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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 2, 2023

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Is pope Francis attempting to bring in gay marriage by the back door?

Kind of a long story, so bear with me for the background(

Dubia are formal questions brought before the pope and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) aimed at eliciting a “Yes” or “No” response, without theological argumentation. The word dubia is the plural form of dubium, which means “doubt” in Latin. They are typically raised by cardinals or other high-ranking members of the Church and are meant to seek clarification on matters of doctrine or Church teaching.

The dubia were signed by German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, 94, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; American Cardinal Raymond Burke, 75, prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura; Chinese Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun, 90, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong; Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, 90, archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara; and Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, 78, prefect emeritus of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Submitting dubia is not a particularly uncommon occurrence and does not have a strong partisan(for lack of a better term) valence. The summary of these particular dubia later on in the same article is fairly accurate, but you can read them in their entirety, along with Cardinal Burke's statement on resubmitting them, here:

What is unusual is resubmitting dubia after being dissatisfied with the response received, which is what happened here:

The same group of senior prelates say they submitted a previous version of the dubia on these topics on July 10 and received a reply from Pope Francis the following day.

But they said that the pope responded in full answers rather than in the customary form of “Yes” and “No” replies, which made it necessary to submit a revised request for clarification.

Pope Francis’ responses “have not resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything, deepened them,” they said in a statement to the National Catholic Register, CNA’s partner news outlet. They therefore sent the reformulated dubia on Aug. 21, rephrasing them partly so they would elicit “Yes” or “No” replies.

The cardinals declined the Register’s requests to review the pope’s July 11 response, as they say the response was addressed only to them and so not meant for the public.

Interestingly, the pope's(in reality Cardinal Fernandez's[head of the DDF, the Vatican's doctrine branch, occupying the position that in recent pontificates has been a de facto #2 spot]) responses were leaked anyways, by the Vatican( As that link demonstrates, the responses are indeed not the customary yes or no replies. I'm not quoting the whole thing, because they're lengthy word salad, but the most interesting, and controversial, part, is below, the response to the second dubia:

a) The Church has a very clear conception of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the begetting of children. It calls this union “marriage.” Other forms of union only realize it “in a partial and analogous way” (Amoris Laetitia, 292), and so they cannot be strictly called “marriage.”

b) It is not a mere question of names, but the reality that we call marriage has a unique essential constitution that demands an exclusive name, not applicable to other realities. It is undoubtedly much more than a mere “ideal.“

c) For this reason the Church avoids any kind of rite or sacramental that could contradict this conviction and give the impression that something that is not marriage is recognized as marriage.

d) In dealing with people, however, we must not lose the pastoral charity that must permeate all our decisions and attitudes. The defense of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity, which is also made up of kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement. Therefore, we cannot become judges who only deny, reject, exclude.

e) For this reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage. For when a blessing is requested, one is expressing a request for help from God, a plea for a better life, a trust in a Father who can help us to live better.

f) On the other hand, although there are situations that from an objective point of view are not morally acceptable, pastoral charity itself demands that we do not simply treat as “sinners“ other people whose guilt or responsibility may be due to their own fault or responsibility attenuated by various factors that influence subjective imputability (cf. St. John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 17).

g) Decisions which, in certain circumstances, can form part of pastoral prudence, should not necessarily become a norm. That is to say, it is not appropriate for a diocese, an episcopal conference or any other ecclesial structure to constantly and officially authorize procedures or rites for all kinds of matters, since everything “what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule,“ because this “would lead to an intolerable casuistry“ (Amoris Laetitia, 304). Canon law should not and cannot cover everything, nor should the episcopal conferences claim to do so with their various documents and protocols, because the life of the Church runs through many channels in addition to the normative ones.

