Archbishop’s Theology is Wearing No Clothes

Many readers of Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s blog think there is layer upon layer of deep theological thinking about natural law, church-state relations, and the like. I am here to assure such well-meaning colleagues that nothing of the sort lurks in these lines.

As New York State moves closer and closer to approving same-sex marriage, Dolan becomes, as Peter Montgomery points out, increasingly histrionic unto hysterical. His remarkable blog entry, “The True Meaning of Marriage,” will endure as the intellectual last wag of the dog’s tail on a question that has long been solved in the minds of many Catholics.

Timothy Dolan apparently subscribes to the Sarah Palin School of Research: saying it makes it so. Showing zero familiarity with the ample body of evidence that marriage is a changing institution, he pronounces the “undeniable truth” about what marriage means. One may not like that marriage has changed over time, and one may not think it ought to change over time, but these proclivities are not license to pass over the historical reality before us. Everyone understands and expects disagreement, but no one is fooled by truth claims that do not hold water.

His argument about marriage as “the cornerstone of civilization and culture from the start” (as if he could prove it) has the tint of the National Organization for Marriage’s talking points. It is no less false when a bishop repeats it than when NOM prints it. One could argue that tribes, not marriages, were fundamental. But to do so would pass over the fact that around the world over millennia there have been many ways to organize society; marriage as we know it today being but one of them.

Most troubling in this high-strung piece (“please, not here,” he squeals several times) is what feminist theologian and philosopher Mary Daly called “reversals” or “inversions”—the intellectual strategy of turning things upside down and inside out so as to end up with the very opposite of what is intended. For example, Dolan describes how China and North Korea supposedly “‘redefine’ rights, relationships, value, and natural law” on a regular basis via “communiqués from the government,” versus how we exalted Westerners handle the issues. In doing so, he describes exactly how the Vatican operates.

Another reversal is his take on certain rights “like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad.” He offers not the slightest hint of irony about the right of a child to be raised by two moms or two dads, or one mom or one dad, or any other permutation of the many ways good people try to provide for children that he actively seeks to thwart.

Incredibly, he asserts that “our beliefs should not be viewed as discrimination against homosexual people.” (What are they then?) Again, without even a tad of self-consciousness he states: “The Church affirms the basic human rights of gay men and women” while passing completely over the right to same-sex marriage, adoption, and discrimination-free jobs—all of which the Roman Catholic institution has distinguished itself by opposing.

Then he allows as to how “the state has rightly changed many laws to offer these men and women hospital visitation rights, bereavement leave, etc.” Each and every one of these rights has been hard won over against the monumental preaching, teaching, and lobbying of the Roman Catholic Church, of which Archbishop Dolan is a longtime employee. To call this statement disingenuous would be to understate the matter.

As I said, Dolan’s post is simply a last-ditch effort by the Catholic lobby to rally support to prevent the New York State Legislature from voting for marriage equality. It is not a deeply-reasoned theological argument that deserves an equally deeply-reasoned response. To claim otherwise is to buy into the smoke and mirrors that some religious professional employ to ply their trade.

Fortunately, we live in a society where citizens like Mr. Dolan are entitled to their opinions, however spurious their claims may be. But not even Catholics are under any obligation to privilege such nonsense simply because he has an ecclesial title. “The True Meaning of Marriage” is emerging before our eyes, state by state, court by court, heart by heart. Archbishop Dolan may not think it’s “true,” but I daresay the many facets of marriage continue to unfold without benefit of such clergy.