Are Latino Catholics Leaving Catholicism Because of Anti-LGBT Messages?

June 12, 2014

We’ve often commented on this blog about how negative sentiments expressed by Church leaders toward LGBT people harms not only the LGBT community, but the entire Church as a whole.  As more and more Catholics accept the full equality of LGBT people in church and society, negative statements, policies, and practices from those in authority are causing more and more Catholics to leave the institution.

One of the most significant populations in American Catholicism currently are Latino people, since they make up such a large section of the church community.  Yet it seems that while Latinos make up a large portion of the church in the U.S.,  Catholicism is losing its position as the predominant religious affiliation among Latinos. A recent report from Pew Research shows that many Latinos are leaving Catholicism, and it seems that one of the reasons could be because of their support of LGBT people.

First, let’s look at Pew’s statistics.  Pat Perriello in The National Catholic Reporter summarized some of Pew’s most important findings:

“The data from the Pew survey raises some significant issues. The first of these issues has to do with the large number of Latinos who are abandoning Catholicism. In 2010, 67% of Latinos identified themselves as Catholics. That figure is now down to 55%. This change represents a drop of 12 percentage points in just four years.

“A significant percentage of these Latinos are joining Evangelical churches, but there is also a considerable number of Latinos that are simply unaffiliated. Evangelical Latinos are now 16% of the total population while 18% are unaffiliated. About 6% are joining mainline Protestant denominations.

“The exodus seems particularly acute among the young. While a trend persists among foreign born Latinos to join Evangelical communities, this does not appear to hold with those in the 18-29 age group. This group is moving more and more toward no religious affiliation. Less than half of Hispanics (45%) under the age of 30 are now Catholic.”

According to Pew’s report, Latino Catholics tend to leave the church in large part due to disagreement with church teachings:

“Latinos who have left the Catholic Church are especially likely to say that an important reason was that they stopped believing in its teachings; 63% of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated and 57% of former Catholics who are now Protestants give this reason for having left the church.”

We’ve reported before on the growing majority of Latinos, and Latino Catholics in particular, who support LGBT issues, including marriage equality, and the Pew report confirms those findings:

“Like the U.S. public as a whole, Latinos have become more inclined to favor same-sex marriage in recent years; support among Latinos has risen from 30% in 2006 to 46% in 2013. However, there still are sizable differences in views about same-sex marriage among Hispanic religious groups. Religiously unaffiliated Hispanics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally by a roughly four-to-one margin (67% to 16%). Hispanic Protestants tilt in the opposite direction, with evangelical Protestants much more inclined to oppose same-sex marriage (66% opposed, 19% in favor). Hispanic Catholics fall in between, though more say they favor same-sex marriage (49%) than oppose it (30%). Mainline Protestants are closely divided on the issue, with nearly four-in-ten (37%) opposed to same-sex marriage and 44% in favor. These differences among Hispanic religious groups are largely in keeping with patterns found among the same religious groups in the general public.”

So is support for same-gender marriage part of the reason that Latinos are leaving Catholicism?  It seems likely that it is at least one of the factors and very likely an important one.  I think it is very relevant that when Latinos leave Catholicism, a large portion of them, particularly the younger ones, do not go to the Evangelical churches, which, on the whole, tend to be strongly negative about LGBT issues.  We know from other reports that the younger generation tends to be skeptical about any religious institution that does not welcome and embrace LGBT issues.

On a related note, a recent Gallup poll confirmed that the American population as a whole accepts gay and lesbian relationships as morally acceptable, with 58% of the respondents categorizing them as “largely acceptable.”  For comparison, the largest item in the “largely acceptable” category was divorce, with 69%.

The fact that church authorities do not recognize the pastoral harm done by negative statements is particularly troubling.  No church leader should make any statement without considering how it will be heard by the diverse audiences that exist in the church and outside it as well.

While I agree that church teaching should not be decided by simple majorities, I think that if I were a bishop, I would want to at least understand why so many Catholics find negative statements about LGBT issues so distasteful.   If bishops did ask the faithful about their views, I think the leaders would learn a lot about how lived experience helps faith to grow in new ways.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Are Catholic Nations Friendlier for LGBT People?

May 9, 2014
Top 10 nations which view homosexuality as morally acceptable. (Source:

Top 10 nations which view homosexuality as morally acceptable. (Source: Pew Research Center)

Is it possible that religious, and specifically Catholic, nations are more LGBT-friendly than others? Data from the Pew Research Center’s Global Views on Morality survey seems to suggest so, but questions have been raised about just what that means in practice or if it is even true.

