What Did the Bishop Do in Maine? Depends on Which News Source You Follow

Bishop Richard Malone

What the Catholic bishop in Maine announced this weekend depends upon which headline you read.

The Kennebec Journal headline read: Maine Diocese says it won’t campaign against gay marriage.

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network heralded: Maine Catholic Bishop Rallies Parishioners to Fight Gay Marriage Measure

Lewiston’s Sun Journal noted: Portland bishop says Catholic Church won’t actively campaign against gay marriage

The Portland Daily Sun stated: Catholic diocese plans educational outreach on traditional marriage.

And across the border in Canada, The Winnipeg Free Press announced: Maine’s Catholic church changes focus in expected gay marriage campaign.

What we do know for a fact is that this past weekend, Bishop Richard Malone of Portland issued a pastoral letter entitled “Marriage  yesterday. . .today. . .and always.”  The varying headlines reveal a difference in interpretation of what the significance of this letter is at this point in the debate about the state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality.

According to The Kennebec Journal, this news signals that the diocese will stay out of the political debate:

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine will take no active role in a political campaign against a same-sex marriage referendum that’s expected to be on the November ballot, Bishop Richard Malone announced today.

“Instead, the diocese is expanding an existing educational program to better inform church members about the qualities and benefits of marriage between one man and one woman.

“Malone issued a pastoral letter on marriage today that will be used extensively to teach 185,000 Roman Catholics in Maine about the gift of traditional marriage and the need to preserve it as it is.

” ‘We are going to ask them to reconsider their understanding of what marriage is,’ Malone said during a news conference this afternoon.

“Malone said he and other church leaders ‘haven’t done a good job’ providing this type instruction to its members in the past, so many Catholics aren’t informed about the ‘true nature of marriage.’ “

But for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, this letter, is in fact, an involvement in the political debate:

“With another expected gay marriage referendum this November, Maine’s leading Roman Catholic today urged his fellow parishioners to get on board with the Church’s message on marriage. Bishop Richard Malone heads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which represents the state’s estimated 185,000 Catholics. He held a news conference in Portland this afternoon to announce the release of what’s known as a pastoral letter.

” ‘A pastoral letter, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, is a fairly infrequent document from a bishop, a teaching document,’ Malone says. He says in his eight years as bishop in Maine, he has written only three pastoral letters. ‘A pastoral letter examines an issue of importance for the purpose of teaching. And teaching, education, is going to be the main thrust of what our approach to this challenge will be this time around.’

“Malone is referring to an expected statewide referendum on same-sex marriage this coming November. State officials last week verified that gay marriage advocates had turned in enough valid signatures to place the issue on the ballot.”

Lewiston’s Sun Journal takes a middle road, acknowledging that the letter is part of the campaign,against marriage equality, but just not an active part:

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland will not actively campaign against a statewide referendum seeking to legalize same-sex marriage, but instead will focus on teaching parishioners about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the bishop announced Friday.

“Bishop Richard Malone unveiled a 22-page pastoral letter titled “Marriage: yesterday . . . today . . . always” at a press conference at the Chancery in Portland. Malone said he wrote it to explain the church’s position on marriage. The document will be discussed at Catholic churches and schools and through the diocesan magazine and radio station.

“ ‘What they are doing is appropriate,’ David Farmer, spokesman for the Freedom to Marry Coalition, which supports the legalization of same-sex marriage, said in response to the bishop’s announcement. ‘That’s what they should do.’

“Malone said the letter will be the heart of the church’s response to gay marriage supporters.

The Portland Daily Sun reporter seemed fairly confident in categorizing the pastoral letter as educational, not pastoral, in part because the bishop announced that this time the diocese will not be making any donations to the anti-marriage equality effort:

” ‘We’re not calling this a campaign,’ said Bishop Richard Malone during a news conference. ‘This is really an exercise of the Bishop’s teaching responsibility, that’s how we’re looking at it. We’re not, for example, going to be putting money into television commercials. I am not going to take up a special collection. . . .

” ‘We as a diocese will not be making donations to the campaign,’ Malone said.

” ‘Our effort this time is going to be solidly, squarely educational,’ said Malone, who heads up a diocese with 57 parishes and nearly 4,000 students. . . .

“The Christian Civic League will head up the political effort to stop gay marriage in Maine, according to Brian Souchet, director of the diocese’s Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

” ‘The Roman Catholic diocese will not be part of that effort on an official basis,’ he said. ‘Certainly we share a common goal, insomuch as we’d like to see marriage preserved; this particular effort extends beyond the November referendum,’ Souchet said of the pastoral letter. ‘Even if there were no referendum in November, we’d be here with this document,’ he said.”

