Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fr. Geoff Farrow on Proposition 8

Earlier today, Fr. Geoffrey Farrow held a press conference in Los Angeles at which he read the statement below.

As regular readers would know, Geoff Farrow is a Roman Catholic priest courageously speaking out in opposition to Proposition 8, an initiative that would eliminate the right for same sex couples to marry in California. As a result of his speaking out, Farrow has been suspended as a priest and removed as pastor of his parish by Bishop John Steinbock of the Diocese of Fresno.


You can be a good and faithful Catholic and vote NO on Proposition 8.

Many priests, nuns and ordinary Catholics will vote NO on Proposition 8 because they believe that taking away civil rights from same sex couples is wrong and strips them not only of civil rights but, also of basic human dignity. I know this because they have expressed this to me directly. Many pastors simply refuse to say anything at all on the subject publicly. Most of my brother priests try to help Catholic same sex couples in the same fashion that they help Catholic heterosexual couples who use contraception or, who have divorced and remarried. We try to assist these souls in the confessional and in counseling sessions. We attempt to humanize what can otherwise be impossibly rigid doctrines that crush people or drive them away from the community of faith.

As an elderly Pastor once told me: “We are not technicians, we work with human lives.” People are not statistics, they are not a political issue, they are human beings. Initially, I too simply decided to remain silent. But then, more and more people came to me and asked for guidance on this issue. At the same time, the Diocese became more and more vocal in its support for Proposition 8 and began to organize lay people to vote yes on 8.

When I was asked to promote my congregation to vote yes on Proposition 8 I was placed in a position of having to choose between my position and the spiritual and emotional well being of those who I was called to serve. Theologians such as, St. Thomas Aquinas have taught of the primacy of one’s personal conscience because on the day that you die it will be your conscience that either acquits or condemns you before God.

In good conscience, I cannot place an impossibly heavy load on the backs of those entrusted to my pastoral care and leave them to fend for themselves as best they can. The cost of this would be abandonment of faith, possibly of God. It would probably contribute to isolation, depression and possible despair or, worse (especially for young people). I gave them the advice that most of them would receive privately from most priests, I simply did it openly at the end of Sunday Mass from the pulpit.


Following is one of the ads that have been made to encourage Californians to vote NO on Proposition 8.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Father Geoff Farrow’s Blog
Stand Against Prop. 8 Costs Priest Dearly
- Duke Helfand and Catherine Saillant (Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2008).
Conservative Press-Enterprise Newspaper Opposes Prop. 8 - Timothy Kincaid (Box Turtle Bulletin, October 14, 2008).
Fr. Geoff Gets the True Christian Message - Michael in Norfolk (October 17, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Priest’s Courageous Act
Update on Fr. Geoff Farrow
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Another Victory in Connecticut
The Same People
What Straights Can Learn from Gay Marriage
Good News from the Golden State
Love is Love
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
The Real Gay Agenda
Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
Separate is Not Equal
Mainstream Voice of “Dear Abby” Supports Gay Marriage
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
Just Love
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
Good News from Minnesota

Image: Francine Orr.


Frank Partisan said...

Do you think the NO vote will win?

CDE said...

Fr. Farrow seems to have made up his mind that his activism is more important than his priesthood.

I hope he doesn't portray himself as a victim, but that he understands what he has freely chosen.

kevin57 said...

Why not frame it "his conscience is more important than his priesthood"?

CDE said...

His conscience at one time led him to believe he was called to priestly service, and, more recently, it made him think he was obligated to lobby against the Church he had vowed to serve.

So it would seem he has a conscience divided against itself.

Michael J. Bayly said...


From my perspective, and the perspective of many Catholics - gay and straight - Geoff Farrow is serving the Church - the Church understood as the People of God.

This is the primary model of Church offered by Vatican II and the model many consider most aligned to the community that Jesus gathered around him.

I do not limit the Church to the hierarchy and/or the curia in Rome or to the magisterium. These all may have a purpose, but the Church is so much more than these functional entities.



CDE said...


I don't limit my understanding of the Church to the magisterium or hierarchy either.

