Papal infallibility. The Lord gave St. Peter and his successors the authority to settle disputes definitively, including disputes about the most-sacred things.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a thoroughly charming Episcopal priest. He prefers to celebrate the Holy Eucharist facing the same direction as the people, what we call ad orientem. He also gladly celebrates same-sex weddings.
In June of 2015, the US Supreme Court found that a man has the right to marry another man, and a woman the right to marry another woman. This put the US in harmony with the supreme legal tribunals of most western-European countries.
The following fall, the Synod of Bishops, meeting in Rome, quoted a Vatican document from 2003: “homosexual unions are in no way analogous to marriage.” Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation the following spring. He did not say anything on his own authority as Successor of St. Peter on this subject. He simply quoted the Synod Fathers’ quote.
In other words, the Successor of St. Peter has not spoken on the subject of gay marriage since 2003. I think we can safely say: in the ensuing sixteen years, the extent of the dispute has increased exponentially. Pope John Paul II intervened on the subject rather quietly, albeit directly. In 2003, few Catholics imagined that such a thing as same-sex “marriage” would ever really enter mainstream thinking in the Church. But now it’s something that a Catholic priest and an Episcopal priest discuss casually over a beer.
In fact, we know well that huge segments of the Catholic population in the western world do not understand why same-sex marriage is impossible. Nor do most people understand the harms done by maintaining the fiction of “same-sex marriage.”
Isn’t this a situation that cries out for the intervention of the Successor of St. Peter? To settle this dispute among Christians by calmly recognizing all the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, including acknowledging the genuinely Christian basis in them–and then explaining why none of those arguments actually touch the principle according to which same-sex marriage is impossible? To explain that we love all people; that we stand on the side of people dealing with same-sex attraction; but that the sacredness of Holy Matrimony partakes of the divine fruitfulness, whereas the mutual masturbation of two men or two women falls beneath the dignity of a human being.
Seems like the world desperately needs the Successor of St. Peter to speak about this, with love and clarity.
But we have to face a hugely disorienting fact. Leaving to the side the question of whether or not Pope Francis would want to help us in this way, the fact is: He couldn’t, even if he wanted to. He does not have the requisite personal credibility to settle this dispute. Neither side of the argument would recognize him as someone who could speak with integrity on this.
May God help us. We pray at the altar today for deliverance from tempests, since we stand on the rock of St. Peter’s declaration of faith. We trust in Providence; we believe in the divine design. May the Successor of St. Peter always do the right thing. Even if maybe the right thing for him to do rhymes with ‘design.’