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The Last Word - September 2015

R*E*S*P*E*C*T:  Just a Little Bit

Think back with me about 10-15 years.  Maybe you remember Diversity Days.  These were days in schools and in businesses, in many places, which celebrated the diversity of our society and urged people to respect the differences which enrich the nation like the many colors of the rainbow.  Diversity Days could have a variety of emphases.  They might focus on race or language or culture.  They might urge acceptance of new immigrants to our cities and towns from Africa and Asia and Latin America.  Often enough, they made the news when they also urged respect for homosexual persons.

The Church that we call "Catholic," by definition, embraces diversity.  The word itself means "universal."  We are Catholics because we welcome and urge respect for all peoples of whatever race, whatever nationality, whatever language, whatever culture, whatever religion, whatever sexual orientation. During the often tense debates about so-called "gay rights" and "gay marriage," Church statements (and everything I preached or wrote) often quoted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it tells us that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."  Similarly, the Vatican letter to American bishops of June 1992 states, "Homosexual persons, as persons, have the same rights as all persons including that of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity."  This dignity springs from and is rooted in the fact that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

I don't hear much about diversity days lately.  Maybe they still happen, I am not sure.  But I would suggest the shoe may now be on the other foot as to who needs to make a claim to equal dignity and therefore equal respect.  My thought on this comes from what Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his dissenting opinion regarding the gay marriage case decided earlier this summer, in which the majority opinion declared that marriage must be extended to homosexual couples in all states.

Justice Alito wrote:  "The majority [opinion of the court] attempts... to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected.  We will soon see whether this proves to be true.  I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools."  Justice Alito goes on to say, "...the majority [opinion of the court] facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas.  Recalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turnabout is fair play.  But if that sentiment prevails, the Nation will experience bitter and lasting wounds."

I wonder if this is not the time for new diversity days which call for respect - just a little bit - for the dignity of a group not much considered in the former diversity days:  the Churches and individuals whose only offense is their traditional religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal