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Northwest Arkansas Catholics debate same-sex issue

Msgr. David LeSieur underscores Church's teaching on same-sex marriage at college

Published: May 2, 2014   
Alesia Schaefer
The Rev. Lowell Grisham and Msgr. David LeSieur listen to St. Vincent de Paul parishioner Karen Peters during a same-sex marriage symposium at the NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE — A Catholic pastor and one of his parishioners in Rogers debated two advocates for same-sex unions April 12 during a panel at the NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

Msgr. David LeSieur of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers and parishioner Karen Peters participated in the public forum that addressed some of the issues that surround the hot topic and supported the Church’s teaching on same-sex unions. The Rev. Lowell Grisham, rector at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, and Ray Jacobs, vice president of Northwest Arkansas Pride, the organization endorsing the event, spoke about their support of same-sex unions.

The symposium, sponsored by the NWACC Gay/Straight Alliance, was conducted with moderator, Terry Phillips, adjunct business instructor at NWACC. Questions presented to the panelists by Phillips and the audience touched on issues such as same-sex unions as a civil rights or majority rule issue and on societal repercussions should the Supreme Court ruling be upheld.

Although panelists articulated opposing views, Msgr. LeSieur called for respect in speaking with one another.

“This discussion is treading on holy ground,” Msgr. LeSieur emphasized, “but we are all friends here.”

Rev. Grisham, rector for 16 years, shared his perspective on growing up in the segregated South where the majority ruled.

“I see this as a civil and religious topic,” he said, referencing this movement as a similar continuum in history as when blacks were allowed to vote and called for a “recognition of God in the other.”

Jacobs, who was raised Catholic and married his partner more than six years ago in another state, believes marriage is a basic civil right and the definition of marriage has changed over time.

“This is not something the majority can vote on,” he said.

Msgr. LeSieur said he believes this topic should not to be entered into lightly. Even before the symposium, Msgr. LeSieur had been researching and studying the subject and wrote an article for his parish bulletin as part of a series addressing current issues in the Church.

“In the Christian tradition, marriage is understood as being instituted by God (Genesis 2:18), but it is a natural and not only a religious institution, whether the spouses believe in God or not. Marriage has always been the foundation upon which society is built; a man and a woman and the children they produce forming the nucleus of the human interaction we call society,” he said. “But to try to redefine that which is already natural and good for humanity could be to ‘sow the wind’ and ‘reap the whirlwind’ (Hosea 8:7), because marriage properly understood, though personal, has public significance. Human tribunals have no right to redefine a natural institution that is the basis of society.”

Although the legislatures of 17 states have legalized same-sex unions and have politicized the debate, Catholic clergy and leaders stand firm in the belief that same-sex unions should not to be compared with the institution of marriage.

“It is unjust to not draw a distinction between marriage and other forms of relationships,” said Father Jason Sharbaugh, associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Church. “It will weaken the very nature of marriage, harm the common good and destroy the liberty of those attempting to uphold the value and truth of the marital relationship of one man and one woman.”

Like the 50 individuals who attended the public forum, most Americans are divided on this issue.

Even Catholics find it confusing when trying to reconcile the “God is love” metaphysics with teachings of the Catholic Church.

“I think it is important to have these discussions,” said Deacon Ronnie Hoyt, who attended the three-hour symposium. “As Catholics, we need to understand what we believe and why we believe it.”

A poll released in February, commissioned by the U.S. Spanish language network Univision, of more than 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries revealed that two-thirds of Catholics agree with Church leaders on the subject of gay marriage. According to the poll, 40 percent of Catholics in the United States oppose gay marriage compared to 99 percent of Catholics in Africa. The poll also showed 66 percent of Catholics oppose same-sex unions, with majorities in eight of the 12 countries that were surveyed supporting the Church.

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