It's good that the Pope has reaffirmed Catholic moral teaching against the latest progressive assault. His opposition to homosexual marriage will win him the criticism of all his usual enemies. Dignity USA has already complained that the declaration was "intended to intimidate public officials across the globe." Such comments are themselves intended to intimidate, of course.

The insinuation is that anyone who refuses to be up to date proves himself to be a reactionary. But it is not desirable for the Church to keep up with the latest intellectual fashions, any more than it is appropriate for people of mature years to wear the latest styles. They merely look ridiculous when they succumb to the temptation.

Conservatives are relieved that the Vatican has issued this latest statement, calling homosexual marriage "evil," and "contrary to the moral law." The need for such a document, released by Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, itself shows how aggressive the homosexual campaign has become in recent years. Until a few years ago, gay marriage was not even considered possible. Marriage was something that necessarily involved both sexes. And the idea that the U.S. Constitution might have to be amended to re-establish that elementary point would have been considered very strange indeed by the founding fathers. That shows how far we are from living in a "conservative era," as the liberals like to insist that we are. On the contrary, we live in a time when the traditional moral teachings of Christianity are under continuous and relentless attack.

The new document, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," contains little if anything that is not already contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism itself is quoted, as saying that homosexual acts "close the sexual act to the gift of life." The document implies that legal recognition will undermine the institution of marriage. "One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws, and as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application."

Two further considerations come to mind. The first is that in recent decades the institutional hierarchy of the Church has at times made its own contribution to the weakening of marriage. I am thinking of its liberal policies with regard to annulment. The ease with which such annulments have been obtained have at times given scandal. The occasionally indulgent attitude toward failed marriages has given the impression that Christ's stern words about the indissolubility of marriage can be revoked if you know the right people or have friends in high places.

The second consideration is that, by many accounts, the Church has a serious problem of homosexual priests within the Church. They are not seeking to marry, nor are they even out of the closet, yet. But they undoubtedly have played a major role in undermining the Church's teaching on sexual morality.

There have also been homosexual bishops, who have "enabled" the recent pedophilia scandals within the Church. By some accounts, covert homosexuals within the priesthood are so numerous that the Vatican has been unwilling to say anything very definite or unambiguous on the subject, for fear of a mass exodus. A year ago, it was reported that such a document was forthcoming from the Vatican, but more recently there have been rumors of a compromise, and to date nothing has seen the light of day.

With the new Considerations on homosexual marriage, are we seeing the beginning of a crackdown or something very different? It could be the outline of an incipient Vatican compromise: vigorous opposition to gay marriage, along with continued muddle and confusion on gay priests. Notice that politically, a crackdown on gay marriage is not a very difficult decision. For one thing, it is an issue that is easily understood. The great majority of people all over the world will agree with Ratzinger and the Pope on this one. On the other hand, the problem posed by closeted homosexuals within the hierarchy itself will be tougher to deal with. Will that nettle be grasped firmly, or not at all?

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