The Winnipeg Free Press story seemed to have played it the safest, not seeking to categorize what the effort should be called, but simply noting that it was a change from what happened in 2009:

“The Catholic diocese’s role is in contrast to 2009, when the legislature legalized same-sex marriage and voters later overturned the law. That year, the church took up special collections during services and asked for contributions from other dioceses to help fund the campaign against gay marriage. A top church official took a leave of absence from the diocese to serve as campaign chairman for a group that led the fight against legalizing gay marriage.”

The wide differences in the way this news was reported could reflect a range of political opinions in Maine on the question of marriage equality, with each news source trying to “spin” the news of this pastoral in their direction.

The decision by the bishop not to provide funding to the anti-marriage equality campaign and not to be prominent agent this time around may reflect the fact that their active agent last time ended up alienating so many Catholics who supported marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.(Bondings 2.0 reported on an op-ed by Bill Slavick which analyzed this latter argument. You can read the op-ed here. You read our post, which summarizes the original article,here.)

It seems to me that the timing of the pastoral’s release as the referendum debate is beginning indicates that the document is clearly intended to influence how people will vote.  The fact that the diocese will not be spending any additional money on the anti-marriage equality campaign is a hopeful sign that the hierarchy may be realizing it is neither effective, nor their role to take such an invested part in the struggle against these initiatives.

What do you think ?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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13 Responses to What Did the Bishop Do in Maine? Depends on Which News Source You Follow

  1. While we all may prefer to see the Catholic Church progress to the point of being supportive and accepting of equal access to marriage, we should recognize that, in an organization around 2000 years old, change comes slowly. It is the Church’s right to preach what it chooses to parishioners, but this may signal a movement away from active, financial involvement in the civil discourse on marriage equality. One can hope that marriage equality will soon join issues like contraception and marriage after divorce — issues that the Church opposes, but as a life-long, Mass-attending Catholic, I have heard mentioned from the pulpit in only very, very few occasions.

    The Church will change, through prayer and dialogue. This small step may be an indication that the Church is reluctantly ready for the journey.

  2. For years, I have made sure that no portion of my contributions to my parish make it to the archdiocese because I have no control over how the diocese spends. As a matter of conscience, I cannot contribute to the diocese if they might use that money to support anti-equality efforts. While I am encouraged that Bishop Malone has decided not to use diocesan funds to fight marriage equality, it is unfortunate that Malone and his fellow bishops make no effort to pastorally acknowledge the relationships of same sex couples. He finds it appropriate to write a 22 page letter about the “gift of traditional marriage”, but not one single page or paragraph acknowledging the gifts of same sex relationships? His “pastoral” letter therefore is incomplete, and entirely disregards the gifts of love, joy, support, companionship, and completeness experienced by our LGBT brothers and sisteres in relationships.

  3. Ned Flaherty says:

    Better insight is had from the Bilerico Project (http://www.bilerico.com/2012/03/catholic_church_withdraws_from_maine_marriage_equa.php).

    The Catholic church still sells its fraudulent and dangerous “ex-gay” therapy, in which it claims will “cure” patients of whatever sexual orientation they were born with, using a medieval mix of hope, prayer, apparel, and life-long celibacy.

    The church doesn’t care about the high sucicide rates associated with this treatment, or the fact that it has been discredited by every professional medical/mental health association.

    Even as the Church ceases imposing its unhealthy dogma on innocent non-Catholics, it is stepping up the damage to captive Catholics themselves.

    • Teresa Hastings says:

      I agree. I used to think like a “good, obedient Catholic” until my sister saved me from being a blind zombie. Thank God and thank my sister! Because I was able to see the truth, I know there are other people who will come to realize that our LGBT brothers and sisters are part of our family; to be embraced, appreciated, and loved for who they are. My life is more enriched because of the friends I have in the LGBT community. I’m so thankful!

  4. Amadeus says:

    Ned, there are several inaccuracies in the column you posted for the Bilerico Project.
    Courage is also NOT a ‘reparative therapy’ as he claims. It is the Diocese of Portland, not the Diocese of Maine.
    You also state that, “Such changes are not made independently, and are always coordinated with higher church officials.” Not true as the local ordinary/bishop is the sole authority in charge of his diocese. It does not matter what the other bishops say, a local bishop is free to do as he chooses in his own diocese.

