No small part of the extraordinary success of the pro–“gay marriage” movement has been its ability to sell the idea that this really is No Big Deal. Same-sex-attracted men and women, the claim goes, simply want what other people want — stable, loving relationships, in which responsibility is assumed for those for whom we care. When the state recognizes that, all will be well, calm will prevail, and we can all get on with our lives.
It’s a culturally powerful argument, especially when wrapped in the mantle of the classic civil-rights movement, and the polling numbers suggest that a lot of people who couldn’t have imagined “same-sex marriage” even five years ago have been persuaded. Yet the notion that agitations would stop when “gay marriage” was legalized from sea to shining sea never made a lot of sense, not least because that assurance abstracted the “gay marriage” argument from its deeper context, which was, is, and always will be the sexual revolution and its fierce, Jacobin determination to bend, break, and then grind into the dust the proponents of a biblically based sexual ethics, a natural-law-based sexual ethics, or both.
In the realm of the law, this means that the proponents of “gay marriage” (and the proponents of the sexual revolution more broadly construed) are like sharks: They have to keep moving forward (as they understand forward progress) to survive. Thus the shrewder advocates of “same-sex marriage” are already looking for another case to bring into the federal judicial shooting gallery, a case that will put “gay marriage” on a firmer constitutional footing than the conceptual and jurisprudential Jell-O of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges — a stronger foundation that will give LGBT advocates a chance to get “sexual orientation” explicitly identified as the equivalent of race, and thus subject to “strict scrutiny,” for purposes of civil-rights law. Meanwhile, the more advanced skirmishers in this war against traditional moral norms are already exploring the possibilities of gaining legal sanction for polygamy. A campaign to defend adult incest (and “consensual” sex with children) cannot be far over the horizon.
And then there’s the culture-war side of post-Obergefell America. The more measured proponents of “same-sex marriage” assured the rest of us that, once their just cause was vindicated, the culture wars would abate. Here the civil-rights analogy was abused again. Just as Americans had built the most racially tolerant and inclusive society in history after Brown v. Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so would we, post–“gay marriage,” proceed without much further ado to the enjoyment of a non-judgmental society in which difference was celebrated and sexual “bigotry” was tossed into the same trashcan of history as the nonsensical racial theory that shaped the Dred Scott decision. Everyone would get along with everyone else, and harsh rhetoric (like the oceans, in the imagination of presidential candidate Barack Obama) would begin to recede.
Tell that to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., the archbishop of Philadelphia.
In early July, a private Catholic school located in the archdiocese, Waldron Mercy Academy, decided not to renew a teacher’s contract: a not-abnormal occurrence. The teacher was the school’s director of religious education and had been living in a “same-sex marriage” for some time, a fact that was, it seems, widely known. After one family complained about this manifestly incongruous situation, the school’s principal and board of directors decided not to renew the teacher’s contract; they were supported in that judgment by the religious community that sponsors the school. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was not involved in the decision, but Archbishop Chaput, as chief custodian of Catholic orthodoxy in the diocese given to his care, offered a brief statement of support for the school’s decision.
Then came the deluge.
It consisted in part of vile e-mail. One “correspondent” advised the mild-mannered Capuchin archbishop (whom he described as a “CHILD MOLESTING SACK OF SH*T”) to “GO F**K YOURSELF,” adding the eschatological note that he hoped Chaput would “ROT IN HELL.”
This is the peace that was supposed to follow a live-and-let-live adjudication of the “same-sex marriage” question?
Michael Newall, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, was less vulgar but no less angry and equally mindless. Waving the bloody shirt of sexual abuse, as if this had anything to do with what had happened at Waldron Mercy Academy, he accused the archbishop of “hypocrisy” (a term he evidently understands in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way) before dismissing Chaput as a “relic” who stands in poor contrast to the embracing, affirming Pope Francis — although, Newall went on to write, the pope is “far from perfect on the subject” of “LGBT acceptance” because even he “still opposes gay marriage itself.”
Mr. Newall buttressed his calumnies of both the archbishop and the pope by adverting to his “12 years in Catholic schools and another four at a Catholic college,” although he declined to identify his almae matres — which may be a relief to the schools in question.
Some may consider me a suspect witness in the case of Archbishop Chaput, who has been a close friend for decades. But I fear no conviction on the charge of special pleading when I say that Chaput has been a stalwart, courageous, and unflinching reformer of the Church in the three dioceses he has served, where he has made clear that, as John Paul II said to the U.S. cardinals in 2002, “there is no room” in the clergy “for those who would abuse the young”; that he is widely respected by his peers in the American hierarchy as one of the best bishops of his generation; and that he has saved the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from utter financial — and thus evangelical — catastrophe by dint of performing wonders since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2011. No other bishop envies him the job he took on then; more than one American bishop believes that he is the only one of their number who could have pulled it off in Philadelphia, in terms of both the Church’s public credibility and the stabilization of its finances.
But now this good, decent, compassionate, and holy man — a bishop who truly knows “the smell of the sheep,” in Pope Francis’s formula — is the target of vicious attacks privately and wicked canards publicly. Why? Because he believes that the Catholic Church has a better answer to the human longing for happiness than the false promises of the sexual revolution in a society-without-aberrant-behavior — the New Normal. Because he thinks that Catholic institutions and those who work in them should embody the truths about life and love that the Catholic Church professes on the basis of both revelation and reason. Because he understands that, when the state demands that we believe something that we know is not true, all sorts of bad consequences for democracy follow.
The recent assault on Archbishop Chaput is a taste of what awaits many others. The useful idiots who insist that, if the bishops of the United States would just retreat from the culture wars, all would be well, are manifesting their ignorance of the requirements of pastoral leadership while unwittingly confessing to a degree of political stupidity that is staggering. Obergefell has let loose demons, and their name is Legion. Those demons should be fought with compassion, critical intelligence, and blunt honesty about the Church’s own failings. They should be fought with hearts open to the possibility of conversion on the part of even the most besotted Church-bashers. And they should be fought in full recognition that we all live by the Divine Mercy.
But they must be fought. Both the Church’s evangelical witness and the future of the American democratic experiment depend on it.
— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.