The poll released in April shows a strong correlation between nations that are predominantly Catholic and those which view homosexuality as morally acceptable or not a moral issue altogether. Eight of ten nations whose respondents affirmed homosexuality are either majority Catholic or have large Catholic populations, including the Czech Republic and Spain in the number one and two slots. Nations like France, Italy, and Poland led among nations whose respondents largely view the issue amorally.  The poll confirms findings of a similar survey done in 2013.

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Top 10 nations which view homosexuality as not a moral issue. (Source: Pew Research Center)

The data revealed highly religious nations to be more accepting of homosexuality overall, but religious nations also led the list of least accepting places. Nations with large Catholic populations like Uganda and El Salvador were among those nations whose citizens overwhelmingly viewed homosexuality as morally unacceptable. In the United States, the percentages for the general population broke down as follows: 37% viewed homosexuality as immoral, 23% moral, 35% amoral.

That’s the facts according to Pew. The reality in these nations and how religion has influenced LGBT-inclusion practically might be different. HuffPost Live hosted a segment which asked, “Why are Religious Places the Most LGBT-Friendly?” It featured two LGBT people from Brazil, Nathalie Vassallo, a blogger, and Thiago Araujo, a journalist with the Brasil Post.

Vassallo rejected Pew’s findings that Brazil was a positive place for LGBT people, which was confirmed by Araujo. She questioned the survey’s wording and asked “What does it mean to be an accepting country?” Government policies which protect gay people do not necessarily mean there is cultural acceptance, and even respondents who said homosexuality was morally acceptable would be uncomfortable with a family member coming out to them. Even though Brazil scored highly in the Pew data, it may not be a truly LGBT-affirming nation.

And what role has religion played in cultural and societal acceptance or rejection? Araujo said he would feel more comfortable walking into a Catholic church than a Protestant one, but that neither would be truly comfortable and safe places. Addressing Catholicism in the segment was gay priest Gary Meier of St. Louis, who said the following of the Pew data:

“I don’t think it was anything that I was surprised to find out. I’ve known for a some time and a lot of folks have known that the people in Church, in the pews are predominantly supporting LGBT issues…

“The hierarchy in the Catholic Church has been very vocal about condemning homosexuality, homosexual acts, and things like that. But the people from the pews, and again the poll reflects that, the people in Spain were folks that are predominantly Catholic, they’re from the pews…the voices from the pews are quite different than from the pulpit…

“The Church is the People of God and the People of God are very clear that homosexuality is not a moral issue. It just isn’t. And we need to grow in acceptance and love and tolerance for all people, regardless of who they love.”

Meier was hopeful at how Pope Francis has softened the institutional tone around LGBT issues, while reminding viewers that a change in Church teaching is probably not imminent. He said further:

“That tone is rooted in the teaching. We’ve got to change the teaching. We’ve got to get this out of the realm of morality. Homosexuality is not a moral issue. You’re gay or you’re not gay. You’re bisexual or you’re not bisexual. We don’t go around asking people if heterosexual people are morally correct…

“If anyone can move that forward it’s somebody like Pope Francis, but he’s got a lot of opposition in the hierarchy putting pressure on him to not move this issue too far, too fast…In the end, I’m confident that the truth will win out and the truth will be told that all people are created in the image and likeness of God for love.”

The truth about the Pew data and Catholic nations’ acceptance of LGBT people seems to be found somewhere in the middle of all this. It is certainly true that predominantly Catholic nations, and Catholic states within the US, have been at the forefront of passing laws and policies protecting LGBT equality. It is also true that support for laws does not eliminate internalized homophobia and transphobia, meaning cultural change is ongoing. Finally, there is the sad truth that in places like Uganda, the Catholic faith is being used to propagate anti-LGBT discrimination and hatred.

What do you think? Are nations with large Catholic populations generally friendlier places for LGBT people or is the Pew data incorrect?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Surveys Continue to Show Catholic Support for LGBT Equality

July 28, 2013

polls 1Some recent polls have come up with interesting developments about Catholics and LGBT issues.  The findings are summarized for each poll under the sub-headings below.

Quinnipiac Poll of Virginians on Marriage Equality–Including Catholics

Washington.CBSLocal.com reports that a recent poll from Quinnipiac University found

“Fifty percent of registered Virginia voters support same-sex marriage compared to 43 percent who don’t, with a clear majority of women approving it.”

Among the statistics for sub-groups in the poll were those for Catholics in the state:

“Catholics favored gay marriage 56 percent to 40 percent, while Protestants opposed it 57 percent to 36 percent. Among those who identified themselves as born-again evangelicals, 74 percent opposed it.”

U.S. Catholics Disagree with Vatican on Homosexuality

The above sub-head is starting to sound a little bit like the proverbial “Dog Bites Man” headline because such news is becoming so commonplace.  Yet another poll, this one from the Pew Research Center, shows that U.S. Catholics do not support the Vatican’s opposition to LGBT equality.

