Midwest Bishops’ Political Letters Cite Marriage Equality as a Litmus Test Issue

October 31, 2012

Bishop David Ricken

Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Green Bay received a letter last week from their bishop, David Ricken, warning them against voting for positions he claims are “intrinsically evil.” The letter included five non-negotiable issues, including what Ricken referred to as “homosexual ‘marriage,’” that made candidates ineligible for Catholics voters. TheNorthwestern.com reports Ricken also told those in his diocese voting for candidates who support those five issues would make them complicit and jeopardize their souls.

Bishop David Kagan

After a similar letter was released by Bishop David Kagan of the Diocese of Bismarck claiming Catholics could not vote for anyone supportive of marriage equality, North Dakotan Catholics reacted against what they saw as electioneering. National Catholic Reporter reports that Tim Mathern, a state senator from Fargo, replied to the bishop’s letter by emphasizing the primacy of conscience in Catholic morality and the by questioning the Church’s tax-exempt status if bishops engage in explicit partisanship. Mathern writes:

“To direct parishioners toward or away from one particular political party is a misuse of faith and trust. Sitting in the pews, parishioners have every reason to expect that the message will be relevant to current events and issues of conscience. However, endorsement of a political candidate, either by inference or direct statement, serves to disenfranchise, discourage, and even,to some, harm. Such an act bends religious faith toward service of a political party.”

With Catholics playing central roles in political races from presidential down to ballot questions, the bishops continued partisanship, including against marriage equality, will continue to divide Catholics nationwide.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Prayerful Vigils and Reflections Highlight Lead Up to Election Day in Washington State

October 31, 2012

Prayerful vigil participants outside St. James Cathedral, Seattle.

In Washington State, Catholics who support marriage equality have marked the final push towards their Election Day referendum with prayerful vigils and spirited reflections.

120 Catholics gathered outside Seattle’s St. James Cathedral last Sunday to pray, sing, and reflect on their commitment to supporting marriage equality.  Organized by Catholics for Marriage Equality Washington, the vigilers prayed for the passage of their state’s referendum which would legalize marriage equality there.

In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, two of the participants offered their reflections:

Robert Gavino, 19, a Seattle University student: “I would just say the God I have come to know is not one to tell people they are not equal.”

Robert Gavino prays at vigil.

John House, a parishoner at Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Snoqualmie:  “Catholics believe Christ’s primary message is one of love, and Catholic social teaching teaches us that God loves everybody.  We are standing up for centuries of Catholic social teaching.”

State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a Catholic, gay lawmaker who was chief sponsor of marriage equality in the legislature: “I think any time we show solidarity with those on the margins of our society, it is an expression of our faith,” said Murray.  “We (gays) are certainly on the margins . . . at least in the hierarchy’s structure.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and an alumnus of Georgetown University, spoke of his Catholic education:  “Nowhere, ever, did it tell me to oppose a right that I might have.  Or to support discrimination against my brothers and sisters.”

On the same day, in Yakima, Washington, the central part of the state,  Catholics  for Marriage Equality Washington also gathered Catholicsfor a candlelight vigil to “to express disagreement with the role the Catholic Diocese of Yakima has taken in opposing Referendum 74 affirming same-sex marriage, ” according to a news story in the Yakima Herald-Republic. 

One of the organizers of the event explained its origin:

“Leo Kucek, who attends Sacred Heart Parish in Prosser, is one of the organizers of the candlelight vigil. He said many Catholics were upset last month when Bishop Joseph Tyson requested that all 41 parishes in the Yakima Diocese conduct a special financial appeal during Mass. Money collected went to Preserve Marriage Washington, a statewide group seeking to defeat Referendum 74. . .

“Kucek said, ‘When a church starts acting as an arm of a political campaign, collecting money during a sacred Mass, that’s a slippery slope.’ “

A Catholic for Marriage Equality vigil participant.

