God's Law or Mans Law
A celebrity priest fired up Twitter today by endorsing same-sex “marriage” and by comparing a same-sex couple favorably to the Holy Family.
Let’s assume that the good father is not malicious but so poorly educated into reason and Church teaching that his embarrassing tweets make sense to him. Let’s pretend Fr. Sichko thinks he’s right.
To help educate the ignorant priest (and educating the ignorant is one of our Christian duties), I’ll pose some questions to Fr. Sichko and work out some possible answers.
First, the tweet that got even Dinesh D’Souza worked up:
2) Before we look down our noses at any family's composition we should remember that our own Holy Mother was illegally pregnant under the laws of her time and that didn't make her family any less holy. What makes a family holy is living out the Gospel messages of love and hope,
— Father Jim Sichko (@JimSichko) December 29, 2019
The key point Father seems to be making is that the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy was a violation of the law of the time.
Question 1: Can you cite any evidence that Roman or Jewish law of the time prohibited conception without sexual intercourse?
Question 2: Assuming you’re referring to laws against sex outside of sacramental marriage, do you believe that the Blessed Virgin engaged in premarital sex?
Question 3: Assuming you’re referring to being pregnant oustide of marriage, is it your understanding that Mary’s betrothal to Joseph did not consistitute a valid marriage under existing Judaic law?
Question 4: Regardless of the way in which you believe Mary violated the existing law, was that law, in your view, God’s law or man’s law?
4.a. If God’s law, then do you believe Mary became pregnant by an act of the Holy Spirit? And if so, were St. Gabriel the Archangel and the Holy Spirit co-conspirators in violating the Law of God?
4.b. If man’s law, then do believe man’s law trumps God’s law? Or do you believe that the Church has an obligation to change God’s law to conform with the laws of man?
My Answers #
Questions 1, 2, and 3 are tied together. Fr. Sichko asserts that Mary and Joseph broke the law. He did not specify whether they broke secular or moral law, so we first must assume he meant secular law. So, did Mary (and Joseph by association) break Roman law?
It’s hard to tell, but it seems unlikely. Rome was pretty lax when it came to sex. For example:
To be an ancient Roman male in good standing meant you initiated penetrating acts of sex. Whether you did this with a female or a male, slave or free, wife or prostitute, made little difference – as long as you were not on the receiving end, so to speak. Certain people were off-limits, though, and among them were free youths1.
Since, as Catholics, we believe the Virgin Mary was impregnated by an act of God, not man, even if Rome had laws against premarital sex, she was not in violation.
Next, let’s look at the prevailling Jewish law of the time. These seem most pertinent:
If a man marries a girl who is claimed to be a virgin, and then finds that she is not, “they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death” (Deut. 22:20) 2
If a man has relations within the walls of a city with a maiden who is betrothed, “you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death.” (Deut. 22:23) but if they were in the open fields, “the man alone shall die”, because if it was in the open fields, “though the betrothed maiden may have cried out for help, there was no one to come to her aid.” (Deut. 22:25-27)3
If the maiden in question is not betrothed, the punishment is different. “The man who had relations with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty silver shekels and take her as his wife, because he has deflowered her. Moreover, he may not divorce her as long as he lives.” (Deut. 22:29)4
None of these cases matches the case of the Virgin Mary, though the first is the closest.
Mary was betrothed to Joseph.
Joseph, for a time, believed her to be not a virgin, but
Joseph learned that she was, in fact, a virgin and kept her for his wife.
(Betrothal at the time meant marriage prior to consummation.5)
It seems, then, that Mary and Joseph were not in voliation of Jewish or Roman law at the time, even in the eyes of their neighbors. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, so it was Joseph was free to claim is marrital right. Upon learning that Mary was with child, he did not take her to her father’s house to be stoned, so everyone would logically assume the child was his. And Roman law didn’t care whether Joseph was betrothed to Mary or not. So long as she wasn’t a “free youth,” which she was not, Joseph did nothing wrong.
Now, we move onto question four: Did Mary and Joseph violate God’s law or man’s law?
As we’ve already seen, if Fr. Sichko was referring to man’s law, his tweet was just flat wrong. Neither Mary nor Joseph violated ancient Roman or Judaic law. Let’s, again, give the priest the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant God’s law.
Regarding part a, if Mary became pregnant through sex with a man other than Joseph, then everything about the Church is a lie. If, however, Mary violated God’s law by consenting to allow the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, then St. Gabriel, who arranged the tryst, and the Holy Spirit, who consummated the tryst, must have violated God’s law. Apparently, God had no idea this was happening. Again, though, for Mary’s pregnancy to be a violation of God’s law, then St. Gabriel and the Holy Spirit must have been guilty of something, too. Is Fr. Sichko accusing them?
The to part b. If Fr. Sichko accuses Mary of violating the law of man, then he seems to believe either man’s law trumps God’s law or that God’s law must conform to man’s law. How is this?
Because Fr. Sichko said in an earlier tweet that same-sex marriage are just as holy as the nuclear family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Unfortunately, Fr. Sichko deleted (or hid) that tweet before I could grab a picture. I’ll paraphrase as best I can.
Fr. Sichko wrote (more or less): There are many kinds of holy families, including same-sex families. When he later justified that assertion (that same-sex families are holy) by comparing them favorably to the Holy Family, he clearly placed man’s law above God’s law.
Same-sex “marriages” are legal in the United States but illegal according to the Law of God. Fr. Sichko seems to be implying that we must, therefore, change God’s law to conform to man’s law, as he finds man’s law on the matter superior.
Fr. Sichko’s attempt to equate same-sex unions, which, by their nature violate Church teach, with the Holy Family, he has created scandal. He must be rebuked, and he must recant. If he refuses, he must be canonically punished. At a minimum, his bishop should prohibit him from preaching, including on social media. And, since he seems to make a lot of money on books and lectures, maybe a kick in the wallet will inspire him to learn reason and Church teaching.
Fr. Sichko, I’d be happy to discuss in the comments below. Or, perhaps, we can debate this in-person when you come to O’Fallon, Missouri, in late January. I’m only 30 minutes away. See you there!
Gill, N.S. “Male Sexuality in Ancient Rome.” ThoughtCo, Feb. 13, 2019, thoughtco.com/standard-roman-sexuality-112735. ↩︎
Landsem, S. “Unwed and Pregnant in Ancient Israel?”, Dec. 6, 2013, stephanielandsem.com/2013/12/unwed-and-pregnant/ ↩︎
Jastrow, M. and Drachman, B. “Betrothal”, JewishEncyclopedia, jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3229-betrothal ↩︎