CathNewsUSA.com reports:

“While the Catholic Church officially maintains that homosexual relations are sinful, many Catholics in the U.S. have a more accepting view. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than seven-in-ten U.S. Catholics (71%) say homosexuality should be accepted by society. Just a third (33%) say they believe homosexual behavior is a sin, down from nearly half who said this in 2003. However, fully half (54%) of American Catholics say there is at least some conflict between their personal religious beliefs and homosexuality, with 42% saying there is ‘a lot’ of conflict.”

Are Catholics the Reason for Marriage Equality in New England?

All six New England states have marriage equality laws.  That’s almost half of the 13 states plus the District of Columbia which allow marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  Could the reason be because there are so many Catholics in those states?

The Public Religion Research Institute released a report this year as Rhode Island was enacting marriage equality.  The report notes, among other things, that Catholics, a significant population bloc in those states, also have a strong record of supporting marriage equality:

“New England has a low percentage of groups opposed to same-sex marriage. Only 7% of New Englanders identify as white evangelical Protestants, compared to nearly 1-in-5 (18%) Americans overall. Only 24% of white evangelicals favor same-sex marriage (71% are opposed). Black Protestants, who also oppose same-sex marriage (37% favor, 57% oppose), are also underrepresented in New England compared to the national population (3% vs. 8%). Instead, Catholics (30%), mainline Protestants (22%), and Jews (6%) are overrepresented among New Englanders, and majorities of these groups favor same-sex marriage (57%, 55%, and 81%, respectively). In addition, 1-in-5 (21%) New England residents are religiously unaffiliated, a figure that’s similar to the rest of the country. More than three-quarters (76%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor same-sex marriage.”

It looks like Catholics are going to continue to be key figures in marriage equality and other LGBT equality debates for years to come.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


How Did Catholics Fare in Pew Survey on LGBT People and Religion?

June 19, 2013

cross and gender symbolsThe Pew Research Center released a report last week about a survey they conducted of LGBT people in the United States, including their participation and attitudes toward religious institutions.  The major finding, which grabbed the headlines, is that LGBT people find religious institutions unfriendly towards themselves, and many are alienated from these organizations.

A Religion News Service article which appeared on The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog highlighted the following findings:

“Gay Americans are much less religious than the general U.S. population, and about three in 10 of them say they have felt unwelcome in a house of worship, a new study shows.

“The Pew Research Center’s study, released Thursday (June 13), details how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans view many of the country’s prominent faiths: in a word, unfriendly.

“The vast majority said Islam (84 percent); the Mormon church (83 percent); the Roman Catholic Church (79 percent); and evangelical churches (73 percent) were unfriendly. Jews and nonevangelical Protestants drew a more mixed reaction, with more than 40 percent considering them either unfriendly or neutral about gays and lesbians.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Those statistics are not very good for Catholics.  It shows that we have a terrible image problem in terms of how LGBT people perceive us.  Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, in a HuffingtonPost blog noted the difficult challenge that this presents our church:

“The Pew Survey should serve as a wake-up call to Catholics — not only those supportive of LGBT equality but all those who in conscience disagree with the bishops on a broad range of issues related to gender and sexuality, from women’s ordination to birth control. We need to grapple with the fact that our bishops are defining Catholicism in a way that is directly opposed to what most Catholics believe and want our church to be. We have a worse brand-identity issue than J.C. Penney!”
The Washington Post story offered the perspective or Ross Murray, director of faith and news initiatives at GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) who suggested a reason for the negative attitudes LGBT people have of religion:
Ross Murray

Ross Murray

“[Ross Murray] thinks the sense of unfriendliness comes in part from the loudest voices of faith speaking through an anti-gay frame. Religious groups that support gays and lesbians, as a GLAAD study found last year, get far less media attention.

“ ‘The leading anti-gay voices always put it in religious terms, which taints how people view religion,’ Murray said.”

The statistics for how unwelcome LGBT people feel by religious institutions are staggering.  The Washington Post article states:

“Almost 50 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults say they have no religious affiliation, compared to 20 percent of the general population. One-third of religiously affiliated gay and lesbian adults say there is a conflict between their faith beliefs and their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

And for Catholic LGBT people, a super-majority of them feel unwelcome.  The Deseret News reports:

“Among LGBT Catholics, two-thirds (66 percent) say the Catholic Church is unfriendly toward them. . .”

Clearly, religious people have their work cut out for them if they want to make sure that LGBT people feel welcome in their communities.  Duddy-Burke offered some suggestions:

“There are many options for Catholics troubled by the findings of the recent Pew survey. Most effective would be ensuring that anytime a church leader says something untrue, unkind or unwarranted about LGBT people; fires someone due to sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or an expression of support for LGBT people; or takes a position on a public matter that upholds institutional discrimination, call him out on it. Let him and others know that he is speaking only for a minority of Catholics.

