The Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality during Maine’s 2009 referendum has had a “devastating” effect on the church there.
That’s the opinion of a Maine parish administrator, and also of William H. Slavick, who penned an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald entitled, “The Maine Catholic Church doesn’t need to take another battering.” Slavick, a veteran church reformer and peace activist who ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, points out that the hierarchy’s supposed “victory” has been a decisive defeat on the pastoral level, with financial consequences, too:
“Recently, a parish cluster administrator acknowledged that the referendum repeal campaign was, for the church in Maine, ‘devastating.’ No explanation was necessary. We know. The lack of charity occasioned wide discomfort. Some left, often among the better educated and more generous. More stopped attending Mass after weeks of campaign bullying. With $200,000 of diocesan referendum contributions unexplained, many refused to make contributions from which the bishop received a cut. That includes the Sunday offertory collection.”
Slavick’s concern is timely because supporters of marriage equality have gathered enough signatures to stage another referendum on the issue in November, so a new struggle is very near. Details about the referendum can be read in an article, “It’s on: Same-sex marriage supporters give it another try,” from Maine’s Sun Journal.
Lest you be inclined to think that Slavick’s worries might be isolated to his corner in Maine, allow me to relate what I learned from a California friend this past summer. While visiting Los Angeles, I chatted with a friend involved in Catholic LGBT ministry there. When I asked how his parish’s thriving LGBT outreach was going, he said it had closed. Why? Because the hierarchy’s strong rhetoric in the Proposition 8 campaign there in 2008 drove away the LGBT Catholics who had found a home in the parish.
Similarly in the heat of the New York debate about marriage equality in June, 2011, J. Peter Nixon wrote a blog post on dotCommonweal in which he counseled bishops: “Don’t lose ugly.”
“The bottom line is that opponents of gay marriage—among whom I would include the U.S. bishops—are going to lose this fight. They may win this year and perhaps even the next few years. But judging from the polling data I’ve seen, their ultimate defeat is as certain as the passage of time. . . .
“There’s losing, though, and then there’s losing ugly. The way in which the Catholic Church loses this particular campaign will have an impact on its ability to communicate the Gospel to younger Catholics, to say nothing of the broader culture.”
One of those younger Catholics, Michael O’Loughlin, a blogger for America, offered similar advice in an article on HuffingtonPost.com, “Relationships and the Church: How to Create a Welcoming Catholicism.” O’Loughlin offered a plan for the future that has already passed the test of time:
“What is the antidote to this institutional downward spiral, where the church is viewed not as the defender of the weak and vulnerable, but as the enforcer of an antiquated morality? The hope lies in the truth that relationships hold unparalleled power in helping individuals find self-acceptance through God’s radically unconditional love. For every rigid religious doctrinaire, there are scores of individuals, lay and ordained, and even some Catholic bishops, who strive daily to protect and care for those who hurt. Relationships have the power to transform how people relate to the church. Those who long for an inclusive and loving church, to witness prophetically with the hopes of a constructing peaceful and just world, can realize this goal through the power of their relationships. These relationships need not be filled with heroic acts. Rather, simple, kind words and gestures, especially from a friend or pastor, do much to combat the harmful words hurled from the powerful.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry