By Thomas M. Loarie

From The Front Lines Of The Culture War: Gaining Clarity On Catholic Leadership And Accountability

December 23, 2008
Column: CEO Learnings

As a foot soldier on the front lines for California’s “Yes on 8” campaign, I experienced the “culture wars” from the trenches. I want to share with you what I saw and experienced first-hand because I believe it affects all of us, wherever we live, whatever work we do. As you may remember, California’s Proposition 8 (Yes on 8 ) put the definition of marriage between a man and a woman into the state’s constitution.

For me, fighting for traditional marriage provided a moment of clarity regarding the battle underway for the soul of our country and ‘spiritual’ leadership. If I had any doubt before, I have none now. Fundamental truths relating to marriage, the nuclear family, children, human rights and religious liberties are under attack today… and are successfully being marginalized. Society is being edged away from the light and out into nothingness.

Moreover, an adherence to the current trends in “political correctness” has weakened our moral will to distinguish between right and wrong and has influenced us to “blend-in” and “go-along” with secular beliefs, some of which may be contrary to the truths and principles of our Faith. Some in leadership positions tell us to keep our views on morality private and to trust these same leaders with the soul of our country. Yet many of these leaders have already swallowed the first line of attack – “Nothing dangerous is happening here.”

The simplicity of truth

Marriage between a man and woman is the kind of fundamental truth that ought not to cause reasonable conflict; it is so simple and fundamental a truth that it cuts across religious and natural lines.  There are some loud opponents, however, who want it to be otherwise, who want to relegate the definition of marriage to the realm of “political correctness” and “private morality,”  as though it is some arbitrary decision not defined by nature, or the Magisterium, or even thousands of years of history!

As Archbishop George H. Niedererauer put it in his article “Moving Together,” which appeared in the Catholic San Francisco: “Marriage IS the ideal relationship between a man and a woman, in which, through their unique sexual complementarity, the spouses offer themselves to God as co-creators of new human persons, a father and a loving mother giving them life and enabling them to thrive in the family setting.”

As a lay Catholic and a leader, I was stunned each time I encountered a lack of leadership or clarity on this simple issue among those in Catholic leadership.  It made me realize a critical obligation that you and I have as lay Catholics to know, understand and stand up for the principles and teachings of our faith – in politics, in the workplace and even, sometimes, in our parishes!

The battle for the “Soul of Our Country” – not just one more political issue

Marriage and the family are the basic building blocks of human society, existing before government and not created by it.  California’s Proposition 8 was simple.  It was only fourteen words long, and yet it stood in defense of marriage, this longstanding institution, understood as the life-long relationship of a man and a woman ordered to the good of spouses and to the procreation and education of children.

Opponents to Proposition 8, which included California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown, and U.S. Senators Feinstein and Boxer, stated that advocates of traditional marriage were motivated by hatred, prejudice and bigotry against homosexuals, along with a determination to discriminate against them and deny them their civil rights. Marriage, as understood and protected for thousands of years, across all   cultures, was not worthy of a defense, according to these opponents to Prop 8, so hate had to be the motive. 

Advocates of traditional marriage must be culturally sensitive, the opponents claimed, and must forego a fundamental truth of nature and faith, upheld for centuries across all continents, across all religions!…“Whether you like it or not” according to San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsome.

The battle for spiritual leadership – Catholic leadership and accountability

There were many heroic efforts within the Church in the fight for marriage – by bishops, pastors, the Knights of Columbus, volunteers from, and local parishioners. Yet others within the Church chose to abdicate their responsibilities and ignored this leadership and teachable moment, despite full and clear directives and encouragement from the Vatican, the American Conference of Bishops and the California Conference of Bishops.

Some surprising examples of abdication included:

• There were a number of pastors throughout California who chose not to follow their Bishop’s personal request to become advocates for traditional marriage (Yes on Prop 8 ) and to provide support to parish volunteers. There was a continuum of responses from benign neglect to active resistance, including misstatements of the Church’s position.

• One pastor, for example, who has a history of complaining about Church leadership, took the position, despite his parish’s overall support of traditional marriage, that nothing should be done for fear that the few members of the parish who had homosexual family members would be offended.

Another pastor took it upon himself to make calls to other pastors suggesting they and their parishes avoid taking a vocal and visible stand for traditional marriage.

One pastoral council with whom I met chose not to be involved despite its bylaws stating they should be involved in matters of faith and morals. Essentially, Prop 8 was seen as a hot potato rather than as a fundamental truth. Several parish council members argued, incorrectly, that advocacy on this issue was illegal – a position they maintained even after information to the contrary was provided by the CCB and by the local Bishop.

And despite strong national and local leadership, some Knights of Columbus chapters and members, all of whom take an oath to support Church teaching, refused to help with local efforts supporting traditional marriage because they disagreed with the Church’s stand on the issue.

The role of the laity – serving as a light in the world

A fundamental tenet of our faith is traditional marriage, one that most outsiders to our faith understand. A simple “I am Catholic” was all I had to say for others to understand my position and my advocacy. There are no excuses for a Catholic, particularly one in a leadership capacity, to take a position other than “Yes on 8.”

Vatican II was very clear on the role of the clergy to form the laity to go out into the world as lights of Christ and to be the salt of the earth. It was also very clear that the laity serves in a collaborative role with the clergy. The clergy has the obligation to teach and we have the obligation to be formed so we can fulfill our collaborative role and evangelization roles faithfully.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing anymore but to be cast out and trodden on by men.” (Matthew 5:13)

Throughout my work on California’s “Yes on 8” (Yes to retain the traditional definition of marriage), I kept asking myself:  Where are those members of the clergy who have failed in their responsibility to teach, who have not formed the laity on tenets of our Catholic faith?  Why did they fail to teach or lead us?  Were they afraid? Were they acting on other agendas?  Or, perhaps, where they themselves ill-formed in the seminaries?  I do not know the answers to these questions.  But I do know that as lay collaborators, you and I need to ask these critical questions of our Catholic leadership in any battle so fundamental.  We need to know whether our leaders acted with benign neglect or with active resistance, and we need to hold our leaders accountable. We do have, as any businessman would express it, a “need to know.”

Ultimately, each of us will be held accountable for our role in defending fundamental truths as taught in sacred scripture and sacred tradition. The defense marriage is no exception. This institution, made a sacrament by Christ, is in need of defense and support today. It is not in need of being re-designed or re-configured. The battle for our culture – as exemplified in the battle to preserve the traditional meaning of the term marriage—is far from over.  This issue, the likewise fundamental issue of abortion, as well as our Church, and our society need for each one of us to become faithful and faith-filled servants in the battle today, not tomorrow. Be the light of Christ and the salt of the earth that you have been called to be!


View Articles Thomas M. Loarie is a popular host of The Mentors Radio Show, the founder and CEO of BryoLogyx Inc. (, and a seasoned corporate... MORE »