Monday, September 28, 2015

Putting The Worst Spin On It Is What The Online Media Does

The headline says: The Pope Just Handed Kim Davis A Huge Win

The story says:

On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays.

"I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right," he said, speaking in Italian.

"And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," he added.

Francis said conscientious objection had to be respected in legal structures. "Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: 'This right has merit, this one does not.'"

The fact is, Kim Davis, AS A PUBLIC OFFICIAL, wasn't exercising a personal right in refusing to obey the courts and issuing marriage licenses, she was refusing to abide by the law.  Though I don't read Italian very well and I can't find an exact transcript, in any case, I doubt that Pope Francis had a clear knowledge of the case and I'd like to know what he was responding to when he said it.

Conscientious objection would not include violating your agreed to duties as a public official in violation of a court order, it would include resigning because you can't do the job you agreed to do without violating your conscience.

The official Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2237 Political authorities are obliged to respect the fundamental rights of the human person. They will dispense justice humanely by respecting the rights of everyone, especially of families and the disadvantaged.

The political rights attached to citizenship can and should be granted according to the requirements of the common good. They cannot be suspended by public authorities without legitimate and proportionate reasons. Political rights are meant to be exercised for the common good of the nation and the human community.

Someone arguing for Kim Davis refusing to follow the law might point out to this section right before that:

2236 The exercise of authority is meant to give outward expression to a just hierarchy of values in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom and responsibility by all. Those in authority should practice distributive justice wisely, taking account of the needs and contribution of each, with a view to harmony and peace. They should take care that the regulations and measures they adopt are not a source of temptation by setting personal interest against that of the community.

defining gay sex as "a source of temptation" for their argument.  But that wouldn't work because if there is any interest of the community in the matter, it would be to have gay sex (which will happen) happening in the context of stable relationships, something that can be said of any sexual activity because the foremost problem for the community in sexual activity is in promiscuous sex which spreads diseases, unwanted pregnancy, the disruption of families, etc.

Later in that section of the Catechism it defines civil disobedience as an obligation of citizens,  I can't find it presented in terms of public officials, though I'm hardly an expert in the Catechism.

2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.

In terms of Kim Davis, consider this section of the Catechism defining "OFFENSES AGAINST THE DIGNITY OF MARRIAGE"

2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:

If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another's husband to herself.

2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.

As a gay man, I don't think there is anything wrong in pointing out that Kim Davis is a serially divorced and married person, if she had to go to a clerk who followed these teachings they would be free to refuse to issue a marriage license to her and what would be legally considered her second, or third husbands.   And the matters of "conscience" don't stop at people who view gay sex as wrong, the occasions in which any government official could refuse to issue needed licenses or other documents are limited only by the willingness of officials to give that as an excuse to not perform their official duties.   If a public official thought along the lines that Ann Coulter was mendaciously tweeting the past few days,* they could refuse to issue marriage licenses to Catholic couples or even approve voter registration applications.   They would have been free to refuse to issue The Pope  or the Dalai Lama permission to enter the country.

I agree that a county clerk who can't follow the law and their conscience has every right to resign their position, I don't believe that any citizen has a right to draw a government salary while violating the law.

It is interesting to look a little farther in this section of the official Catechism because it also lists unmarried sex as an offense against the dignity of marriage BECAUSE IT LACKS A "JURIDICAL AND PUBLIC FORM".

2390 In a so-called free union, a man and a woman refuse to give juridical and public form to a liaison involving sexual intimacy.

The expression "free union" is fallacious: what can "union" mean when the partners make no commitment to one another, each exhibiting a lack of trust in the other, in himself, or in the future?

The expression covers a number of different situations: concubinage, rejection of marriage as such, or inability to make long-term commitments. All these situations offend against the dignity of marriage; they destroy the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity. They are contrary to the moral law. The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion.

All of which apply to two people of the same sex in exactly the same ways.  The evils that come from straight folk having sex with people they refuse to make any kind of a commitment to aren't any less evil when it's two lesbians or gay men who are having sex.   Change one phrase and this is exactly why marriage equality is a good for society.

I would like to discuss this with Pope Francis because I think his thinking, as given by Reuters, was undeveloped and likely not well considered.   He's a reasonable man who doesn't just ignore reality, as his recent statements about divorcing Catholics and the sacraments shows.  I don't think the Catholic church will change its mind about gay marriages any time in the foreseeable future but it has an interest in at least having their opposition being coherent with its official teachings.


  1. "I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right," he said, speaking in Italian.

    The qualifier is right there: "I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection." Whatever the pontiff knows of any specific case, he isn't addressing that; he's addressing the concept. Such objectors do have to be respected within legal systems (there are many that don't), but that isn't the same as saying they get a free pass to only follow the laws they like.

    That's no longer conscientious objection; that's just anarchy.

    1. There used to be a time when it was safe for someone to assume people who were literate and who had been to college could deal with that level of subtlety but that was in the pre-post-post literate age we live in now. The Atridiots apparently couldn't get it.