But I think Fr. Farrow has done a grave injustice to the People of God by misunderstanding/misinterpreting the Church's teaching about marriage and family.

Proposition 8 is not about discrimination against homosexuals. It's about the definition of marriage. And marriage is better understood as a gift and a responsibility rather than as a civil right; it's first and foremost a responsibility, at the service of the rights of children.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important issue.

From my perspective, you seem to be conflating sacramental marriage and civil marriage. You would agree, I'm sure, that there is a difference between the two.

I think most non-Catholics would consider civil marriage a civil right, not as a "gift" (from God, presumably).

No one is forcing the Catholic Church or any other religious institution to redefine their understanding of marriage or to marry gay couples in sacramental marriage, just as no one is forcing them to marry heterosexual couples where one or more of the individuals involved is divorced.

Such people can marry civilly and yet the Church is not rallying to deny them this civil right. Why is it different with gay couples? Why is the Church attempting to deny their civil right to marry?



CDE said...

It seems to me that marriage was a religious institution before it ever was a civil one. The whole theology of covenant is intimately connected with the notion of marriage. The institution of marriage grew up within and alongside communities of faith.

So why should civil authorities have the right to redefine it?

Many today want the Church to be silent on matters that reach beyond the domain of the believing community. But when the Church has something to say about the moral life, she rightly speaks to all of humanity, not just to believers. What is truly human, and worthy of humanity, is not simply a religious question.

No one has demonstrated that the right to marry whomever one chooses (regardless of gender) is a civil right. It's something that is very much in question.

It seems that many people uncritically assume that such a right exists, and more will assume so as more Supreme Court justices declare it so by fiat.

Why is the homosexual community not satisfied with the concept of civil unions? It's a secular concept through and through. Why must the activists insist on adulterating the concept of marriage? Because they desire the blessing of religion?

Anonymous said...

Goodness, Clayton. Your arguments are interesting, but answerable, I think.

1. The history of marriage is "religious"? The ancient world had civil marriage. When societies were theocracies, civil marriage and religious marriage were probably indistinguishable. I don't know if the civil marriage in ancient Rome was accompanied by reference to gods. Do you? My understanding is that Christianity had no position on marriage until 1215 when it was declared a sacrament. When you say marriage developed "alongside" communities of faith, do you mean in civil society? Is there a reason why civil society cannot legitimately recognize the human and social goods of exclusive commitment?

2. Marriage is a civil right in the U.S. because it has been declared to be so by legitimate governmental and legal processes. That is the only way you get any civil right. It is a civil right for heterosexuals in all states, affirmed by the Supreme Court, and three states have said the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits excluding same-gender couples from the benefits of the laws relating to civil marriage. What is your reason to exclude same-gender couples from equal protection of the laws?

3. I don't hear anyone on this blogsite saying that Church officials should not have a say in civil affairs. Of course, when they have something to say about morals they should speak out. However, they can't forget the morality of making laws in a pluralistic society. Where different communities have different ethical positions, it is the moral thing not to coerce others by forcing laws upon them. As Michael said, no one is forcing the Catholic Church to recognize gay marriage. The Church is trying to force civil society to exclude gay marriage.

It sounds as if you do not have respect for the Supreme Court of the U.S., the courts of the various states, and for civil law. Your religious ethic is superior to the ethic of the Constitution of the U.S.? Will you tell in what way you think your ethic is superior? I am struggling with this because when I compare the positions of the Catholic Church on freedom and equality, I see the secular world as superior. That is why I admire Geoff Farrow's stand against the Church's teaching on Prop. 8. I also admire his religious ethic of compassion for the people he committed himself to serve and who are confused by the lack of charity in the Church's teaching.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...it sounds as if civil government is being raised, well, to an almost religious level of importance in Paula's post. In modern America, civil government is a way for a group of people to attempt to solve problems and meet needs, and nothing more. Civil rights, in a sense, are nothing more than a sort of agreement that something may or may not be done. They are written on a piece of paper, which can be changed or ignored, often at a whim. Here's the deal: what is the fundamental, foundational, underlying basis of those things we call rights and responsibilities. Does my government *give* me "rights" or *recognize* "rights" I already have, have always had, and can never be granted or removed by anything other than my own life or death? Paula, your discussion of rights and responsibilities, with respect, starts with government. Clayton's seems to precede government.