“If you know LGBT people in your parish or faith community, tell them you’re glad for their presence and gifts. Ask if they find the community supportive, or if they find anything that happens there discomforting. If a priest delivers an anti-gay message, let him know you find it problematic, given Jesus’ model of broad inclusion.”

Is there any good news in this survey?  There might be one small glimmer for Catholics.  The Huffington Post news story about the survey cited some interesting data comparing church affiliation of LGBT people to the church affiliation of the general adult population.    14% of LGBT people identify as Catholics, while 22% of the general population do.  That means that the discrepancy between LGBT Catholics and general population Catholics is only 8%, which is not anywhere near the discrepancy for Protestants generally (27 % of LGBT people identify as Protestants, compared to 49% in the general population.)

This statistic is cold comfort, however, when we realize how many LGBT Catholics feel alienated from their church and how many LGBT people view Catholicism negatively.  I think the reason we have a smaller discrepancy has to do more with the loyalty that LGBT Catholics feel toward their church, rather than anything positive that the church is doing for them.

GLAAD’s Murray also offered some hope for the future by noting in The Huffington Post:

“I think that relationship is going to mend, but it will happen slowly … I hope that inclusive faith communities are able to get their message out even better, so that there can be better trust between LGBT people and religion.”

At New Ways Ministry, we see the relationship between LGBT people and the Catholic church developing every time we add a new parish to our gay-friendly parish list or a new campus to our gay-friendly Catholic college list.  But the Pew Report reminds us how much work we still have ahead of us.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Survey Shows Catholic Nations Strongly Support LGBT People

June 8, 2013

In the United States, the general population has been growing accustomed to realizing that Catholics are strongly supportive of LGBT justice and equality.  Poll after poll keeps showing that Catholics lead all Christian denominations in their support for issues like marriage equality.

Therefore, it should come as little surprise to find out that, according to a new survey of 39 nations by the Pew Research Center, when one looks at the global picture of LGBT acceptance, one finds that traditionally Catholic countries stand out as far more accepting than other nations.   What’s more, the United States is not the leader in global acceptance of LGBT people.

Washington Post news article highlighted some of the relevant statistics along these lines:

“The broadest acceptance was found in countries where religion is not central to life, such as Canada (80 percent), France (77 percent) and Australia (79 percent). Yet the poll also found high levels of tolerance toward gay people in some heavily Catholic countries, including Spain (86 percent), Italy (74 percent), Argentina (74 percent) and the Philippines (73 percent). In the United States, 60 percent of the public said gay people should be accepted in society.”

The United States, in contrast, had only a 60 percent rate of acceptance.

Gary Gates, a demographer at The Williams Institute, which tracks LGBT issues in surveys, gave one explanation of why strongly religious nations may be more accepting:

“There are cultures where religion is a very, very important factor, as a regular part of daily life. In those countries, it’s harder to distinguish what’s religious and what’s culture. But in other countries, like Italy or Spain, the culture has always had a live-and-let-live dimension to it. Even with a very strong religious presence, you see that kind of attitude coming out.”

Results for factors other than religion tended to mirror the trends seen in the United States.  The Washington Post reported:

“As in the United States, age was a factor. The Pew study said those younger than 30 are more accepting of homosexuals in society than people who are 30 to 49. Both groups are more likely to express tolerance of gays than people 50 or older.

“The Pew poll generally found little difference in attitudes held by men and women in any given country. But in countries where there is a difference, women are more accepting of homosexuality than men are, Pew said.”

BusinessInsider.com reported that other than religion, high national income levels also tended to be a strong predictor of acceptance:

“Roughly, an increase in GDP [gross domestic product] of $620 is good for one percentage point more people agreeing with the statement ‘homosexuality should be accepted by society.’ “

BusinessInsider.com  noted that one of the important exceptions to this rule was the Philippines:

“The biggest outperformer on acceptance is the Philippines, again heavily Catholic, where Pew finds levels of acceptance comparable to western Europe despite per capita GDP of less than $5,000.”

The Washington Post said that the new study’s results were corroborated by a similar earlier study:

“A smaller study, conducted in 2011 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, found support for homosexual behavior growing in 27 of 31 countries. The highest level of acceptance was in northern Europe, while disapproval remained strong in Russia and several other Eastern European countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.”

It seems that the news of acceptance across the globe just keeps getting better and better, especially where Catholics are concerned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Two Catholics: One Inside and One Outside the Church

October 4, 2012

Two stories came across my computer screen this week, both first person accounts by Catholics, both of whom support marriage equality, but both who have different relationships with the church.   While it would be irresponsible of me to speculate further about why each of these writers has a different approach to Catholicism, I did find the juxtaposition of their two stories interesting since they raised a lot of questions for me.

