For several decades now, people linked to Jewish institutions have debated whether it is possible to be a Jew and, let’s say, a Southern Baptist, or a Buddhist, at the same time. This is even the kind of question that has made it to high courts in Israel.
Not that long ago, journalists in the Pacific Northwest were faced with this question: Can one be an Episcopal priest and a Muslim at the same time? It’s hard to say whether that issue has been settled or not, since Episcopalians in different zip codes often do not agree with one another.
It’s obvious that Catholics, especially here in America, have been arguing about some similar subjects in recent years. For example, does someone need to be a Catholic in good standing — in terms of basic beliefs and sacramental practices, such as Confession — in order to take Communion during an actual Catholic Mass? Under Catholic doctrine, it’s clear that this is the kind of issue that is settled at some level of the official hierarchy, meaning Rome, bishops, confessors, etc. However, some Catholic insist that (here comes the spirit, or Spirit, of Vatican II) that individual Catholics should now decide that kind of issue for themselves.
Now, The Washington Post has printed a story that raises another issue of this kind, one that, frankly, stuns me, taking the whole Catholicism-as-democracy concept to a new level.
I am not surprised, of course, that this story is about same-sex marriage, but let’s set that aside for a moment.
The story focuses on Chip DiPaula Jr., a somewhat symbolic figure in Maryland and national politics for reasons explained at the top of the story:
A decade ago, Chip DiPaula Jr. was the architect of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s unexpected victory as Maryland’s first Republican governor in a generation.
Today, he is part of something that might seem just as unlikely: a political alliance with the Democratic governor who ended Ehrlich’s tenure. DiPaula has been working alongside Gov. Martin O’Malley since this summer on the campaign to uphold Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.
It is a cause, DiPaula says, that transcends partisan politics — and for him is personal.
“The current governor and I don’t agree on a whole lot of other issues, but you know what? That’s beside the point for me,” said DiPaula, who talked openly for the first time in a media interview about being gay. “I’m involved to make our lives better.”
Like I said, I am not concerned about the fact that there are liberal Republicans who back gay marriage or even that they back it for person reasons. However, there is one key word in the very next sentence that interests me, to say the least:
DiPaula is not on the cusp of marrying anyone himself but said he greatly respects the institution, and he has officiated at the weddings of a few straight friends and family members.
DePaula has “officiated” at weddings? In what role? Later on in the story readers are told:
DiPaula, a Catholic, came out as gay to his family and friends a few years earlier, while in his mid-30s. His orientation wasn’t exactly a secret in Annapolis — Ehrlich “absolutely” knew, DiPaula said — but it was something he did not talk about publicly. …
Though he cannot legally marry in Maryland himself, DiPaula is an authorized nondenominational Christian minister and has officiated at the weddings of a few family members and friends. In 2010, he officiated at the marriage of two longtime Democratic staffers: Kristin F. Jones, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), and Joseph C. Bryce, chief lobbyist for O’Malley.
So here is the issue for the Post copy desk: DiPaula, we are told, is both a Roman Catholic and an “authorized” — I read that as “ordained” — clergy person in a Protestant denomination or sort-of-denomination. So, not only is he a Catholic and a Protestant at the same time, but he is a Catholic (in some sense of that word, almost certainly including the reception of Communion) and a Protestant minister at the same time.
Is this possible? Is this possible for the simple reason that DiPaula says so? At this point, in other words, in the eyes of Post editors, does the Catholic Church itself have any say in deciding whether a person is or is not a Catholic?