That's a lot of words to come full circle, but the middle part- about blessing same sex non-weddings- is what has hair on fire. If you take the position that any of those paragraphs are not meaningless argle-bargle, paragraph g about the need to ensure blessings of same sex couples doesn't become a norm would not be among them. Again from the first article:

On the topic of blessing same-sex unions, which have been pushed for in places like Germany, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, weighed in on the matter in 2021, clarifying that “the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex.” However, some have speculated that, in spite of the DDF text referencing his approval, Pope Francis was displeased by the document. Relatedly, Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny claimed in March that the pope did not disapprove of the Flemish-speaking Belgian bishops plan to introduce a related blessing, although this claim has not been substantiated and it is not clear that the Flemish blessing is, in fact, the kind explicitly disapproved by the DDF guidance.

Regarding the DDF text, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin cited it in his criticism of the German Synodal Way’s decision to move forward with attempted blessings of same-sex unions, but he also added that the topic would require further discussion at the upcoming universal synod. More significantly, new DDF prefect Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, a close confidant of Pope Francis, stated in July that while he was opposed to any blessing that would confuse same-sex unions with marriage, the 2021 DDF guidance “lacked the smell of Francisco” and could be revisited during his tenure.

I am inclined to believe Cardinal Fernandez here, because A) responsa ad dubium are normally approved by the pope himself, so the middle paragraphs about blessing same sex non-weddings were approved by pope Francis B) firing Cardinal Fernandez over a previous screw up and disowning his comments would be trivially easy due to his atrocious record on handling sex abuse cases, yet he was appointed personally by Pope Francis rather than as a compromise(as Ladaria, the previous occupant of the office- and the issuer of the 2021 clarification against blessing same sex unions which it is rumored played a part in Francis' decision not to appoint him to a second term) or a holdover from Benedict XVI(as was Muller, the predecessor to Ladaria) and C) breaking with precedent in this manner is so highly unusual for a cabinet-level Vatican position that there's something there, and dragging your boss under the bus is not recommended.

What would it mean if the synod on synodality(which starts wednesday, and kicked off the whole brouhaha with this particular round of dubia) does in fact create significant wiggle room for bishops to authorize same sex non-weddings? Well, back to Cardinal Muller, who has previously pointed to this as a possible red line for some kind of ill-defined drastic action(

“A fictitious ‘blessing’ of same-sex couples,” he expounded, “is not only a blasphemy against the Creator of the world and man, but also a grave sin against the salvation of the people concerned, who are led to believe that sexual activity outside of marriage is pleasing to God, which is described in the revealed Word of God as a grave sin against the sixth commandment (Rom 1:26f; 1 Cor 9:-11).”


Here, Cardinal Müller raises the question of the status in the Church of those who wish to change the Church’s teachings, by quoting St. Irenaeus: “With apostolic succession, bishops have received the reliable charism of truth (charisma vertitatis certum), as it pleased God. But all others who do not want to know about this succession, which goes back to the origin, and who gather arbitrarily anywhere, are suspected of being either heretics with evil in mind, or schismatics…. All these people forsake the truth.” (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies IV 26, 2).

For Cardinal Müller, the truth of Christ is what matters at the synod: “I hope that the truth of Christ will determine the direction of the Synod and not a group dynamic process will lead the participants in the direction of an anti-Christian anthropology that questions the two-gendered nature of man created by God. This blatant contradiction to the divine and Catholic faith is gladly veiled with an alleged pastoral care for persons with any ‘erotic preferences.’”

That is to say, Cardinal Müller will not go along with such an attempted change of Church teaching at the upcoming synod in Rome.

Cardinal Muller, for those who are unfamiliar, is powerful enough within the church oligarchy to have previously vetoed a candidate for Cardinal Fernandez's current spot(, so him saying something like this is a very big deal, albeit poorly defined what it would actually look like.

So the obvious response here is 'God of the margins' stuff (What the church believes/does now is nothing like what it believed/did 1000 years ago, it has always moved with the times to reflect popular understanding and preferences), real politik stuff (The church's #1 job is to keep member roles and coffers high, which means giving the audience what they want), etc. I think that's all relevant but also pretty played out as a topic of discussion for anyone who was online in the last few decades.