In addition to these two events, two opinion pieces have recently been published by Catholics working for marriage equality in that state.

In the first piece, which appeared in The Seattle Lesbian, John Moreland,  a lifelong Catholic, married 46 years with four children and three grandchildren, refutes the notion that same-sex marriage will be promoted in schools:

“Through the Washington State Catholic Conference, the bishops argue that all schools will have to promote same-sex marriage as equal to heterosexual marriage.   This is false.   The bishops apparently are following the kind of memos put out by national right-wing extremist groups whose research shows that their strongest campaign weapon is fear.  These groups target mothers of school-age children, whose legitimate concern is for their kids. They try to manipulate them by claiming that their children will be exposed to some kind of unhealthy sexual curriculum if marriage equality passes.

“The fact is there is NO curriculum in Washington State public schools promoting one kind of family over any other. In all schools, there are children of biological parents and adopted children. There are children of same-sex couples and children of single mothers and fathers.  There are children raised by grandparents and children raised by foster parents.  There are all manner of blended families.  It is discriminatory in public schools NOW to promote one kind of family over another.  All children deserve to be treated equally and with dignity.

“Private schools, including Catholic schools, can teach whatever they want about marriage and families.  With the passage of Referendum 74, nothing will change. The bishops will continue to allow and encourage Catholic schools to teach Church doctrine about families and marriage. I believe that treating and loving our neighbor as ourselves is a good place to start.”

The second essay was penned by Chase Nordengren, a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle who has been working on the referendum campaign.  His essay, which appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, is a philosophical/theological reflection on courage vs. fear:

“Central to the life of Christians, writes Paul Tillich, is ‘the courage to be,’ one’s willingness to affirm one’s essential nature regardless of, at times despite, social forces that reject that nature. The radical idea of faith, Tillich argues, rests in the practice of this essential skill, the skill to affirm all the parts of our identities God brought into being.

“Much of Tillich’s work centers on courage’s opposite — anxiety. Anxiety has no object, no focus: “therefore participation, struggle and love with respect to it are impossible.” Anxiety is that which cripples our action.

“Fortunately, Tillich writes, anxiety aspires to a different emotion: fear. Fear seems debilitating but, paradoxically, it exists only in a place where one is self-affirming, when one has something to lose and something to be afraid of. “The self is self only because it has a world, a structured universe, to which it belongs and from which it is separated at the same time.” Courage is acting with knowledge of fear, overcoming fear.

“Veterans of the gay rights movement that I have met have much to be fearful of: hateful speech, violence and denial of some of the qualities of a decent and free life. Their perseverance is a sign, to me at least, that fear has led to courage. The desire to affirm who one is, to be proud, to truly enter into community with an open heart pushes them onward.”

Nordengren then applies the concept of courage to the situation of marriage, particularly same-sex marriage:

Marriage, too, is an act of courage, the faith in something that transcends ordinary experience. Growing in faith, growing in the courage to be, requires being part of a structured universe. It requires a world in which one is both part — as in, part of the community of the committed — and not a part — as in, committed to someone else on a level all that much deeper. Making that courageous choice requires, demands our respect. It also demands our recognition.

“Same-sex marriage is, and will continue to be, an issue that deeply divides the Christian community. I pray earnestly for the days when that divide closes. In the interim, however, the God of our faith asks us to stand with our brothers and sisters as they make the big leaps in their lives or, at the very least, step aside. As our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters continue on the journey of their lives, removing the legal barriers to their next step is not only an act of love, but also an act of affirming faith.”

Along with Nordengren, Moreland, and all of Washington’s Catholics for Marriage Equality, we at New Ways Ministry, also pray for this same kind of courage for ourselves and all Catholics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Maine Catholics Urge Others to Vote Their Consciences on Marriage Equality Referendum

October 30, 2012

As we come into the final week before Election Day, Catholics in Maine are becoming more public about their support for the state’s referendum to legalize marriage equality, while the Catholic bishop there is becoming more vocal about his opposition.