So, do I respect government? Yes. I respect it as far as I can throw it. Government, like most things in this life, is first a human, and then a social and cultural construct. It can be changed at a whim and it changes all the time. I am not so interested in things that change. I am interested in things that don't change, however few and small they are.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mark. I put humans and human social groupings first. They have constructed both religions and governments to fulfill different needs. That humans have some rights that governments should recognize has been a developing philosophy in Western culture for several centuries now. Humans set up governments, make their own laws, and decide what rights to recognize. I happen to believe that there is a Creator Spirit working in the development of human cultures, but I know not everyone believes that. Humans seem to have developed many different ways to be religious too. What do you think is unchanging, Mark?

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I think that "unchanging thing" can be glimpsed in the transitional space, say, between zoology and anthropology. To the extent that anthropology is a social science, I'd say its less reliable. To the extent its a "hard" science, I'd say its more reliable.

Vatican 2 suggests that theologians inform their work with the social sciences, but if the "soft." social sciences aren't reliable, neither is the theological reflection that uses it.

So some sense of the "unchanging" can be better glimpsed in the hard sciences. It also gets around competing beliefs, 'cause science either works or it doesn't.

I'm beginning to think that, compared to the hard sciences, the "soft" sciences have their uses. And, paraphrasing a line from the Lord of the Rings, their uses are few. Philosophy and theology may be least useful of all.

CDE said...


You wrote:

Marriage is a civil right in the U.S. because it has been declared to be so by legitimate governmental and legal processes. That is the only way you get any civil right.

Would you include the right to life as one that only exists if the government grants it?

Or are you making some distinction between human rights and civil rights?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Clayton. Yes, I am thinking that there is a distinction between the philosophy of human rights that has been developing in the Western world for several centuries and the specific rights recognized in positive law.

Rights that aren't protected by law, have moral force, but not legal force. There is the "inalienable right to life...",on the one hand, and the power given by us to the state to sentence people to death, on the other. There is the right to own real property but it is conditioned by law--you have to contract for it in a certain way, register your ownership, pay taxes on it, etc.

So there is the right to marry whom you choose, and if the law recognizes that right for some people, under the equal protection clause of the Constitution it has to have good reasons for denying it to others.

For example, we authorize the state to deny the right to marry to underage people for what are generally agreed to be good reasons. What are the reasons for denying the right to marry to same-gender couples? It boils down to that question.

There has to be a significant degree of consensus to get a moral right specified in law. That seems to be the process we are going through on same-gender marriage. I am with you if you are thinking this is a slow and cumbersome process in a society with so many different moral views. But do you see another way to go about recognizing rights in a way that respects freedom of conscience?

Anonymous said...

Paula, one way to do what you suggest is to separate civil and religious marriage from each other. The ministers of religious communities were, in a sense, "deputized" in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to solemnize marriage on behalf of the state (in U.S. history) because it was expedient. This practice continues to the present day.

Maybe we should do what the Europeans (and many other countries, if not most) do: you go and get a marriage license and do the J.P. thing with a couple witnesses. There, you are legally married in the eyes of the state. Depending on the beliefs of those involved you're either a) really married or b) you've just met the states requirements, but that's just a necessary step on the way to a religious ceremony. That way ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. do what their faith and conscience dictate, without reference to civil law.

What "secular marriage, Christian sacrament" says to, say, the Catholic in this culture, is another matter.

Anonymous said...

I think that's a good idea, Mark.

That way the federal and state laws that include the word "married", for example, the tax code, would apply to everyone who was civilly married and then those who want to have their civil marriages solemnized in a religious ceremony could do so. Churches could exclude anyone that didn't match their requirements without jeopardizing their civil rights.

I guess that is what the bills in the MN legislature will bring about. The state marriage laws would be gender neutral. So a gay couple could get a license and then find someone authorized to register them as civilly married who would perform the ceremony. Seems simple, doesn't it? The officiant wouldn't at this time be a Catholic priest, but that would have to be okay with the couple.