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Contra Tim Kaine’s Fantasy, the Catholic Church Isn’t Going to Change Its Teaching on Marriage

At last weekend’s Human Rights campaign national dinner, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine said he expects the Roman Catholic Church will change its centuries’-old understanding of marriage to include same-sex unions, in the same way that he himself did ten years ago.

Until 2005, Kaine was an opponent of legalizing same-sex marriage: “For a long time while I was battling for LGBT equality, I believed that marriage was something different.” But during Kaine’s stint as lieutenant governor of Virginia, when state lawmakers pushed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, pro-traditional-marriage arguments caused Kaine to pivot and support the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Kaine consistently describes himself as a “devout Catholic.” His pastor at a Catholic Church in Richmond agreed with this assessment, and the press often confers this label upon him as a matter of fact. Some commentators have branded him a “Pope Francis Catholic.”  Leaving aside the question — which I’ve considered previously at NRO – of whether one can be considered a “devout Catholic” while disagreeing with the Church on such fundamental issues as marriage and the right to life, consider Kaine’s blatant misunderstanding of his own faith when he asserts that the Church might alter its teaching on the nature of marriage. The very nature of Catholic teaching is precisely that it can’t “evolve,” but rather will remain unchanged despite the fluctuating winds of public opinion and policy.

Those who want Catholicism to join hand-in-hand with modernity in a long march toward “progress” might point to certain traditions that have changed during its 2,000-year history. What’s to stop its teachings on abortion and marriage from undergoing a similar change? Such an argument, however, ignores the distinction between a change in church culture and one in the “capital-T” Tradition of the Church, or its doctrines. Unlike, say, the U.S. Constitution, Catholic doctrine not only will not but cannot be altered​.

It’s one thing for Kaine to support the legalization of same-sex marriage and denigrate Trump for his supposed lack of concern for LGBT people — though this, too, might be worthy of scrutiny. It’s another for him to glibly predict the Catholic Church will soon change its doctrine to be in line with his own opinion, touting a false understanding of Catholic teaching to justify both his progressive stance and his devotion to the faith in doing so.

UPDATE: Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Catholic diocese of Richmond released a statement today reiterating the Church’s unchanging definition of marriage in the wake of Kaine’s comments. From the bishop’s statement:

More than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, and despite recent statements from the campaign trail, the Catholic Church’s 2000-year-old teaching to the truth about what constitutes marriage remains unchanged and resolute. As Catholics, we believe, all humans warrant dignity and deserve love and respect, and unjust discrimination is always wrong. Our understanding of marriage, however, is a matter of justice and fidelity to our Creator’s original design. Marriage is the only institution uniting one man and one woman with each other and with any child who comes from their union. Redefining marriage furthers no one’s rights, least of all those of children, who should not purposely be deprived of the right to be nurtured and loved by a mother and a father.

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