Catholics for Marriage Equality, the state’s organization of Catholic in favor of the referendum, took out quarter-page ads in three Maine newspapers this past Sunday urging people to vote for marriage equality.  100 Catholics across the state put their names to the ad to show their support.

In a Boston Globe news story, Anne Underwood, the lead organizer of Catholics for Marriage Equality, explained the background for the ad statement:

Anne Underwood

‘‘ ‘The premise is we support marriage for same-sex couples because it’s a matter of conscience,’’ said Underwood, an attorney from Topsham. ‘’And Catholics have an obligation to form their own consciences, especially on political issues and issues of morality.’ ’’

(You can view a video clip of an interview with Underwood by clicking here.)

The same news story quotes former governor of Maine, John Baldacci, a Catholic who is a strong supporter of marriage equality:

‘‘While we’re tremendously respectful, we also recognize that God gave us the ability of free choice and to be able to follow our hearts. When we see people who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, that’s something we should be praising and supporting.’’

Baldacci recently hosted two spaghetti dinners to raise awareness for the marriage equality referendum.

Meanwhile, the state’s Bishop Richard Malone, the state’s Catholic ordinary who is governing the diocese from his new diocese in Buffalo, New York, issued a statement that any Catholic who votes for marriage equality is opposing Catholic doctrine.  He stated, in part:

Bishop Richard Malone

‘‘A Catholic whose conscience has been properly formed by scripture and church teachings cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the church. The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, open to the birth of children, is a matter of established Catholic doctrine.’’

In response to the bishop’s statement, a Catholics for Marriage Equality spokesperson encouraged Catholics to vote as their conscience directs them:

“ ‘Emotionally, I have to say I’m disappointed and embarrassed a little bit that he would put out a statement like this,’ Frank O’Hara of Catholics for Marriage Equality said Thursday in a telephone interview. ‘In some respect, I think the bishop is overstepping the bounds of church teaching by telling Catholics how we should vote on an issue.’ ”

“O’Hara, 62, of Hallowell said he and other Catholics who support same-sex marriage will be voting their consciences on Election Day.

“’The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “man must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience,’” O’Hara said in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon by Catholics for Marriage Equality. ‘Bishops cannot ask Catholics to vote against their consciences. No council has ever given them the authority to dictate obedience in matters of politics and civil government.’

“O’Hara agreed with Malone that Catholics for Marriage Equality does not speak for the Catholic church or every Catholic in Maine.

“ ‘We do, however, speak for an important group of Catholics, all of whom are part of the universal church,’ he said. ‘In this perspective, the bishop does not speak for all Catholics either, at least insofar as politics and government are concerned.’ “

In a related item, the Knights of Columbus have recently donated $100,000 to the campaign in Maine opposed to the marriage equality referendum, according to a news story in the Kennebec Journal. 

--Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Baltimore Catholic Pastor Preaches in Support of Marriage Equality and Conscience

October 29, 2012

Fr. Richard Lawrence

Father Richard Lawrence of St. Vincent dePaul parish in Baltimore, Maryland, preached yesterday about supporting marriage equality in the upcoming referendum on the issue in the state.  While Baltimore Archbishop William Lori asked pastors to read a letter opposing marriage equality, Father Lawrence did so, but then added his own view on the matter.

You can watch the 17 -minute homily by clicking here.

You can also listen to just the audio of the homily by clicking here, and then clicking on “October 28.”

You can read a National Catholic Reporter news story of the homily by clicking here.

Here’s a summary of his remarks:

Fr. Lawrence transitions from reading Archbishop Lori’s letter by stating that it cannot be ignored by faithful Catholics. He also states that in his homily, he will provide “some other thoughts that might be considered in your process of conscience formation.”

