In Minnesota, the debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality has Catholics split on the issue, and is causing problems for individual Catholics as well as organizations which the church has supported.
St. Paul’s Pioneer Press carried an article entitled “Marriage amendment: There’s no single ‘Catholic view’ on this vote,” which surveys the wide-range of Catholic opinion on this article, ranging from strong support to strong opposition to marriage equality. The reporter notes the deep divide among the state’s Catholics and the key role they will play in the outcome:
“Whether the amendment passes or fails on Election Day will depend a lot on how Minnesota Catholics vote.”
One of the Catholics interviewed for this article is Father Thomas Garvey, a retired pastor. Garvey is an advocate of Catholics voting their conscience on this issue:
“It might be OK for the archbishop to require unanimity on a clear topic, Garvey says — ‘Jesus Christ the son of God? OK, I’d buy in to that.’ But not an issue like same-sex marriage, where people’s life experiences lead them to different places of conscience.
“Garvey’s own conscience on the matter was formed over more than five decades in ministry.
“He saw a film years ago in which a young lesbian was sobbing over the isolation she felt in her own family. ‘Watching her mourn her treatment said to me pretty clearly we got the wrong position on this,’ he said.
“Working with gay and lesbian parishioners solidified his view that they were no different from any other church members and deserved the right to be united with someone of the same sex under law, if not as part of a Catholic sacrament.”
A Minneapolis Star-Tribune article profiles one family, the Seiverts, who are feeling increasingly alienated from the Catholic Church because of the parents’ decision to support their lesbian daughter and her right to marry legally. As the hierarchy became more vocal against marriage equality, the Seiverts have questioned their allegiance to the institution:
“Now the Seiverts find themselves in a wrenching personal and spiritual conflict, torn between supporting their daughter and a church whose leaders are unwavering in their opposition to same-sex marriage.
” ‘I am wrestling right now with can I in good conscience still be part of this church,’ said Greg Seivert, who has attended St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in St. Paul for 34 of his 59 years. ‘It’s so much part of the fabric of my life. I am really torn. I feel really alienated from what was once my home.’ “
Their alienation progressed from the time their daughter came out to them up through the current debate about the marriage amendment. When their local pastor began preaching strongly against marriage equality, the Seiverts began to question their loyalty:
“. . .Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt started ramping up his involvement and directed his priests to press their followers on the need to vote for the amendment.
“St. Matthew’s new pastor, the Rev. Michael Rudolph, took up the cause. As his activity intensified, so too did the Seiverts’ alienation from their church. Veronica Seivert wanted to meet with Rudolph and tell him of their decision to leave, but Greg Seivert didn’t want a confrontation. Instead, they decided to send a letter and a final stewardship check.
“Rudolph responded days later with a two-page letter, warning that those who act on same-sex attraction face ‘a spiritual dead end.’ With God’s help, he wrote, Catholics are called on to help those ‘overcome disordered patterns in our life.’ “
“The Seiverts were aghast. To this day they have not shared the letter with their daughter.
“‘ To tell us our daughter, who she is, is spiritual death,’ Veronica Seivert said. ‘I totally refuse to believe that.’
“Greg Seivert said the letter represented a brand of Catholicism far less caring and compassionate than the one he grew up with.”
In addition to the impact on individuals that the hierarchy’s stand on marriage has caused, there is also the impact on organizations that the church has traditionally supported. The Land Steward Project (LSP), a group which opposes factory farms and supports new farmers and rural Latinos, had received $48,000 in funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The funding was pulled this year because the LSP belongs to two groups, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and TakeAction Minnesota, which oppose the constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.
According to a MinnPost.com article, LSP Associate Director Mark Schultz said that his organization has not endorsed marriage equality and that their involvement with these two organizations has no connection to the issue:
“He says LSP is a member of the non-profit council ‘for occasional seminars — training and bookkeeping — that help make us a better-run organization. We work with TakeAction on reforming health care — a huge issue for our organization, which is primarily rural and outstate. They’ve also take a position against the voter restriction amendment, which we oppose.’ ”
Schultz, a Catholic, takes a broad view of the issue of associating with the two groups:
“ ‘CCHD was founded in order to implement the social teachings of the church,’ he says. ‘Jesus talked to prostitutes, tax collectors and the rest. You have to engage. Our organization has never taken a position objecting to the marriage amendment, but we will work with organizations helping us win local democracy, save democracy through protecting the vote, or doing our books better to help stop factory farms.’ ”
“He adds: ‘You never say, “We’ll never deal with you.” That’s not the way actual change happens. This is really bad pastoral ministry.’ ”
In addition to the legal damage their opposition to marriage equality can cause, the Catholic hierarchy needs to consider the pastoral and social damage that their involvement is effecting. Regardless of the outcome next week, a great effort toward reconciliation is going to be needed to repair the hurt the hierarchy’s campaign has caused.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry