Pastoral Letter Regarding U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Obergefell vs Hodges Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Dear Friends in Christ,

Christ teaches us that we are always to love God and our neighbor. Our neighbors include every human person. Each human person is created in the image and likeness of God thereby establishing his or her basic human dignity. Thus, the manner in which we treat our neighbor is the manner in which we treat God. It is always wrong and sinful to deny deliberately any human being the basic rights inherent in their dignity as human persons. These rights have correlative responsibilities that connect us with each other as members of our common home. Such rights include the fundamental right to life, the right to basic health care, the right to an education required for participation in society, the right to own property as a contributor and participant in the common good of society, the right to exercise and to express one's religious faith, and the right to act in accord with one's well-formed conscience. These rights inherent in human nature and their accompanying responsibilities are known to us both through our faith and also through our natural reason.

In an attempt to redress real incidents of "animus" against homosexual persons' legitimate human rights to participation within society, the Supreme Court of the United States has articulated an attempted redefinition of marriage in its 5-4 majority decision in the case Obergefell vs. Hodges. The Court has done so based upon the "right to privacy," based in autonomy (self-law) and not in human nature.

This principle of autonomy, steeped in individualism, prevents us from grasping our natural connectedness to other persons in our common human nature including its distinctions of masculinity and femininity. As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si, "valuing one's own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it."

The majority decision of the Supreme Court states that "the nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two people together can find other freedoms, in particular, the freedom of expression, privacy, and spirituality, regardless of their orientation." This statement within the majority decision introduces into law, without rational justification, a new and convenient definition of marriage as being ancillary to such relativistic and narrative-driven freedoms as expression, privacy, and spirituality.

This new definition ignores the essential qualities of marriage as indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to the natural transmission of human life through the procreative act shared by a husband and a wife. In so doing, the decision formally, socially, and legally changes our understanding of what objectively constitutes a marriage more than simply by allowing gay people access to the social good of a marital relationship. The decision more directly changes "opposite-sex" marriage from possessing objective qualities to simply being a means to finding other freedoms like expression, privacy, and spirituality in the name of "marriage equality." Thus, the decision's stated attempt to redress the injustices against homosexual people is ineffective.

The legal ramifications of the decision will offer us challenges to our religious liberty and to the moral and social equilibrium of our families. These are challenges that we can and will face within the Church and in our society with confidence in God's love for each and every human being. Yet, the decision will not change what the Church knows and teaches to constitute a marriage nor will it force us to celebrate ceremonies for same-sex couples. We must be humbly faithful to the Truth in Charity without fear to exercise our religious liberty in our public ministries and institutions.

I close this letter with a call for prayer for all who are affected by this decision. I ask for prayer for all of those homosexual people who have been hurt through actions of disrespect and even violence throughout our history and in current times. They are created in God's image and likeness and deserve respect and love. They are our brothers and sisters. They are members of our families. They are good friends, and baptized members of the Church. They share our common call to holiness and virtue including chastity. They have responsibilities to the common good. I ask that we pray for the wisdom to articulate the understanding of marriage's true nature with greater clarity as well as with stronger certitude. I ask that we pray for strength and perseverance for our Catholic married couples, that they might witness more clearly to their marital vocation by joyfully and gratefully living their promises of indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to God's gift of children. Their marital vocation is a sign of hope and confidence in Christ's unconditional love for His Bride the Church. Finally, I ask that we pray for docility and patience with each other in listening for the authentic voice of God as expressed through the Gospel and the teaching office of the Church. With prayers for peace and your happiness I remain.

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

+ Most Rev. Michael F. Olson, STD
Bishop of Fort Worth

Bishop Michael Olson on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si

Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato Si can be read here:

The original response paper written by Bishop Michael Olson can be found here:

"In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis we read how God created the heavens and the earth; God created man and woman in His image and likeness -- to whom He entrusted the fruits of the earth to sustain life.

In his Encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis appeals to all men and women of good will to exercise our God-given responsibility for stewardship of all creation. The Holy Father reminds us that selfishness regarding the resources of creation will jeopardize our common human prosperity and threaten us with moral and social calamity in the 21st Century.

Pope Francis explains in his encyclical that human ecology and natural ecology form an integral ecology. As the Pope told the European Parliament last year, “Respect for nature calls for recognizing that man himself is a fundamental part of it.” In so doing, the Holy Father eschews the relativism of so much of contemporary theory by appealing to one of the last vestiges of moral absolutes held by popular opinion, that is, respect for the environment.

Today, people of the world relate more easily to one another no matter where we live. We also relate to the environment around us, integrally woven by God into the fabric of our lives, affecting each and every living creature including other human beings. If we damage or destroy the environment, the Creation that God gave to us, we damage or destroy human beings. God intended for us to use His creation for the common good of each and every human person in order for each of us to flourish in the global society.

Pope Francis has explained that Creation is not a “property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all,” in short, for the common good of all. Personal property rights are essential for the common good and toward a just stewardship of Creation; these property rights are measured by correlative responsibilities for a just order within society. In other words, to separate creation from its relationship to God and to human beings is to reduce creation to the raw matter of consumerism and to exploit families and human communities as objects of an unbridled free market. Such actions have always been considered to be sinful because they show ingratitude toward God and sin violently through acts of commission or omission against our neighbors in the human community.

Through the Encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis, continuing in line with the teaching tradition of his most recent predecessors Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, warns that our self-centered culture promotes greed and wastefulness, whether it’s an inordinate desire to drive a new car or to eat or to dress extravagantly.

Pope Francis particularly warns us of the evil of our “Throw Away Culture.” The advancements of modern civilization, unhinged from such moral absolutes as human dignity, have created a culture where all is to be treated as disposable. This approach especially assaults the dignity of the weakest and most vulnerable of human beings within our worldwide community: including the poor, the sick, and the unborn. The Pope has said that in this culture, “Human beings are themselves considered to be consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”

Laudato Si calls on us to be responsible for God’s Creation, the planet on which we live, because what we do affects other people within what the Pope calls our “common home.” It means that the natural ecology and the human ecology are so united that one affects the other. It means that we must nurture and protect our environment as grateful stewards of what God has entrusted to us. It means that to do so is to act in a way in which we care for the least and weakest of our brothers and sisters among us."