You pretty much know, when you read a headline that says "How a married gay Catholic couple lives their faith," that the story under that statement is going to be a sermon on behalf of progressive Catholics who want to modernize the teachings of their ancient church.
So the contents of this Detroit Free Press story didn't surprise me, especially since the Religion News Service picked it up, as well. So bah, humbug, to all of you pro-Catechism Catholics out there.
Actually, in this age in which Kellerism is becoming the newsroom norm in coverage of moral and social issues, it was unusual that the the story features a short passage quoting an articulate, qualified voice for church teachings. It's also unusual that (a) this person is not a public-relations officer and (b) that the Free Press team appears to have actually interviewed her -- as opposed to featuring one quote from a weblog or printed statement. More on that later.
The story also, as is now the norm, acknowledges that Pope Francis continues to defend the church's teachings on sex outside of the sacrament of marriage. However, it follows the now-established news logic that his "tone" on gay issues has changed everything and made his own words irrelevant. The story never quotes Francis defending the church's doctrines.
So what makes this story worthy of comment, if it is so predictable? Let's start with the lede and look for the key word that is missing.
DETROIT -- Because their Catholic faith is against same-sex marriage, Bryan Victor and Thomas Molina-Duarte made their wedding vows this summer before a Protestant minister in a Detroit Episcopal church.
So these men were married in an Episcopal parish, but they have not done the logical thing and joined that parish -- which affirms the doctrinal changes that they have affirmed.
The second paragraph introduces the man who may be the key player in the story. It's hard to tell, and that is the point.
Those in attendance included many family members, including Victor’s uncle, who is a Catholic priest and Macomb County pastor. The Rev. Ronald Victor did not officiate but was there because, he told his nephew, the Catholic Church “needs more examples of gay holiness.”
When Victor and Molina-Duarte attend Mass every Sunday, the couple go to a Detroit Catholic church, where Bryan Victor’s mom and dad join them in the pew. In their shared Catholic faith, Victor and Molina-Duarte find spiritual sustenance. And at their parish, they’ve also found acceptance.
Later, Victor stresses that Catholicism remains "one of my guides" in life. Molina-Duarte admits that if Catholicism "challenges things .. that’s more of an afterthought."
However, and here is the key, Victor and Molina-Duarte are "full" participants in parish life. Thus, readers are told, near the end of the story:
Victor and Molina-Duarte moved to Detroit in 2012. They went to a few parishes, but felt most engaged and most welcomed at St. Charles Borromeo. Victor’s paternal grandparents grew up in the parish and were married there. ...
That they present themselves to regularly receive Communion is not a sin, both men say.
“We examine our consciences and we know that our love for each other does not take us out of a relationship with God,” Victor said. “It takes us into a closer relationship with God. And for that reason,we feel comfortable presenting ourselves for Communion.”
So, if you follow the actual teachings of Pope Francis, this raises an interesting question or two. The key word that is missing? That would be "confession."
Thus, to cut to the chase, there is a key question that is not addressed in this news feature: Who is the priest who is serving as confessor for these two Catholic men who are, readers are told, full participants in the life of this parish?
Might that be the uncle? After all, he took the unusual step of attending and affirming a marriage rite that clearly violated the teachings that, in his ordination, he vowed to defend.
Victor’s uncle and Catholic priest Ronald Victor said he was moved by the wedding ceremony, and at the same time, “a little angry and a little disappointed that we couldn’t do it in a church where I could have officiated.”
The church calls gay sex “intrinsically disordered” because it cannot result in procreation. Yet the Rev. Victor said the caring, monogamous relationship between his nephew and Molina-Duarte “reflects God’s love.”
“While it’s not necessarily life-giving in a biological way,” said the priest, “it’s life-giving in other ways.”
It's pretty clear where he stands. And who is this priest's bishop?
Or perhaps there is another candidate to serve as the spiritual father-confessor for this gay couple and others?
To its credit, the Free Press team also interviewed the bishop who has long represented the cutting edge in Catholic gay activism in the American church. Might this bishop -- now retired -- have seeded this diocese with priests who back this conscience-over-doctrine creed?
Retired Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a longtime advocate for liberal Catholic causes, said Catholic teaching has long allowed Catholics to let their consciences, in part, be their guide in participating in the church’s rituals and sacraments, even when they may be at odds with church teachings. Gumbleton predicted Catholic teaching against same-sex unions eventually will change, as he noted did its onetime support of slavery and capital punishment.
“It’s clear the movement is there,” Gumbleton said, “but it takes a long time for the teaching to permeate the whole church, and people will fight it.”
Key words? That would be "in part."
It appears that Gumbleton -- a veteran culture warrior inside this church -- knew not to completely affirm the "conscience" alone formula voiced elsewhere in the piece. Ah, but Gumbleton's "tone" is what matters. Right?
So who is allowed, in this story, to defend the church's ancient doctrines, which are apparently competing with a new body of teachings that will eventually "permeate" the church and change the Catechism? The Free Press team has done a great job of showing how that process works at the level of pew and altar.
Society’s changing norms, however, will not change church teaching that sex is for a man and a woman united in marriage, said Catholic moral theologian Janet Smith, a professor at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary and an adviser to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Family.
Jesus encountered many who “were misusing their sexuality,” said Smith, noting that refers to “cohabitors, adulterers, fornicators, you name it.”
“He treated them very lovingly, and he wants them under his roof,” Smith said, “but his words to them were that they should repent and sin no more.”
And then there is this, from the successor to Gumbleton:
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said through a spokesman that he couldn’t comment for this story without knowing more specifics about the men. Officially, the archdiocese offers the ministry program Courage, to urge gay Catholics to abstain from sex; and another program, EnCourage, to counsel Catholic families with gay members. Fortunate Families, a support group for Catholic families with gay family members, is not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.
Note the double use of the term "officially." And, doctrinally speaking, what is the difference between EnCourage and Fortunate Families?
So here are the big questions that are raised in this piece, but never really answered. First, when it comes to confession and conscience, how are the doctrines in St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church different from those affirmed in the local Episcopal parish in which this couple was married? Also, "officially" or unofficially, is the local Catholic diocese following the "tone" established in the media coverage of Pope Francis, or the actual doctrines affirmed in his writings and in the Catechism?
Also, might this confessor question be linked to Archbishop Vigneron's statement -- through a press aide, of course -- that he could not comment about this case without knowing, according to the Free Press paraphrase, "more specifics" about Victor and Molina-Duarte?
Did the Free Press team intentionally avoid the word "confession" or was that just a mistake? Or perhaps "confession" is not part of the emerging Catholic faith?