A Midpoint on the Way to a Solution

By Dennis Coday
National Catholic Reporter
August 1, 2003

In Minneapolis, more than 300 Episcopal bishops and 853 Episcopal lay and clergy delegates are meeting July 30 to Aug. 8 in their General Convention. A host of issues need addressing, but media attention has focused on one controversy in particular: whether to create liturgies to bless same-sex unions.

A significant contingent, with strong leadership support from parts of the developing world, is dead set against the move.

In his opening address, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold appealed for delegates to be led by the "diverse center" of the church and not "either extreme." A showdown seems imminent.

Pressure has been added by the secular world. Canada is debating legislation that would recognize same-sex unions. U.S. President George Bush even felt compelled to weigh in on the issue (coming down solidly for a traditional definition of marriage as between a man and woman).

As the Anglicans gathered in Minneapolis, the Vatican Thursday issued the document "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons." The 12-page statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemns attempts to legalize gay marriage, calling it an "immoral" threat to families and "harmful to the proper development of human society."

It also warns Catholic politicians that a vote in favor of same-sex marriage would be "gravely immoral."

This is shaping up to be a divisive issue that could further tear an already battered church. I'd like to suggest a middle ground that could calm the debate until it can be examined rationally and compassionately.

The sacramental solution I suggest draws on an ancient tradition within the church that allows individuals to live dedicated, consecrated lives not in marriage or religious life but in intimate union with the church.

The idea came to me as I reflected on an article in The Catholic Register, the official publication of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pa., about Dr. Catherine Shoemaker, a veterinarian for some 20 years, who took vows as a consecrated virgin on June 28 in Lorreto, Pa.

The Catholic Register quotes Shoemaker as saying she took the vows as a culmination of a search to express her deep attraction to prayer and the church.

"It was an attraction that grew without my even being aware of it," she said. At first she assumed she was being called to life with a religious community. But gradually "I came to discern that this was a different calling ... [to live a consecrated life] within the ordinary confines of everyday life."

According to the Web site of The United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, the Consecration of a Virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church. For laywoman, the rite fell into disuse beginning in the ninth century and was eventually practiced only by woman monastics. The rite for lay women "living in the world" was restored in 1970.

I would like to suggest this as a model for creating a church-sanctioned recognition of men and women who live in committed relationships with a same-sex partner.

Shoemaker is single and not a religious, but she is living a consecrated life and is a sign of the church in the world. Could we create a category that would recognize that people who live together in committed partnership can be a sign of the church in the world?

It seems to me that in today's world of casual sex and broken families that any two people who are determined to live a committed life together need as much encouragement and support as they can get.

The press of circumstances inside and outside the church is forcing us to confront this issue. Can we come together in Christian charity and calmness so that it can truly be discussed?

A Rite of Consecration for Committed Partners could give us that calm.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His e-mail address is


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