Not In Spite of Being Catholic, But Because of Being Catholic

Dan McGrath

Dan McGrath, a Minnesota Catholic, wrote on Sojourners magazine’s blog that he is voting “no” to the state’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and his essay explains his decision:

“When I was 10 my parents divorced. A couple years later my mom came out to my family as lesbian. By then she no longer felt welcome at church and stopped going to mass, though she has remained a deeply spiritual person. This one case of social exclusion is deeply meaningful to me, but is nothing compared to political decision by church leadership to spend millions of dollars to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota. By doing so church leaders seek to permanently exclude gays and lesbians from the civil rights and benefits straight couples enjoy.”

Like many Catholics who support LGBT equality, McGrath is often quizzed as to how he can remain loyal to his church:

“Some have asked how I can embrace a faith whose leadership has taken such a hard line against gay and lesbian equality, and which is painfully quiet on the threat to limit voting rights. I understand why people ask this question. For me, my decision to vote no is not in spite of my Catholic faith, it’s because of it. . . .

“I’m a religious person because I need help figuring out how to apply the values I believe in to the real world. Prayer, reflection, the sacraments, and regular attendance at mass are important elements of the Catholic faith. But a great thing about being Catholic is that there are also countless examples of how others live faithful lives that one can look to for inspiration.”

McGrath attributes his faith and his commitment to social justice to his aunt, Sister Kathleen Ries, a long-time community organizer.  Her example helped him to see faith as an integral part of life, and it is that sense of integrity which still motivates him today:

“My choice to vote no has everything to do with being Catholic. The marriage amendment says that gays and lesbians should not have equal access to the financial and social rights and benefits my wife and I enjoy. Nothing in my faith experience justifies this. The voter restriction amendment will set in place permanent barriers to the civic participation of all voters. The fact that it will quiet, if not silence, the voices of those who are poor, homeless, unemployed, in foreclosure, elderly, people of color, and students makes this amendment morally out of bounds.

“Another great thing about being Catholic is that by practicing our faith in community we help each other live the values of the gospel. This is why we Catholics can see how our lot in life – and the fate of our souls – is tied to the fate of others. This sense of purpose and interconnection is what I want for my daughter. I’m voting no because that’s what my faith – and my family – have taught me to do. I’m voting no for my faith and my family.”

A Spiritual Refugee

Tom Moran

Tom Moran, a columnist for Newark’s Star-Ledgeris also a Catholic, and he also supports marriage equality, but his experience with church leaders has moved him in a different direction than McGrath.

In his column, Moran relates how his early faith formation from his father stressed faith as a way of serving the poor.  Yet, he did not receive reinforcement for this aspect of faith from future church leaders:

“In the decades since, I have fled a million miles from the church, and have never found a new religious home. I am a spiritual refugee.

“One in three American adults was raised in a Catholic family, but fewer than one in four identify as Catholic today. No other church has shed so many followers, according to surveys by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“So if I am a refugee, I am walking on a road that is crowded with others who feel the same way.”

Newark’s Archbishop John Myers’ recent statements against marriage equality re-fueled the sense of alienation that Moran feels toward Catholicism:

” [Myers] said, all Catholics must embrace his views. And those who refuse should not take Holy Communion.

“I’ve gone through stages when it comes to the church, bouncing between anger, estrangement and exasperation. It started when one of my six sisters, at age 10, wrote the Vatican a letter asking why she couldn’t be an altar girl. She never heard back. But the dinner discussions on that planted seeds of revolt in all of us.

“They flowered as I began to understand the church’s views on birth control and divorce, which put even my mother on the wrong side of the law, and taught us how Catholics cope with the hierarchy.”

Moran relates the story of his mother’s decision to stick with Catholicism, but he is not so optimistic that others will follow her example:

“In the meantime, though, men like Myers will drive millions more onto the refugee highway. He had his own small share of complicity in the sex abuse scandal, transferring a priest who had confessed to abuse to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark without telling the staff. He refuses to release the names of priests who have been credibly accused, as some New Jersey dioceses do.

“But the fixation on same-sex marriage may do even more damage in the long run. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, a number that rises to 72 percent among those between ages 18 and 34. Remember, they shouldn’t be taking Holy Communion.”

Moran criticizes Myers for discussing marriage, but never mentioning poverty, and he notes that other Catholics probably do not share the archbishop’s priorities:

“ ‘Catholic citizens must exercise their right to be heard in the public square by defending marriage,’ Myers wrote.

“I doubt most Catholics will see this election in such pinched terms. They know how to sidestep this land mine, too.

“Because if you visit any poor neighborhood in New Jersey, you can see a more vibrant Catholicism at work in schools, hospitals and food pantries.”

