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Rights and Wrongs: On the San Francisco Resolution | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | November 5, 2010
On May 3, 2006, City Council of San Francisco passed an amusing,
"non-binding" resolution, subsequently signed by the Mayor (Gavin Newsom, now
lt. governor-elect of California). The resolution urges "Cardinal Levada
(former Archbishop of San Francisco and presently head of the Vatican
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) to withdraw his
directive—given when he was Archbishop of San Francisco—to Catholic
Charities forbidding the placement of children in need of adoption with
The explanatory "whereas-es" within the resolution tell us that such
"forbidding" is "an insult to all San Franciscans." Why? Because "a foreign
country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence
this great City's existing and established customs and traditions such as the
right to same-sex couples to adopt and care of children in need." One wonders
just how "old" these "existing and established customs and traditions" really
are, even in San Francisco? It is more likely, on the issue mentioned, that the
San Franciscans who survived the famous earthquake would have sided with the
The first implicit premise of the Resolution, reduced to its essence,
is as follows: "No foreign entity can have any opinion or attempt 'negatively'
to influence anything that goes on in any great city any place in the world."
Presumably, it would be fine if some ranking foreigner would "positively"
attempt to influence what goes on in this great city.
But do the people of any city, San Francisco included, really want to
buy this odd doctrine that tolerates no outside commentary no matter how well
grounded? Have they nothing to say about aberrations in other lands and places?
Is every "custom and tradition" so precious that it is automatically right,
even if contradictory? Has opposition to foreign holocausts, for instance,
never been expressed by a citizen of such a fair city? Has no one in San
Francisco commented on the status of women in Islamic cultures?
The next implicit premise can be stated as follows: "Established
customs and traditions ground a right which takes precedence over any other
higher law or principle." The consequences of such a premise are serious.
Custom, as Aquinas said, can establish or interpret law in certain cases.
The term "right" as used in the resolution, in effect, comes out of
Hobbes, where nothing is presupposed or acknowledged, no order or law of nature
exists except force. Human nature is said to be a blank to be filled in with
whatever we want to put there. That is our natural "right." It does not have to
answer to any higher law about what human beings are. A "right" is whatever we
want it to be. All it needs is customary or legal sanctioning. Such is a
horrifying political principle that logically justifies every tyranny that ever
existed among us.
The second "whereas" formulates the Vatican's position in this way: To
allow "children to be adopted by persons living in such (single-sex) unions
would actually mean doing violence to the children." This alien view is said to
be "absolutely unacceptable to the citizenry of San Francisco." The question,
of course, is this: Is the Vatican statement, as such, reasonable, whoever
might accept or reject it? It is a statement of principle, not geography. Does
or does not that particular form of union "do violence" or injustice to a child
and its true good?
Is the Vatican or Cardinal Levada speaking as "a foreign power" or are
they simply calling the attention of reasonable people of good will everywhere,
including San Francisco, to the fact that children should be placed where a
mother and a father function together? The lack of both male and a female parent
in the case at hand means that we deliberately deprive the child of something
irreplaceable that belongs to him, is due to him, qua child. Do we really want
to do this?
The San Francisco Resolution, as if it suspects some flaw in its own
argument, is careful to add "children in need." It has to add this clause
because obviously it must appeal to the imperfect case to make its point. The
important thing, however, is not "need," especially the supposed "need" of a
same-sex relationship, but what the child is owed as such, namely, a mother or
The third "whereas" tells us that the Vatican's reasoning is really
"hateful and discriminatory rhetoric." It is "insulting" and "callous." It is
"insensitive" and "ignorant." Goodness! One could hardly call the official use
of such terms to be itself calm or reasonable. The "Board of Supervisors"
confesses that it has "seldom encountered" such things. We suspect that this
latter is true of that political body. If they had, they would think more
cautiously and reasonably. The Board seems to be isolated from the normal
instincts of common men and women everywhere about what they and their children
are and need.
