NPR had an interesting story on the controversy in France as that country’s legislature moves ahead on its plans to legalize same-sex marriage and allow adoption by same-sex couples. While the changes have support in the urban areas, the rural areas are more hostile, especially to the adoption provision, which is an interesting reversal of the situation in the US where same-sex adoption has become accepted.
The story is about a 74-year old Roman Catholic priest Elie Geffray in the village of Ereac (population 650) who also happens to be its mayor. Geffray is a supporter of same-sex marriage and says that he welcomes the changes and looks forward to marrying such couples once that is allowed. He says that, “Secularism is the great virtue of French democracy. It allows people of different convictions – Muslims, Catholics, atheists – to live together. I’m very attached to this principle because I must distinguish between the religious and the political in my two functions, and we must never mix them.”
He “supports same-sex marriage and adoption rights because he believes it is now time for gay citizens to be fully recognized and have equal rights” and also believes that “the Catholic Church made a huge mistake by getting involved in the debate over same-sex marriage.”
But it is not only elderly priests in remote rural areas that are defying the official line. I have heard that the much younger Catholic priest in the Cleveland suburb I live in speaks favorably in his sermons of gay people too and about his own brother who is gay and in a long-term loving relationship that is accepted by his family and how he thinks that the church is wrong on this issue.
I suspect that these are not the isolated cases they seem and such subversion of official Catholic doctrine by its foot soldiers (priests and nuns) is more common than we realize. After all, it is those people who are in touch with ordinary parishioners who come to them with their problems and, unless they are rigidly doctrinaire, they must be touched by the anguish that so many believing Catholics feel because they are doing things that the church deems to be grievous sins.
Given the authoritarian nature of the Catholic Church, I am surprised that the bishops have not cracked down on such priests for their open opposition to church doctrine. Perhaps these priests are being indulged because the church is finding it increasingly hard to recruit priests and staff its churches so it can ill afford to discipline priests and yank them out of service. The local priest does not seem to have suffered any consequences, at least publicly, perhaps because he is popular with the parishioners of this somewhat affluent community and hauling him over the coals would create resentment, especially since the local bishop is already unpopular because of his authoritarian style and the high-handed way he closed many churches, a decision that was reversed by the Vatican. As for the French priest, it is unlikely that the church can spare someone for a small rural community.
On the other hand, the nuns in the US were rebuked for much less defiance. Perhaps this is because nuns are considered second-class and thus more likely to be put in their place by the male hierarchy.
The Catholic Church fascinates me as a sociological phenomenon. How many times must they be humiliatingly forced, kicking and screaming, to change their views on scientific and social and moral issues because the world and even its own followers and workers have left them far behind, before they realize that it is better to be forward thinking than anchored to the past? The top people cannot be that stupid. Surely they must realize that their dogged determination to not accept reality will speed the process of irrelevance because when it comes to homosexuality and contraception (and even abortion), they are not just losing the battle for hearts and minds but they have already lost?