Weigel: Church should get out of the civil marriage business

From his weekly column, published today:

It seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law.

If the Church were to take this dramatic step now, it would be acting prophetically: it would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by “marriage” and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by “marriage” is wrong. If, however, the Church is forced to take this step after “gay marriage” is the law of the land, Catholics will be pilloried as bad losers who’ve picked up their marbles and fled the game—and any witness-value to the Church’s withdrawal from the civil marriage business will be lost. Many thoughtful young priests are discussing this dramatic option among themselves; it’s time for the rest of the Church to join the conversation.

Yet another threat to the integrity of the Church comes from the re-election of a vice president of the United States who has declared “transgender discrimination” to be “the civil rights issue of our time;” who has openly celebrated the abortion license; who has grossly misrepresented the Church’s teaching on the life issues; and who is, in myriad ways, an ecclesial embarrassment. So are Catholic members of the House and Senate who not only vote against truths known by moral reason, but then have the gall to justify their irresponsibility by a faux commitment to “pluralism” or, worse, by recourse to what they are pleased to call “social justice Catholicism.”

Thus pastors and bishops must continue to explain why the life issues are “social justice issues,” and indeed priority “social justice issues.” And some effective way must be found to make clear, publicly, that men and women like Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Nancy Pelosi are living an auto-defined Catholicism so incoherently that their communion with the Catholic Church is severely damaged. Absent such clarity, ill-catechized Catholic voters will continue to misunderstand both the nature of discipleship and the responsibilities of citizenship.

As for the opportunity embedded in this crisis, it is nothing less than to be the Church of the New Evangelization, full-throttle. Shallow, tribal, institutional-maintenance Catholicism is utterly incapable of meeting the challenges that will now come at the Catholic Church from the most aggressively secular administration in American history.

Read it all.


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