He makes the following points:

1) There is a separation between religious law and civil law.  While there are some civil laws we cannot accept, there are others than we can accept, even if we disagree with them.  He makes the case that Catholic institutions (parishes, schools, hospitals) hire and provide benefits to people whose marriages are not canonically valid.  We may not agree with the civil law in this regard, but, as Catholics, we support that law.

2) Fr. Lawrence states that “personally, we can go further than that,” as he explains a hope for the eventual change in church teaching regarding same-sex relationships. Citing Vatican II’s change in theology of sacramental marriage by making the procreation of children an equal function to the mutual support and common life of the couple, he notes that both became primary functions of marriage.

Developing this idea, he notes that the church marries elderly couples who cannot procreate because they are able to exemplify this other function of mutual support and common life.  The same, he says, can be done for gay and lesbian couples, for whom reproduction is not possible, but mutual support and common life is.

3)  If it is possible for church teaching on marriage to change, than why can’t civil law on marriage change, he asks.

4)  He notes that Genesis his two different verses which are used to define marriage:  “Be fruitful and multiply” and finding “a suitable partner or helpmate” for the human being.  A suitable partner for a heterosexual person is someone of the other gender, while a suitable partner for a gay or lesbian person is someone of the same gender.

Fr. Lawrence concludes by urging parishioners to develop and follow their consciences.

He received thunderous applause and a standing ovation at the conclusion of homily.  New Ways Ministry adds our own applause to that of his parishioners!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Dignity/Chicago Celebrates Four Decades of Ministry

October 29, 2012

Congratulations to Dignity/Chicago, which this year is celebrating its 40th anniversary of community, support, advocacy, and ministry for LGBT Catholics and their friends in the Chicago area.

Dignity/Chicago history panelists

The Windy City Times reports that one way this chapter of DignityUSA has decided to celebrate this milestone is with a history panel composed of representatives from each of the four decades:

“Dr. Thomas O’Brien, director of DePaul University’s Center for Interreligious Engagement, moderated the panel of six members, which included Lois McGovern, representing the ’70s; Michael Hogan and previous Dignity/Chicago Board President Kevin Buckley portraying the ’80s; Linda Kelly and Ald. James Cappleman, a past Dignity/Chicago board president, recalling the ’90s; and past Dignity/Chicago Board President Blane Roberts talking about the 2000s.”

Chapter President Chris Pett explained that looking backward is a way of preparing for the future:

” ‘The future is what we’re still exploring and understanding, but we got to know where we came from in order to know what our future is about,’ said Pett. ‘It was very powerful. I just think we are, as Christians, we are people of the story. To me, what was so important was to hear that again after 40 years we still maintain our identity, we still consider ourselves to be authentic voices of LGBT Catholics who reach out and want to create a spiritual home for people in general, but especially for LGBT Catholics. As I would put it, to be the church Jesus intended us to be and to not let the hierarchical church define who we are or tell us if we’re catholic or not because we have a right to exist. We do exist, we have existed and we’ll continue to exist.’ “

With such a strong and vibrant history, Dignity/Chicago seems well-placed to go forward to the future with a spirit of courage and optimism.  We pray for continued blessings on their ministry, and we say “Ad multos annos!”

(Dignity/Chicago meets weekly for Mass on Sunday evenings, 5:00 p.m., at Broadway United Methodist Church, 3338 North Broadway, Chicago.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Round-up of Controversies Surrounding Cordileone’s Installation

October 28, 2012

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was installed as the new archbishop of San Francisco earlier this month amid a storm of controversies surrounding his policies, his behavior, and the installation ceremony itself.

Since the announcement of his appointment, many Catholics have been concerned that Cordileone’s history of work against marriage equality would make him unqualified to lead the church in a city with such a large and active LGBT population.   Cordileone is known as the “godfather of Prop 8,” the ballot initiative which reversed marriage equality in California.  In addition, he serves as the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  Cordileone also directed the board members of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (which is housed in his former diocese of Oakland, California) to take a loyalty oath to the magisterium, which they refused to do.

