Extreme Protests from Both Sides of the Catholic Marriage Equality Debate

January 14, 2013

Two protests occurred in Europe over the weekend regarding Catholic involvement in the question of marriage equality.  One protest was for marriage equality and one was against it. Both were extreme.

article-protest4-0113The pro-marriage equality protest took place in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City,  when four women went topless to demonstrate against the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to marriage for lesbian and gay couples and adoption of children by same-gender couples.

The New York Daily News reports

“While the pope was giving his weekly address on Sunday, four women from the Ukrainian Femen group who were in the crowd, pulled off their T-shirts to reveal the slogan ‘In Gay we Trust’ painted over their bodies.”

The same Femen group staged a protest appearing as topless nuns in Paris a few months ago, which erupted in a violent clash between two demonstrating groups.

An Italian court had recently issued a ruling allowing for a mother and her female partner to maintain custody of a son, depsite the father’s protest against such an arrangement:

“The Court of Cassation ruled it was ‘mere prejudice’ to assume that living with a homosexual couple could be detrimental for a child’s development

“While gay rights group Arcigay called it a ‘historic ruling’ for Italy, where it is illegal for gay couples to adopt, Catholic leaders were quick to defend the traditional family unit.”

In the United Kingdom, 1,054 Roman Catholic priests and 13 bishops and abbots signed a public letter protesting the move in that nation toward legalizing marriage equality.  The Daily Telegraph reports:

“More than 1,000 priests have signed a letter voicing alarm that same-sex marriage could threaten religious freedom in a way last seen during ‘centuries of persecution’ of Roman Catholics in England.

“They even liken David Cameron’s moves to redefine marriage to those of Henry VIII, whose efforts to secure a divorce from Katherine of Aragon triggered centuries of bloody upheaval between church and state.”

The news report notes that the signers account for one-quarter of  all the Catholic priests in England and Wales.  Of course, that means that three-quarters of the priests did not sign the statement.

Both cases illustrate a minority of the people who promote or oppose marriage equality, and their extreme actions and rhetoric add nothing to the debate, but simply inflame passions.

See also: Gay Star News:  Italian Catholic Church likens gay parenting to selling children.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Bishop Gene Robinson on Maryland’s Catholic Bishops

October 15, 2012

Bishop Gene Robinson

Openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson penned an essay on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog  in support of Maryland’s upcoming marriage equality referendum in which he made the case for the state law’s strong religious protections and exemptions.

As he argued strongly for how religious freedom will be protected, he also took the state’s Catholic bishops to task for spreading false information about this issue:

“Maryland’s Roman Catholic bishops’ caution that marriage equality ‘infringe[s] upon the religious liberties of individuals and institutions’ displays either an ignorance of what the law actually says, or an intentional distortion of the truth.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Maine’s Catholic Parishes Won’t Raise Funds for Marriage Equality Opponents

June 16, 2012

On Father’s Day, June 17th, the Christian Civic League of Maine, a political action committee in Maine whose goal is to defeat marriage equality in that state’s upcoming referendum, will be collecting money in approximately 200 churches, according to a report from USNEWS.MSNBC.MSN.com.  Notably and thankfully absent from the fundraising effort will be Catholic churches.  The report states:

“The Catholic Church won’t be joining the alliance, but participants include Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Nazarene, Church of God, Wesleyan, Evangelical Free, Advent Christian and other denominations, the league stated.

“While churches and other nonprofits may not raise money for candidates to office, they may raise money for issues important to their members.

“Father’s Day, June 17, seemed appropriate for a special church collection because of the day’s focus on family, league Director Carroll Conley Jr told the AP. Additional collections are expected in the months ahead.”

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.

The faith organizing to support marriage equality in Maine’s referendum is being led by the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination.  Catholic involvement in the coalition is represented by Catholics for Marriage Equality, which is housed in Maine.

The Catholics for Marriage Equality website contains the text of a declaration for which they are collecting signatures.  You can sign the declaration by clicking here. Since the declaration sums up Catholic pro-equality sentiments so well, it is reprinted in its entirety:

The Catholics for Marriage Equality Declaration

As faithful Roman Catholics we believe that the constitutional right to practice freedom of religion is based on respect for the dignity of each individual. We must guard against, not promote, the domination of one religious tradition over others in our civic life. Making respect for the dignity of all people not only an ideal but a living truth, we affirm civil marriage for same-sex couples throughout the United States. Our declaration of conscience is based on the following:

  • The American principle of the separation of Church and State was enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that no particular religious perspective would be imposed on our pluralistic society.
  • Catholic teaching on social justice has been central to the building of a just society, creating awareness of diversity in the human family, calling us to lives of respect, not simply tolerance, for one another.
  • We remember that Roman Catholics were once denied civil rights, treated with suspicion, ridiculed because of our sacred rituals, and questioned as to our allegiance to “foreign authorities.” Memory challenges us to remain vigilant whenever bigotry and injustice enters into public discourse.
  • Same-sex civil marriage does not in any way coerce any religious faith or tradition to change its beliefs or doctrine or alter its traditional marriage practices.

We know that God is a most gracious and wonderful Creator. Many of us have gay and lesbian relatives and friends. We value the love and commitment we witness in their relationships; their devotion to each other and their children. Civil marriage bestows the dignity and equality called for in our nation’s highest ideals, “the inherent natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As Roman Catholics, we differentiate between sacramental marriage and civil marriage.Therefore, we perceive that same-sex civil marriage poses no threat to our Church. While we respect the authority and integrity of the Church in matters of faith, our prayers and discernment have brought us to a new openness on this issue. We do not ask the Church to perform same-sex marriages. We do implore the Church to honor the States’ prerogative to authorize civil marriages for our gay and lesbian family and friends. Grateful for the gift of our faith and the ways that we have been nourished by faith throughout our lives, and also grateful for our citizenship in America and in our particular state, we sign this statement as Roman Catholic citizens of the United States of America.

Catholics for Marriage Equality

For those interested in learning more about Catholic perspectives supportive of marriage equality, New Ways Ministry offers a short book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach.  The book is available at no cost.  It can be downloaded in PDF format from New Ways Ministry’s website.  You can also order hard copies of the book on the website (no cost for the book; postage and handling fees apply).

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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

March 6, 2012

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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