I hope readers have already taken note of George Weigel’s very striking suggestion in these pages yesterday that the Catholic Church should preemptively withdraw from involvement in civil marriage:
It seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law.
If the Church were to take this dramatic step now, it would be acting prophetically: it would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by “marriage” and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by “marriage” is wrong. If, however, the Church is forced to take this step after “gay marriage” is the law of the land, Catholics will be pilloried as bad losers who’ve picked up their marbles and fled the game—and any witness-value to the Church’s withdrawal from the civil marriage business will be lost. Many thoughtful young priests are discussing this dramatic option among themselves; it’s time for the rest of the Church to join the conversation.
It’s a considered but dramatic proposal from one of American Catholicism’s most prominent figures. Which is to say, big news.
Prominent canon lawyer Ed Peters, though, has doubts:
It is painful, of course, to watch the State’s definition of marriage careen toward something unrecognizable under natural or ecclesiastical law, but eliminating true marriages from the pool of unions treated as marriage by the State is not the solution to the State’s errors. Moreover, if the day arrives wherein State power is turned against a pastor who refuses a “gay wedding”, we must and will refuse cooperation with that simulation of a sacrament (e.g. 1983 CIC 841, 1379) as best we can (e.g. 1983 CIC 1370 § 3, 1373). But, that day has not arrived yet and I see no need to surrender societal goods (such as the convenience, and even meetness, of civil recognition of Catholic weddings) that have not yet been demanded of us.
For my part, I would hope that Catholics would be able to take any such step along with their evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters. The groundwork for such cooperation has already been laid by the Manhattan Declaration and Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which most recently issued “In Defense of Religious Freedom,” a call for Evangelicals and Catholics to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in resisting encroachments on religious liberty that received an enormous response when evangelical Protestant institutions filed suit alongside their Catholic counterparts against the HHS mandate.