Do These Stories Tell Us Anything?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not going to play “armchair spiritual counselor” and imagine why these two men have taken such different approaches to their Catholic heritage.  Similarly, I don’t intend to judge either one as better or worse than the other.  I presume that each has faced his life experience in the way that they found revealed the greatest integrity for them.

Both, it seems to me, have retained their Catholic sense of passion for justice and strong distaste for hypocrisy of leadership figures.  In my life and travels, I have met many folks in situations that are similar to each of these men.  Some find it is the right thing to stay, some find it is the right thing to leave.  What I find interesting, though, is that what they share in common is their belief that the Catholicism they were taught as young people stressed love and justice, and that both think that church leaders are not heeding those messages when it comes to the question of marriage equality.

What do you see in these two stories?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pew Poll Confirms What We Know: Catholics Support Marriage and Adoption Equality

August 6, 2012

 

 

Last week, a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life confirmed what other polls have been showing lately:  the majority of Catholics support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, as well as supporting adoption by lesbian and gay couples.  The report also shows that support among the general American population continues to grow.

Jonathan Capehart, a columnist and blogger for the The Washington Post, quotes from the poll’s report:

“For all the opposition by leaders in the Catholic Church, their flock isn’t following. ‘Nearly six-in-ten white non- Hispanic Catholics (59%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry,’ Pew reports, ‘as do 57% of Hispanic Catholics.’ This shouldn’t come as too surprising. Catholics have been leading the way on same-sex marriage for some time now.

“ ‘[T]here has been a rise in support for gay marriage across many demographic groups, even those who have traditionally been the most opposed,’ Pew explains. ‘A large portion of the growth in acceptance of gay marriage over the past two decades is the result of generational replacement — the arrival of younger, more supportive generations making up a larger share of the population. But the pace of change in support for gay marriage has increased in recent years across generational lines.’ ”

Capehart also shows the increase in support among Americans of all political stripes:

“In the four years since the 2008 survey, there has been a 15-percent jump in support among Democrats (65 percent), seven percent among Independents (51 percent) and five percent among Republicans (24 percent). Republicans are the most opposed to marriage equality (70 percent). Overall, 48 percent are in favor and 44 percent are not.”

Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, cites the Catholic figures in more detail:

“First, note that Catholic overwhelmingly support gay marriage, by 58% to 33% – a margin of 25%, and identical for both White and Hispanic Catholic groups. This degree of support is greater than that shown by any other Christian grouping (Jews and other faiths are not identified), it is substantially higher than that for the population as a whole).

“This degree of support by Catholics, exceeding that for other groups, has now been well – established in numerous polls. It has also been previously noted that the growth in Catholic support has exceeded that in other groups. Just how dramatic that growth has been, can be seen by comparing the latest results with those from August / September 2010.  Then, Catholic support for gay marriage was at 46% –  a plurality over opposition of just 4%. That plurality has now grown from 4% to 25%, in less than two years, and up from 15% as recently as October 2011.”

“Combining the Pew report Religion and Attitudes to Same Sex Marriage from February this year with the latest results, we get:

Trend in Catholic Support for gay marriage (Pew)

Aug/ Sep 2010 Oct 2011 July 2012
Support 46% 52% 59%
Oppose 42% 37% 33%
Plurality 4% 15% 25%

Weldon also cites the statistics from the Pew report on support for adoption by lesbian and gay couples:

“Pew research demonstrates that just as Catholics are more supportive than other groups of gay marriage, Catholics are more supportive of gay adoption than other Christians, or the population at large. (One notable difference to the pattern for marriage, is a marked divergence between White and Hispanic Catholics).

It’s clear that Catholic support is strong and growing.  Just as with the issue of contraception, there is a great divide between the opinions of the Catholic faithful and the hierarchy on the issue of lesbian and gay relationships.  Instead of spending money opposing marriage equality legislation, the bishops should instead invest in meeting with lay leaders to understand their position, so that the voice of the Spirit in the Catholic Church can be more clearly discerned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Mnistry

 


Should Catholic Dioceses Lose Their Tax Exempt Status Because of Political Involvement?

July 24, 2012

A law professor at Duquesne University, a Catholic campus in Pittsburgh, is arguing that certain bishops have overstepped the boundaries of their tax exempt status and entered the world of politics in their zeal for opposing the Health and Human Services mandate on contraception and a marriage equality initiative.

In an essay in America magazine, Nicholas P. Cafardi explains his case:

“During a sermon in the cathedral church of St. Mary’s in Peoria, Ill., on April 14, Bishop Daniel Jenky compared what he called the “extreme secularist agenda” of President Obama with the anti-Catholic programs of, among others, Hitler and Stalin, two of the 20th century’s worst mass murderers. In the same month, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, Wash., launched a signature drive in every parish of his archdiocese to put Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot. The referendum would repeal Washing-ton’s new same-sex marriage law.

