Society

Advice for a Declining Culture from Archbishop Chaput

Practical steps in face of gay marriage, other changes

Archbishop Charles Chaput

© Matt Rourke/AP/SIPA

If the recent tsunami of court rulings in favor of same-sex “marriage” makes supporters of one-man-one-woman marriage feel almost hopeless, Archbishop Charles Chaput has some ideas, both for Church leaders and laity.

During a talk in New York Monday evening, the archbishop of Philadelphia urged the nation’s Catholic bishops to consider stopping the signing of civil marriage licenses for all couples in response to what he called the "new marriage regime" of same-sex civil marriage.

His home state of Pennsylvania, along with more than 30 other states, now allows same-sex marriage.

In the United States, any licensed clergy may act as an agent of the state when signing a couple’s marriage certificate.

"It’s hard to see how a priest or bishop could, in good conscience, sign a marriage certificate that merely identifies ‘Spouse A’ and ‘Spouse B,’ " Chaput said. "Refusing to conduct civil marriages now, as a matter of principled resistance, has vastly more witness value than being kicked out of the marriage business later by the government, which is a likely bet," he said.

Though he said he wasn’t necessarily endorsing the move, he suggested that the American bishops should "discuss and consider it as a real course of action."

Archbishop Chaput gave the 27th annual Erasmus lecture, which is sponsored by the New York-based Institute on Religion and Public Life and its journal First Things. Titled "Strangers in a Strange Land," the talk focused on the theme that traditional believers are experiencing an internal exile.

The marriage debate offers a prime example. Only 20 years ago or so, the idea that marriage is an exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman was mainstream, Archbishop Chaput said. Today, he said, taking that position makes one a bigot.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month not to review state appeals against same-sex “marriage” was a "tipping point," the archbishop said, that confirmed that traditional believers are now a minority in society and on the defensive.

But the 70-year-old archbishop is not without hope. “Our job is to be the healthy cells in a society,” he told the gathering. “We need to work as long as we can, as hard as we can, to nourish the good that remains in our country-– and there’s a deep well of good that does remain-– and to encourage the seeds of a renewal that can only come from our young people.”

Archbishop Chaput counseled Christians to improve their “practical, working friendships across religious and confessional lines.” He said Catholics should encourage “the new movements and charisms in the Church,” as well as Catholic groups and intellectual institutes. They should also form families who have “the habit of listening for a priestly vocation”

“We need parishes that are real antidotes to loneliness; real sources of mutual support, counseling, sharing and friendship — not just garrisons devoted to servicing the baptized pagan.”