Such acid language of the Board does not engage in reason. Objectively,
the Vatican calls our attention to good sense and reason. Children need two
parents, a man and a woman. Both have something different but necessary to
contribute to the child's good. The Church does not hold this view because it
is revealed or religious, or because it is "ignorant." Rather, from long
experience, it understands what human beings are. It seeks to preserve the good
of intact families, including children up for adoption
The next "whereas" informs us that "Cardinal Levada is a decidedly
unqualified representative of his former home city and the people of San
Francisco and the values they hold dear." But the question is this: "Is someone
who proposes the truth of something suddenly to be officially silenced because
that truth is not recognized by the customs of someplace or any place?"
Have we discarded any pretense of freedom of discussion and argument in all
The final "whereas" instructed Archbishop Niederauer to "defy all discriminatory directions of Cardinal Levada". Be loyal to San Francisco; betray the Church. Great advice!
Evidently, while the Board objects to "foreign" interference in its affairs, its view of church and state is that it can, none the less, interfere in the affairs of the
Church. The Archbishop and the Cardinal understand that it is precisely by not betraying reason and the Church that both are really being loyal to a City named
after San Francisco.
In the final "whereas," the Board, earnestly recalling the Inquisition
as related to Cardinal Levada, instructed him to rid us of this "discriminatory
and defamatory directive." Cardinal Levada should be calm in all this. We often
read in Scripture that those who speak the truth will be reviled and hated,
drawn before judges and no doubt City Councils. Indeed, they are to expect it.
This resolution subsequently went to the courts. After a federal judge
had dismissed the case in 2006, a three-judge panel upheld the resolution.
Next, on October 26, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court took the case in full
consideration. They ruled on merits of the case and the legal standing of those
who brought the suit, the Thomas More Law Center. It may well go to the Supreme
Court. The Court upheld the action of the Board.
Six judges of the Circuit Court examined the merits. They split 3-3.
Three judges said that "They (the Board) have the right to speak out in their
official capacities on matters of secular concern to their constituents, even
if their statements might offend the religious feelings of some of their other
constituents." Not a few wonder about the outcome if the folks had been Jewish
or Muslim and not Catholic.
Three other judges thought that "For the government to resolve
officially that 'Catholic doctrine is wrong,' is as plainly violation of the
Establishment Clause as for the government to resolve that 'Catholic doctrine
The heart of this issue is rather simple. The case and
emotion of the Board are governed, as its example seems to indicate, by one
proposition: Gay marriages are marriages. That proposition equivocates on the
term "marriage." No law can change the essential difference between a man-woman
marriage and a single sex marriage. To insist that they are identical
evaporates any meaning from nature. It is to have Plato's lie in our souls
about what is.
The more reasonable position has little to do with
Catholicism as such, though Catholics certainly understand it. The fact is that
children are begotten of man and woman, who are, because of their diversity and
unity, both responsible for their child.
Children need a parent of each sex, whether they be "in
need" or not. Compassion does not trump principle. The Board obscures what
human life and nature are about. It does this by the suasive power of civil
resolution. In the end, it is not the Board that is protecting the needs and
nature of real children, but the hapless Vatican.
In San Francisco, such a voice perhaps cries in the
wilderness, but it cries the truth about children and their needs. It puts
children first, not the self-interest of single-sex advocates. To refuse to
deprive children of what they most need, a mother and a father, is this really
so difficult to understand? Is it really "hateful?" "ignorant?"
"discriminatory?" "insulting?" or "callous?" to use the Board's own words, for
anyone to strive to give all children what they most need, a mother and a
Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:
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Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church
| Donald P. Asci | Introduction to The Conjugal Act as a Personal Act
Entering Marriage with Eyes Wide Open
| Edward Peters
Who Is Married? | Edward Peters
the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Reverend
Michael Hull, S.T.D.
Male and Female
He Created Them | Cardinal Estevez
Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
The Truth About Conscience | John F.
Kippley | An excerpt from Sex and the Marriage Covenant
Authentic Freedom and the Homosexual Person | Dr. Mark Lowery
Sexual Orientation and the Catholic Church | Dr. Charles E. Rice
Contraception and Homosexuality: The Sterile Link of Separation | Dr. Raymond Dennehy
Privacy, the Courts, and the Culture of Death | An
Interview with Dr. Janet E. Smith
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning,
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006),
The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007),
and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008).
His most recent book from Ignatius Press is
The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age,
is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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