While the Vatican's recent declaration on homosexual unions introduces no new moral teaching, analysts say it does mark a clear intensification of the church's resistance on the political and cultural levels, with a call to arms to resist social "legitimization" of gay relationships.
Although early media attention focused on the document's challenge to Catholic politicians, its sweep is much broader than just the legislative arena. The document calls on all Catholics, in any walk of life, to refuse to cooperate with measures that suggest an analogy between same-sex unions and traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
In theory, this could mean that any Catholic whose work intersects with marriage issues--adoption counselors, civil registrars of marriage, even inheritance and retirement specialists--could find themselves facing a choice between the civil law and the demands of their church.
If such conflicts materialize, Catholics who work in the field of marriage rights and law could find themselves in much the same situation as Catholic health care professionals, who have long had to negotiate matters of conscience on issues such as abortion, birth control and sterilization.
The document's call for resistance is unambiguous.
"In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty," it states.
"One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection."
Vatican sources told NCR July 31 that the document, titled "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," had been in the works for almost two years. Hence it was not a response to any recent events, such as a Canadian move to legalize homosexual marriage on a federal level, or debates within the Anglican Communion on the recognition of homosexuality.
More broadly, Vatican sources said, the document was motivated by the growing international trend towards civil regularization of same-sex relationships. Twelve European nations today have laws under which gay couples enjoy at least some of the civil benefits of marriage. In some cases, such as Holland, same-sex relationships are considered the full legal equivalent of heterosexual marriage. In other cases, such as France, a Civil Solidarity Pact (PACS) allows homosexual couples to register their partnerships with the civil authorities. They benefit from the same fiscal and social rights as married heterosexuals, such as inheritance and divorce rights, housing and social security.
The 12 nations are: France, Germany, Switzerland, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Croatia. (In Spain, there is no federal legislation, but autonomous regions are free to craft their own policies. Catalonia, for instance, recognizes same-sex unions, but not adoption rights.)
Croatia adopted its law in mid-July. This was taken in the Vatican as an especially worrying signal, since Croatia is the first state from the former Soviet bloc, and one of the few predominantly Catholic states in Europe, to regularize same-sex relationships.
In that context, the Vatican's insistence that Catholic politicians bring their voting behavior in line with the moral teaching of the church marks an intensification of efforts to resist the social legitimization of homosexuality. It also, however, calls Catholics to resistance where that legitimization is already a fact of life.
Underlying the document, said …