“What Bishop Jenky did is called ‘electioneering.’ He intervened in a political campaign in opposition to one of the candidates. What Archbishop Sartain did is called “lobbying.” He intervened in an attempt to pass legislation. Both men did so using their episcopal office. Bishop Jenky spoke from the pulpit of his cathedral during Mass. Archbishop Sartain sent his Referendum 74 letter out on archdiocesan stationery. There is no doubt that both men were acting in their official capacities on behalf of the church and not as Citizen Jenky and Citizen Sartain.

“Why does that make a difference? Quite simply because tax-exempt churches—on whose behalf Bishop Jenky and Archbishop Sartain were acting—are under serious legal restrictions when it comes to electioneering and lobbying activities. Churches cannot electioneer at all. The prohibition is absolute. They may not intervene in any way in a campaign for political office either in favor of a candidate or in opposition to one. With lobbying, an attempt to influence legislation, there is some wiggle room. There the law allows churches to lobby, but only to an ‘insubstantial’ degree.”

Cafardi goes on to explain, in lay people’s terms,  the origin of the Internal Revenue Service tax code which prohibits such activity, and then explains the difficulty of pinning such violations on bishops and dioceses:

“Churches can certainly advocate on social issues they perceive to have a moral component without violating the tax code. But once a church’s advocacy goes beyond issues and, without a legitimizing invitation from the legislature itself, addresses a pending law—urging voters directly (called grassroots lobbying) or urging legislators to act (called direct lobbying)—a line has been crossed. Advocacy for or against pending laws and referendums is lobbying, pure and simple, and tax-exempt churches may not use tax-exempt dollars to affect the legislative process, except ‘insubstantially.’

“There is the rub for Archbishop Sartain. Depending upon how many church resources he is using (staff time, church publications, advertisements and so on, backed by tax-exempt church dollars) to get Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot, what he is doing may or may not be considered ‘substantial’ lobbying. Using even one tax-exempt church dollar, though, to stir up opposition to the legally recognized civil rights of others is objectionable, no matter what the tax code says about it.”

Nicholas Cafardi

What’s more, Cafardi points out, is the difficulty in assigning a penalty to such violations:

“A practical problem with our bishops’ violating the tax code’s restrictions on political activities is that the Internal Revenue Service has only limited means to stop them. The I.R.S. can either use the nuclear option and revoke the archdiocese’s tax exemption, which is so drastic as to be unthinkable, or it can use the fly-swatter option and fine the diocese for the amount it spent on the prohibited political activity under Section 4955 of the tax code. For example, what was the cost to the Diocese of Peoria of Bishop Jenky’s political homily? The cost of opening up the cathedral that day? The utility costs? A prorated portion of the bishop’s salary? We are talking about a small amount, hardly the kind of fine that hurts. So legal penalties do not work in such cases. Most Americans might think the simple fact that this is the law would restrain politically overzealous bishops, but that has not worked either.”

But Cafardi suggests that the bishops might be applying their own penalty to themselves with their political involvement because polls continually show that most Catholics, particularly young Catholics, are increasingly alienated from the church when the bishops speak and act politically:

“In a survey conducted among 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group in 2007, nine of this age cohort’s top 12 perceptions of Christianity were not good ones. They found Christianity to be judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent) and too involved in politics (75 percent). That is some troika.

“In another 2012 survey of college-age millennials (18- to 24-year-olds) conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, it was found that 64 percent think that ‘anti-gay’ is an accurate description of Christianity today. An almost equal portion in this survey, 62 percent, also find modern Christianity to be ‘judgmental.’ Now some readers might opine that religion is supposed to be judgmental; it is supposed to distinguish right from wrong and that these surveys reveal only that young people prefer the relativism of their own generation to the church’s rules. Maybe. But perhaps we should also recall that we worship a Lord who said, ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged’ (Mt 7:1).

“In 2008, during the last presidential election, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on church endorsement of candidates for political office. The results are revealing. When asked if churches should endorse one candidate over another, the Pew poll found that in the total population of those polled, 29 percent said yes, but 66 percent said no. When the breakdown was by faiths, among all Catholics, 30 percent said yes and 67 percent said no. Among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, 26 percent said yes and 70 percent said no. Those are rather overwhelming numbers, indicating that bishops who intervene in politics are working against their own interests. Their people are not going to hear them.

“If the bishops’ politics are keeping people, especially young people, out of the pews, then perhaps they need to ask themselves a critical question: What is more important to them, political goals or the salvation of souls? If our bishops choose to ignore the law’s restrictions on their political activity, they should at least listen to the Lord, who talked about leaving the 99 sheep to go find the lost one (Lk 15:5). In the final analysis, our bishops will not be judged on how many presidents they helped to elect or how many laws they helped to pass, but on how many of those lost sheep they rescued.”