Brian Cahill, a former director of San Francisco’s Catholic Charities organization, wrote an op-ed offering some advice to the new archbishop, which we hope Cordileone will heed:

“His apparent obliviousness to the disrespect felt by many gay and lesbian Catholics is disturbing. His continued insistence that same-sex marriage is unjust to children ignores the reality of the 70,000 children placed in the California foster care system by the abuse and neglect of their heterosexual parents, and ignores that the only significant cohort of adoptive parents for the most vulnerable of these children are gay and lesbian couples who want to form a family. His recent statement that Catholic gay and lesbian couples should not be allowed to receive Communion is distressing.

“Hopefully, he will not surround himself only with orthodox thinkers, but rather listen to a variety of points of view from his priests and parishioners. He could consult with retired Archbishop John Quinn, who led Catholic Charities in developing the first AIDS services in San Francisco, and who also might help him understand how to manage the tension between church teaching and how the church can fulfill its mission in a pluralistic society.

“He could speak with the Rev. Tony McGuire, one of our great senior priests and the pastor who made Most Holy Redeemer parish such a welcoming community for gays and lesbians in the 1980s. We should hope he will be a frequent visitor at Sunday Mass at Most Holy Redeemer, where he not only will experience beautiful liturgy and music, but a prayerful and worshipping community and the tangible presence of God.”

Just a few weeks before his installation, Cordileone was arrested for failing a sobriety test while driving in San Diego.  During his installation, he made reference to this incident in a lighthearted fashion, according to The Chicago Tribune:
“Following his installation as the religious leader of more than 500,000 Catholics in the largely gay-friendly Bay Area, Cordileone, 56, delivered a sermon and spoke about his recent arrest after failing a sobriety test at a police checkpoint.
” ‘God has always had a way of putting me in my place,’ he said. ‘With the last episode in my life, God has outdone Himself.’ “
Less public at the installation itself was another controversy which came to light only after the ceremony had ended.  San Francisco’s Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus, who is a supporter of marriage equality, had been invited to the event. Earlier in September, Andrus had written a letter to local Episcopalians stating that he was looking forward to working with Cordileone, but that Andrus intended to remain firm in his support for marriage equality.  At the installation, Andrus was never seated for the ceremony and left standing in a waiting area until he decided to leave.
dotCommonweal blogger Rita Ferrone examines the possibility that Andrus may have been the victim of a simple error:
“Now, admittedly there were a lot of people at this event, and big events always include opportunities for underlings to flub things up. If the failure to seat Bishop Andrus was actually a snafu that happened at the installation, with no offense intended, what would you expect to happen next? I would expect Cordileone to call up Andrus the very next day and say I’m sorry; I regret this happened; please forgive this lapse of etiquette; it was all due to some confusion and truly it was not an intentional slight. I would then let the press know that we had made amends, and invite him to another public event soon, so that it could be seen that the Catholic leader of the Archdiocese of San Francisco respects leaders of other, long-established religious bodies. They are our dialogue partners and local collaborators in building the Kingdom, after all.”
Since Cordileone has yet to issue such an apology, Ferrone has drawn her own conclusion:

“Reluctantly, I am coming to believe that the slight must have been intentional.

“This is shameful, if so. Some have suggested that the letter Andrus wrote to the members of the Episcopal Church of his diocese caused offense to Cordileone and therefore it was right not to admit him. A more puerile argument can hardly be imagined. Andrus was an invited guest. He did not crash the party. If his letter was so egregious, he ought to have been asked not to come, rather than left standing at the door when he arrived.

“What sort of a leader has been appointed to the Catholic see of San Francisco? What sort of bishop cares so little for ecumenism and public relations that he would sit quiet while all this unfolds?”

In an interview before his installation, Cordileone had commented that people involved in a lesbian and gay relationship should not receive communion.  Chuck Colbert of The Bay Area Reporter elicited reaction to this comment from Catholic LGBT advocates:
” ‘Bishop Cordileone’s statement that lesbian and gay couples in relationships should not receive communion is a major pastoral blunder on many levels,’ said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBT-positive Catholic organization, based outside of Washington, D.C.

