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Fr. Timothy Lannon, President of Creighton University, my former employer, has announced that starting in 2015 the school will provide benefits to legally married same-sex spouses. Most Jesuit universities already do so, as will Notre Dame, which recently announced its new policy that also will take effect in 2015.

These are unforced capitulations. They don’t involve legal coercion. In Creighton’s case, the action was taken over the objection George Lucas, archbishop of Omaha. Which is why I read them as the beginning of what will be a fairly widespread capitulation on gay marriage and homosexuality by leaders of Catholic universities and institutions.

The reasons Lannon gives will be repeated by many others. He cites the imperatives of “social justice,” which impel the university to be concerned “for the care and well-being of our colleagues’ families.” Extending benefits to same-sex spouses is “consistent with our efforts to foster an inclusive, compassionate and respectful campus environment.” There’s also the everybody’s-doing-it argument. Recognizing same-sex marriage is necessary “in today’s competitive workplace environment that values fairness and equal treatment.”

To be often repeated as well is Lannon’s denial of any real implications for the Church’s teaching. “The extension of benefits is not a statement of approval of same-sex marriage,” Lannon asserts.

Perhaps, but the real question is whether Creighton (or anyone else) can disapprove of gay marriage while offering benefits to same-sex spouses—and do so in a state that doesn’t even recognize gay marriage (which is the case in Nebraska). The question answers itself.

Here are a few general observations about the growing spirit of accommodation. 

1.   Creighton, like nearly all American Catholic institutions, is run by upper-middle-class Americans. They are more loyal to their class and its values than the Catholic Church, which over the last fifty years has for the most part renounced its own intellectual and moral culture. This doesn’t mean Catholic leaders lack faith. What it means is that it’s existentially painful for them to be out of sync with dominant opinion. Like all normal people, they want to avoid pain, and so they find ways to conform while pretending to be dissenters, a trick Americans perform very well. Expect more announcements that conformity to the gay liberation project doesn’t constitute “approval.”

2.    Being pro-gay rights is today’s badge of honor. I don’t think many Catholics who want to move among the Great and Good will refuse that badge. Again, expect lots of Jesuitical explanations about how affirming and even advancing legal recognition of gay rights doesn’t at all entail rejecting the Church’s teaching about homosexuality.

3.   “Inclusion” is today’s shibboleth. It is used as a powerful incantation to cast out evil spirits, which today means any censure of homosexual acts. Expect to hear leaders of Catholic organizations use this incantation early and often: “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit of Inclusion.” 

4.   Pope Francis routinely denounces Catholic conservatives as small-minded and warns us not to “obsess” about things like homosexuality. However one reads the Pope’s intent in these and other statements, there can be no doubt they’re very handy instruments for justifying capitulation on gay marriage (and other issues that prevent Catholic organizations from being “mainstream.”) Expect many references to Pope Francis as Catholics in America adjust themselves to the new marriage regime. 

5.   Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the sheer incoherence of the liberalism will have its own momentum. I found myself wondering why Creighton (or Notre Dame) would limit benefits to married couples. As we all know, there’s a lot of family “diversity” out there. And we want to be “inclusive” and “respectful,” don’t we? Expect Catholic institutions to become increasingly entangled in the always-changing progressive principles of “inclusion.”

I find myself sighing, but not despairing. Cultural capitulation? That’s common in the history of the Church. The Song of Roland features an archbishop who slays Saracens with gusto, a clear indication that the Church made its peace with the warrior culture of Charlemagne’s day. The Church was bloated with wealth and run by Cardinal princes during the Renaissance. In the last century she accommodated herself to fascism and Nazism.

These capitulations have obscured the Gospel and wounded the Church. The same will be true of our accommodations of the sexual revolution that are now becoming more formal, more explicit, more damaging.

Contraception, sleeping around, co-habitation, and gay sex are done in private. By and large, over the last few decades the Church in the West has adopted a don’t ask/don’t tell policy. Marriage is different. It is by definition a public institution. You can protest that recognizing gay marriage does not mean approval, but actions have symbolic meaning whether we want them to or not.

I’m sure Pius XII would have denied that signing a Concordat with Hitler’s Germany meant he approved of Nazism. But it conferred legitimacy and dramatically undercut any basis within the Church for resistance. The same goes for the concordat many Catholic institutions are signing with gay marriage. It confers legitimacy on the sexual revolution and undercuts resistance.

I can understand why Pius XII sought the Concordat with Hitler. He hoped to secure a stable basis for the Church’s ministry in Germany. I can also understand why many Catholics (including, perhaps, Pope Francis) want to make their peace with the sexual revolution, putting “divisive” culture-war issues behind them so that they can go on with the work of the Gospel and so forth. Moreover, Hitler in 1933 didn’t look so bad—and respectable gay couples don’t seem a threat to marriage or anything else.

But Pius misjudged, as the horrors that followed made painfully evident. Our age is different. But I fear that when the full implications of the sexual revolution are manifest—calls for marriage equality will lead directly to calls for reproductive equality and a fundamental redefinition of the family—we’ll rue our concordat.

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things. He is the general editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and author of the volume on Genesis. His previous articles can be found here.

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