.- Author Joseph Bottum says that while parts of his controversial article on Catholic responses to “gay marriage” may have been unclear, he did not intend to suggest a divergence from Church teaching.
“I’m not dissenting from Church doctrine here, in any way,” said Bottum, who wrote the essay “The Things We Share” in Commonweal last Friday.
Rather, he told CNA Aug. 26, “I am taking exception to some prudential judgment about the way in which we try and evangelize the world.”
In the more than 9,000 word essay, subtitled “A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” Bottum suggested that federal and state recognition of same-sex “marriage” is already so far advanced that Catholics would do well to not expend energy fighting it in judicial and legal spheres, but rather to evangelize and share the Christian world-view in other ways.
Bottum’s essay was popularized by an interview which appeared in the New York Times by Mark Oppenheimer headlined “A Conservative Catholic now backs same-sex marriage.”
This characterization was the first introduction to the article for many, both on the political right and left.
“Much as I was grateful for the publicity” of the Times article, he said, “I think one of the problems with that was our conservative Catholic friends read the New York Times essay first, and then read the Commonweal piece, and it’s effect was, ‘Catholic deserter comes to our side.’”
“They look at it through the lens of ‘Catholic deserter’, and the first blog posts about it really blocked me into a position.”
Similarly, he said, that the left’s first reaction, “based on the New York Times profile” was “’hooray, hooray, we’ve got a defector’; and then they actually read the essay, and now they’re all out after me.”
Since his essay itself conveys a different tone than did Oppenheimer’s article, Bottum said, “I didn’t expect the immediate knee-jerk reaction of a sizable chunk of the conservative world to be angry at me.”
While continuing to view homosexual acts as “manifestly not in accord with divine law,” in alignment with Church teaching, Bottum said it is “right to make the distinction over what evils we allow without rebellion.”
“Just as there’s no rebellion in Nevada among Catholics over the counties that have legalized prostitution, I think we’ve probably reached a point where the Catholic teaching here has no purchase on the larger culture, and we’re going to get same-sex marriage – it’s already mostly here.”
While wanting to make clear that “there’s no doubt” he accepts that marriage as being between two persons of the opposite sex, Bottum said merely wanted to write the piece about his thinking having come to the position that, in the U.S., “the Church just needs to get out of the civil marriage business, because the culture is just too bizarre to hear” her teaching about marriage.
“In the short-run anyway,” Bottom said, Catholics should tolerate the civil recognition of same-sex unions. “I also think we need to re-evangelize the culture, but, in the short run … I think we have to accept that the facts on the ground is, it’s here, and it’s going to be here for some time.”
“I was always very careful to, any time I said something affirming of same-sex marriage, I was very careful to put in the word ‘civil’, ‘state recognition of’, some kind of qualifying phrase like that.”
“I did kind of assume that it would be taken as writ that I’m an orthodox Catholic,” Bottom reflected, though adding, “maybe I should have just said it, to pre-empt some old friends from reading the piece as though I was saying, this is sacramental marriage as much as anything else.”
The essay is “very long,” Bottom admitted, explaining that it is written in a literary style he’s been exploring lately, calling it “a style of personal essay that takes two steps forward and one step back, that circles around and circles around, that’s more impressionistic than it is argumentative.”
“I open for instance with that description of a lost friendship … and immediately afterwards I say, personal anecdote isn’t argument, and then I say, we’re all Americans, America’s got this, we should probably just accept this insofar as we’re Americans,” he said, reflecting on his writing style.
“And then immediately after, I say that of course the bishops shouldn’t be persuaded to take the (popular) cultural position out of some feel-good call for consensus. And the whole essay kind of proceeds by this back and forth method.”
He cited the style of Michel de Montaigne, a French essayist of the 16th century renaissance, as an inspiration for the admittedly “complicated” and “impressionistic” voice of his personal essay.
“I set myself up to be misinterpreted, in a way, just by making the conscious literary decision to write an essay in an essayistic style, and it didn’t occur to me at the time that it would be quite so open to misinterpretation,” Bottum shared.
Saying that he is “not entirely free from blame” for the essay’s subtitle, since he discussed it with the editors and consented to it, Bottum said that instead of being a Catholic advocate for same-sex “marriage,” “the case that I am making, is a case for Catholics who work in these sorts of fields to recognize that same-sex marriage is something the culture has, and is going to get completely,” though “in the civil sense only.”
“I certainly didn’t intend to undermine the bishops, by making anything more than a prudential argument about their fight over same-sex marriage,” Bottum said.
Moreover, he pointed out, “I explicitly said in the piece that they should not be persuaded by purely cultural reasons.”
Bottom said there are two passages that he should have phrased differently, because “they’re getting misinterpreted consistently” – one section on the judicial cases made in favor of marriage, and another on natural law.
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