The more interesting question I want to ask of anyone who knows anything about how church theology works - which I don't really - is whether empirical evidence ever plays a role in determining the will of God in cases like this, and when/how it does so.

Like... we've had gay marriage for decades now, no one got turned into pillars of salt or anything, seems like empirically it works about as well as straight marriage for families and for raising kids, and even for church membership at accepting churches.

Before gay marriage was legal a Christian could speculate about all kinds of consequences of allowing such unholy unions, but they didn't really happen, so... does that weigh against those people's predictions on how God feels on the matter? Is that evidence that this was mostly people misinterpreting Him, and He's not too worried about this, since otherwise we'd expect to see some type of mortal consequence?

I feel like in practice this must be how the church works... whether it's accepting the heliocentric model or admitting that it's ok for laymen to read the bible directly, religious beliefs do eventually bow to evidence and social norms. I'm just wondering if there's a principled model for how empirical evidence like that is weighed in those cases, or if it's just real politik without rationalization.

Like... we've had gay marriage for decades now, no one got turned into pillars of salt or anything, seems like empirically it works about as well as straight marriage for families and for raising kids, and even for church membership at accepting churches.

Marriage has been hit by a quadruple whammy over the last 150+ years:

  1. Replacement of asymmetric vows/obligations (the woman vows to obey) with asexual vows. Ending of the legal privileges of father/husband.
  2. No-fault divorce
  3. Normalization and even encouragement of sex-outside of marriage by high production value media
  4. Gay marriage

All of these things happened gradually and culture often lagged legal changes, so it is difficult to correlate the damage done with the change in policy. However, overall marriage has been completely hollowed out, and as a result we have seen a dramatic rise in broken families and mental illness. "Gay marriage" was more the final nail in the coffin than it was the decisive blow.

The biggest thing I've noticed about the post-Obergefell world is that it now seems political incorrect/taboo to say that "man-woman" marriage is better or the norm. Children are not born knowing that man-woman marriage is better than other arrangements, they must be taught that. But the post-Obergefell world, or official institutions like schools or children's TV programming cannot teach man-woman as the norm. And we see in surveys things like 50% of young women identifying as non-straight, or under 40% of young people responding in surveys that marriage and kids are important life goals, and we also see very high rates of mental illness among young liberal women. We have lost our ability in as a society to model what a default good life should be, and kids are making poor choices and ending up with mental health problems. And yes, the absysmally low (and highly dysgenic) fertility rates will result in an end of civilization if nothing changes.

Were I that dude in the black sweater The Truman Show guy, not Steve Jobs, I would want to create a double-blind study of 1,200 babies, half raised in a world where man-woman marriage is the unquestioned norm and half raised in a world where guy-guy stuff has social capital: then come back 50 years later and see which one had better outcomes. Because clearly being raised in world that's conflicted about it is worse than either one of those.

Do we have the compute to run an experiment like that on AI babies?

Are we in a simulation hypothesis computer as a control group for an experiment like that?

Will becoming aware of that be an error that whatever is running the experiment writes "tainted - discard from study" on the universe and throws it in a biohazard bag?

deep crumple sound of something just 1/4th inch wider than the universe being skooshed

Is there actually a large contingent of men and women who want this?

With the caveat that you probably do not understand what the vow means or implies, yes. If you have questions, ask away.

It was literally the standard common book of prayer up until 1928. And "wife has a duty to obey" was the standard Christian, Hewbrew, and Roman teaching, so that is a span from 700BC to AD 1928. So which viewpoint is bizarre? OK, but we have cool modern technology now! We have indoor toilets now! Why should we take the norms of the past seriously? On the other hand ... technology was progressing from 700BC to AD 1928. Are things progressing now? At the same rate? The same second derivative?