was enacted in 2001 in the Netherlands. Now we have 21 countries with such laws. So the process is growing very fast. You said “The marriage battle was lost in the culture long before it was lost in the courts”. Why was the battle lost so easily in the culture? Why did a small group of people become so influent, so powerful? Why did they change the mind of so many?
A. Making faithful and fruitful marriage work is not easy, although it also provides immense satisfactions. Ours is a culture that has become accustomed to taking the easy way on many questions of “how should we live?” and this is another example of that.
Q. Gay rights ideologues will not leave the Catholic Church alone. But there were also signs at the 2014 Synod that the battle is also inside the Church. I heard cardinals saying that gay relationship is indeed not a marriage, but there are some values (mutual care, fidelity etc) which must be respected… What is going on?
A. What is going on is confusion. It is true that the Church must “take people as they are;” where else would we “take” them? But it is not true that the Church leaves people where they are: the Church always invites us to climb higher on what St. Augustine called the “ladder of love.” If it’s possible to identify a small element of good in any distorted relationship, then the skillful and compassionate pastor will take that element of good as a starting point for inviting someone to climb up higher on the ladder of love.
Q. The first election campaign of President Obama (in 2008) was under the banner of CHANGE. After almost 7 years of his presidency, could you shortly describe the change (or changes) in the United States?
A. The country is far deeper in debt, the security structure of the post-Cold War world has been dismantled, Putin has been emboldened in his aggressiveness, the Iranian mullahs are closer to a nuclear weapon, the Middle East has become even more chaotic because of a terrible abrogation of American responsibility in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a vast new heath care bureaucracy has been created. That’s the record written large. It’s very, very poor.
Q. Do you think these changes are reversible?
A. Yes. But it requires genuine leadership, which means leadership that explain the facts of the country’s life, and the world’s life, today, and doesn’t fantasize that “re-sets” accomplish anything with Russia, Iran, China, or the “new authoritarianism” in Latin America.
Q. What do you expect of Pope Francis’s visit in the United States?
A. I hope it’s a moment in which the Catholic community of the United States celebrates its vitality with the Successor of Peter, and a moment in which the Successor of Peter learns more about the vitality of Catholic life in the United States. Because, with all our problems, we are as close to being Pope Francis’s “Church permanently in mission” as he is going to find in the developed world.
Q. Do you think that Synod 2015 will be successful?
A. I think the Synod of 2015 will re-affirm and lift up the beauty of the biblical and Christian understanding of marriage as the answer to the crisis of marriage culture throughout the world.
Q. Pope Francis is cherished by mainstream media. But at the same time there is a growing anxiety or even critique of the pope within the Catholic Church. Why?
A. A lot of my media friends have projected onto the Pope their long-frustrated desire for a pope who turns Catholicism into a kind of liberal Protestantism. That is emphatically NOT Francis’s agenda, but too many Catholics, who don’t believe anything else they read in the mainstream press, believe what they read about the pope! Of course a more coherent Vatican communications operation would help address this problem.
Q. The Polish journalist Paweł Lisicki just published a book, “Jihad and Self-destruction of the West”. He accuses the Catholic Church (especially recent popes) of adopting a false paradigm of dialogue with Islam and argues that the greater need is for more brave words of truth about Islam, and a cry for our brothers murdered almost every day by jihadists. In your opinion, how should the Church deal with Islam? And what is your prognosis about the confrontation between Islam and the West?
A. The problem of jihadism has gotten worse under the Obama administration, which is largely staffed by ignorant people who know nothing about the dynamics of jihadist Islam — or even about the counter-jihadi currents within the complex Muslim world. (One former high Stat Department official recently wrote that the US should trumpet the Supreme Court decision on so-called “gay marriage” throughout the Muslim world as an antidote to jihadism!) What we do know, from all experience, is that the only protection persecuted Christians often have is the protection afforded by shining bright, harsh, and continuous light on the persecutors. That seems to me every Christian leader’s obligation today.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.