    • Ned Flaherty says:

      The anonymous “Amadeus” doubts the diocese name, questions the organizational hierarchy, and is unaware that the Roman Catholic church approves, endorses, and administers reparative (“ex-gay”) therapy. He is incorrect, as explained below.

      DIOCESE. The diocese that was first established in 1853 today is a corporation sole carrying the business name “Diocese of Portland,” but the effective physical diocese represents the entire geographical state of Maine. As such, it is not incorrect to call the Diocese of Portland the Maine Diocese or the Diocese of Maine.

      HIERARCHY. While it’s true that a local bishop is the most senior official within his own diocese, diocesan bishops report in a strict hierarchy to archbishops, cardinals, and the Pope, none of whom consider local bishops to be “free to do as they choose.” This lack of independence is especially true for decisions having great economic, political, and cultural impact, such as last Friday’s decision to cease the years-long effort to turn Catholic doctrine into civil law affecting all citizens of Maine.

      REPARATIVE THERAPY. The article does not state that Courage is itself a therapy; it states that Courage is an organization. In particular, the membership organization Courage International (including its Spanish language branch, Courage Latino) is an approved apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church, it is endorsed by the central governing officials of the Roman Curia, it is recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and it is funded by the Archdiocese of New York.

      Of the five sexual orientations — lesbianism, bisexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, asexuality — the Pope insists that persons with any of the first three orientations are intrinsically disordered, and the Church views such disorders as illness (even though modern health science never classifies a sexual orientation as an illness, so there is no such diagnosis). In concert with the Pope’s insistence and the Church’s view, Courage sees LGBT people as ill, and Courage’s own Handbook equates that illness to insanity. Even though members’ “illnesses” are undiagnosed, Courage sees them as curable. Courage also supports those who seek to change their sexual orientation, despite the fact that every mental/medical health professional organization has discredited such efforts as junk science, consumer fraud, and malpractice. Courage’s views of sexual orientation as a curable illness are the basis for the unproven, unaccredited, unregulated, unlicensed, and uninsurable practices commonly known as “reparative therapy” and “ex-gay therapy.”

      Even though all scientific evidence indicates that orientation is fixed prior to birth, and there is no scientific evidence that any of the five sexual orientations can be switched, Courage’s first attempt at a cure is to have patients either believe — or at least pretend — that they are heterosexual. When the patient’s believing/pretending efforts ultimately fail, Courage’s second attempt at a cure is via lifelong celibacy. Although freely chosen celibacy may be healthy for asexual people, it is not healthy for people with other orientations, especially when celibacy is a last resort, and desperately imposed because of ostracism, shame, guilt, fear, intimidation or coercion brought on by religious sect superstition.

      IN SUMMARY, then, the Courage organization is approved, endorsed, and funded by the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope, the Church, and Courage all view LGBT people as ill and curable. When pretending to be heterosexual ultimately fails, Courage members next are encouraged to attempt life-long celibacy. Such treatments, commonly called “reparative therapy” and “ex-gay therapy,” are unproven, unaccredited, unregulated, unlicensed, and uninsured because they are based on junk science, selling them is consumer fraud, and using them constitutes medical/mental malpractice.

  5. [...] by taking a less activist approach to the state’s upcoming marriage equality referendum.  In the past week, the Maine prelate released a pastoral letter on traditional heterosexual marriage, and announced [...]

  6. [...] by taking a less activist approach to the state’s upcoming marriage equality referendum.  In the past week, the Maine prelate released a pastoral letter on traditional heterosexual marriage, and announced [...]

  7. [...] equality.  For links to stories on that decision, check out Bondings 2.0′s blog posts here and here and [...]

  8. [...] marriage supporters in Maine are trying again this year to legalize gay marriage, and last month church leaders in that state announced they would not actively campaign against the measure, but would instead educate its members on the [...]

  9. [...] as a stopgap measure to prevent marriage equality).  Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, announced that the diocese would not take an active role in opposing the state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality, as it had in 2009. In Italy, [...]

  10. [...] Earlier this year, Bishop Richard Malone of the Catholic diocese of Portland, Maine (which includes the entire state), said that the diocese would not be taking an active part in the referendum campaign this year, as they had in 2009 when the issue was last on the ballot.  By not participating in the fundraising effort, Bishop Malone is keeping true to his word. [...]

  11. [...] Earlier this year, Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, announced that the diocese would not take an active political role in the campaign to defeat the marriage equality referendum that state voters will decide in November. [...]

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