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The Catholic option for 'yes' or 'no'

  • 25 September 2017


Australian voters are deciding which box to tick when asked, 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' Unlike some bishops, I argue that a committed Catholic could vote 'yes' or 'no'.

For many Catholic voters, this has been a difficult issue because for the first time in their lives they have found themselves in the same position which our politicians find themselves every time they have to vote on contested moral and political questions in parliament. They don't find themselves getting all that much help from official church declarations. This is no criticism of our bishops. They are the custodians of a tradition which has been somewhat skewed on this issue for a long time.

In 1975, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of'. Then in 1986, under the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger (as he then was), the CDF declared that 'special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.'

In 1992, the CDF identified 'some principles and distinctions of a general nature which should be taken into consideration by the conscientious legislator, voter, or Church authority who is confronted with such issues'. The CDF claimed that there was 'a danger that legislation which would make homosexuality a basis for entitlements could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even to seek a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law'.

Many Catholics nowadays find such declarations unhelpful and insensitive, perhaps even downright wrong. Even those Catholics who find such teaching helpful in determining their own moral stance might question the application of such teaching when deciding whether to tick the box 'yes' or 'no'. For most contemporary Catholics, Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air with his observation, 'Who am I to judge?'

Some voters are voting 'yes' boldly and assuredly, hoping that our politicians will just get on with it and legislate for same sex marriage as quickly as possible. Some are voting 'no' just as boldly and assuredly, hoping that the matter will then be put off the legislative agenda for another generation, much like the outcome of the republic referendum