Not naming names, bishops denounce Biden over role in same-sex wedding

Four days after Vice President Joe Biden posted on social media a photo of himself officiating at a same-sex wedding, three U.S. bishops criticized “a prominent Catholic politician” for sowing confusion about Catholic teaching on marriage “and the corresponding moral obligations.” 

On Monday, Biden, a Catholic, posted to his Twitter account a photo of himself presiding at the wedding ceremony of Brian Mosteller and Joe Mashie, two longtime White House staff members and friends of the vice president.

On Friday afternoon a short post titled “Faithful Witness to Marriage” appeared on the website of the U.S. bishops’ conference blog that did not mention Biden by name but said:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

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The blog was written by Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Buffalo, N.Y., Bishop Richard Malone*, chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

They continued: “Pope Francis has been very clear in affirming the truth and constant teaching of the Church that same-sex relationships cannot be considered ‘in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ Laws that redefine marriage to deny its essential meaning are among those that Catholics must oppose, including in their application after they are passed. Such witness is always for the sake of the common good.”

Referencing Francis’ address to Congress last September, the bishops then quoted from their voter teaching guide “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” that “Catholic politicians in particular are called to ‘a heroic commitment’ on behalf of the common good and to ‘recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values and oppose laws and policies that violate [them].’”

They concluded by asking for prayers of Catholic leaders in public life, that they gracefully fulfill their responsibilities and “offer a faithful witness that will bring much needed light to the world.”

The U.S. bishops have been front and center in the country’s marriage debate in recent years as first state legislatures and then court decisions began overturning existing state laws that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. 

According to the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, 58 percent of U.S. Catholics support same-sex marriage -- up 15 percent since 2008 and behind only white mainline Protestants among religious communities. Overall, 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 37 percent oppose it.

Before the wedding Monday, Biden had never officiated at a wedding. NBC News Washington reported that Mosteller and Mashie asked Biden to officiate their wedding, and the vice president agreed and obtained temporary certification from the District of Columbia. The ceremony was held at the Naval Observatory, the official residence of the vice president.

Biden first made public his support of same-sex marriage in 2012.

The tweet, which as of Friday had garnered 49,000 retweets and 160,000 likes, particularly sparked uproar among pro-life Catholics. On Thursday the Lepanto Institute circulated an open letter it and leaders of other pro-life groups wrote to Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, asking whether the vice president excommunicated himself through his participation in the wedding.

On his blog Wednesday, canonist Edward Peters wrote that canon law does not include any rules that would excommunicate someone for officiating a same-sex wedding, but suggested canons exist that could be used to block the vice president from receiving the Eucharist.

*An earlier version of this story named Bishop Richard Malone as Robert Malone.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]


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