In March 2011, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, writing as the chairman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, wrote that “in no manner is the position proposed by the New Ways Ministry in conformity with Catholic teaching, and in no manner is this organization authorized to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church or to identify itself as a Catholic organization.”

In an essay last week for On Faith/Local, Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry wrote to establish “A Catholic case for same-sex marriage.”  Not surprisingly, the case they make is based on misinformed claims, defective moral theology and a reckless portrayal of Catholic Church history. Worse yet, they get the nature of the Church wrong too.

The Catholic Church is apostolic in nature, that is, it derives its faith, not from polls or a simplistic read of Church history, but from Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus established the Church with the structure of apostles and their successors, bishops, who have as their solemn obligation preserving the unity of the Church and teaching the faith. The sensus fidelium or faith understood by the whole Church is authentically expressed when it is in union with the bishops. As a Church deeply rooted in the Scriptures, we also draw our vision on this matter from a principled adherence to those Scriptures which we believe to be revealed by God and from which we are not free to simply depart.

The bishops’ seemingly unpopular opposition to same-sex marriage is not based on their desire to “make church law into state law;” rather, they are guarding the nature and mission of marriage as established by God in the order of creation as the lifelong union of one man and one woman for the good of their union and the procreation of children. On this basis, the Church and the state have no authority to redefine marriage. Any variation on this theme, and many have appeared in history, is not in keeping with the nature and purpose of marriage.

Protecting marriage under state law is not based on simple convention, civil rights or the desire for an expression of romantic love. It is an inescapable reality that governments have established marriage law because the state has an interest in the unique nature of marriage to propagate children for the sake of economic goods and the stability of society. Marriage is a public relationship with a public significance. Marriage is not a universal right.  One only needs to consider the details of the bill before the Maryland legislature to see that it prohibits a variety of relationships from marriage regardless of whether they are conventional or romantic in nature. Benefits such as medical decision making rights, tax exemptions and health benefits are already provided for in Maryland law; it is not necessary to redefine marriage in order to obtain these benefits.

Social sciences and the teachings of the Church are in mutual agreement that marriage separated from its purpose of the union of one man and one woman and the procreation of children has detrimental consequences.  The bishops are not out of step with nature, history, the biblical witness, and the faith understood by the whole tradition of the Church. Furthermore, the bishops’ opposition to the redefinition of marriage is not discriminatory. The Church respects the dignity of every human being created in the image of God. Opposing same-sex marriage recognizes that those relationships are simply different from marriage.

Rev. Monsignor Charles Pope is pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian parish in Washington, D.C.