” ‘First and foremost, the decision to approach communion is one made by the individual communicant, not a local bishop. If a person’s conscience is clear to receive communion, he or she should do so,’ explained DeBernardo in an email.

” ‘More importantly, for Bishop Cordileone to make such a statement, even before he has arrived in the archdiocese, shows an impersonal disregard for the people that he has been directed to serve. If Bishop Cordileone wants to lead Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, an area with a large LGBT population, the first lesson he needs to learn is to listen before he speaks,’ said DeBernardo.

“Cordileone’s call for Catholics not in agreement with church teaching to abstain from the Eucharist is not new. Other prelates have called on pro-choice Catholic lawmakers to do the same.

For that reason in part, ‘I am not bothered that he expressed his opinion about who should participate in the Eucharist. That is part of his job as a bishop,’ said Eugene McMullan, a gay man who attends Mass at Most Holy Redeemer.

” ‘Non-Catholics might think he is about to impose awful restrictions on us, as bishops used to do. That is unlikely,’ explained McMullan, who is also a lead organizer of the advocacy group Catholics for Marriage Equality in California.

“Ernest Camisa, a spokesman for and secretary of Dignity/San Francisco, a group for LGBT Catholics, voiced a different point of view.

” ‘It sounds like the ultimate rejection,’ he said in a phone interview, referring to any denial by church pastors of communion for same-sex couples and advocates of marriage equality.”

Archbishop Cordileone has a huge job in front of him.  In a city that is defined by two historic bridges–the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge–his first order of business should be to become a bridge himself by reaching out to those who feel alienated and by listening to the faith stories of LGBT Catholics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Minnesota Catholic Woman Offers Valuable Spiritual Insight on Marriage Question

October 27, 2012

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  A wonderful by-product of the often contentious debates surrounding marriage equality has been that it has motivated people to go deeper into their faith for spiritual nourishment.

The latest example of such depths is a letter to the editor by Maren Ortmeier to InForum, a news organization for the metropolitan area of Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota.  As you may know, Minnesota voters will be going to the polls to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.

Ms. Ortmeier’s letter reveals a deep spirituality, rooted in traditional Catholic practices and images but open to new understandings of the modern world:

“Christ in the Eucharist has the ability to transform us, often motivated by love or suffering. Since Jesus’ agenda was solidarity with suffering itself, our hearts are invited into the pain of the ‘other.’ Many homosexuals have suffered deeply and have been denied their life potential as society and religion tried to shame them. But not only was Jesus present in their suffering, he also never played the ‘shame game.’ Ironically, it was the act of accusing that made Jesus mad, not the so-called sinner. . . .

“In times of motherly despair, I picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross. She knows a mother’s pain. I know many Catholic mothers who have gay children and who feel betrayed and isolated by the church. Mother Mary knows their pain. We all desire to feel loved and respected. . . .

“Centuries of Catholic monastic life taught us celibacy is best lived in community voluntarily, not in mandated isolation by shame. Mothers know God doesn’t make children who are ‘less than.’ Loving mothers should be a guiding light in this issue, as it is Mary’s love for Jesus that most closely reflects God’s love for us.”

Ms. Ortmeier’s concluding paragraph cites two traditionalist bishops whose message can easily and fruitfully be applied to the marriage equality debate:

“How can we honestly sing songs like ‘All Are Welcome’? How can we remain immune to another’s pain when our traditions call us to act on their behalf? This pre-emptive strike (the amendment) prevents needed and deserved discussion of civil same sex partnership. Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio said in a statement: ‘There is too much finger pointing and not enough joining hands. Solidarity is critical to ensure the dignity of all.’ Well said.”

I think Ms. Ortmeier’s argument is “VERY well said.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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