What is even more troubling has been that the response of many bishops to such questions about their tax-exempt status has been to grandstand that their religious liberty is being attacked.  As the statistics Cafardi notes show, it’s time that bishops worry less about religious liberty and more about the crumbling faith of the next generation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


A Father’s Love for His Gay Son and for the Catholic Church

June 18, 2012

Two days ago, we praised the fact that Catholic parishes in Maine would NOT be participating in an effort among some of the state’s churches to raise funds to defeat marriage equality in an upcoming referendum.

Portland, Maine’s Press Herald newspaper carried an op-ed piece by David Flynn of Lyman, Maine, the Catholic father of a gay son, who also had praise for Catholic refusal to participate in this campaign.  The essay is moving in the way that only a parent’s love can effect, and it was appropriate that it was printed on Father’s Day, the day that other churches began their fundraising effort.  I suggest you read the entire essay to get the personal background of Flynn’s story.  I found this excerpt to be most salient:

“On Father’s Day, many Maine churches will be participating in a special “second collection.” This second collection won’t be used to fund a mission trip to Africa or to help feed Portland’s homeless. Rather, these churches will use this money to fight civil same-sex marriage rights for my son.

“While this is an unfortunate, anti-family move on the part of certain religious denominations, I am proud to say Maine’s Catholic leadership has opted to avoid the divisiveness of this issue.

“The fact that these other churches would participate in such activity is disappointing. More than wanting my son to be able to marry the person he loves, I want my son, and every father’s son in Maine, to be proud of their faith traditions.

“My father raised me in the Catholic faith that taught lessons about justice and the common good. He taught me that as a Catholic, I can be part of a powerful, positive force in the world. He taught me that God’s greatest gift is love. And I passed these values on to my children.

“By avoiding the divisive politics of this election year, Maine’s Catholic Church has seemingly learned from past mistakes. In 2009, more than 140 churches across Maine took a second collection to oppose marriage equality for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“When this happened, many people stood up and walked out of church. Sadly, many have never come back. In fact, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, one in three Catholics born into the faith have stopped calling themselves Catholic.

“They leave because Catholics want their faith known for its ability to inspire a culture, not for the political activities of its leaders.

“I believe that engaging in the politics of fighting secular laws regarding civil same-sex marriage is wrong for any church. And a review of public opinion polls illustrates that the strong majority of Catholics agree with me.

“According to a public opinion survey conducted in March by the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly 60 percent of adult American Catholics support civil marriage for same-sex couples. This is a higher rate of support than among the general public or members of other Christian denominations.

“It would seem the Catholic Church in Maine is listening to the voices of the faithful in choosing not to promote discrimination. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine has signaled that it will not actively campaign against this November’s ballot question allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples. The diocese’s decision to “take a pass” on the second collection is a good indication that it will keep that promise.

“Because Father’s Day is about love, respect and commitment, I’m one Maine father who’s proud of my son and my church.”

I can’t imagine anyone saying it better.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.


Catholic Coalition Lauds Obama’s Endorsement of Marriage Equality

May 10, 2012

Equally Blessed:

President’s change of heart rooted in Christian conviction

 Equally Blessed, a coalition of four faithful Catholic groups who work on behalf of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church and wider society, released the following statement in response to President Barack Obama’s endorsement yesterday of marriage equality:

“In endorsing marriage equality, President Obama has risked a political confrontation with the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church by embracing the wisdom of the people in the Catholic pew, and we salute him for it.

“Like the President, our support for same-sex marriage is rooted in Christian conviction. We believe that all of God’s children are entitled to equal treatment under the law.

“The bishops of our church, unfortunately, persevere in advocating discrimination, and cloud this simple issue with dubious claims about threats to their religious freedom. They have poured millions of dollars, intended for the support of local parishes, into a nationwide campaign against basic civil rights for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people, yet Catholic support for marriage equality continues to grow.

“Polling by the Public Religion Research Institute has established that 71 percent of Catholics favor allowing same-sex couples to enter into “the kind of marriages you get at city hall.”

“Research by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press demonstrates that Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage has plummeted by 24% in the last eight years, (from 55% in 2004, to 42% today.)”

“The warmth and empathy that the President manifested yesterday were a welcome change from the chilly pronouncements we hear from our bishops. We pray for the day when they, like the President, will recognize the need to evolve.”

Equally Blessed is a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both in the church and in civil society. Equally Blessed includes four organizations that have spent a combined 115 years working on behalf of LGBT people and their families:  Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry. On the web: http://Equally-blessed.org/

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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