Catholics for Marriage Equality Counter Bishops’ Bulletin Inserts in Washington

October 7, 2012

The Washington State Catholic Conference is asking parishes to distribute bulletin inserts which are opposed to marriage equality to their parishioners today, in anticipation of next month’s referendum on the issue.  Catholics for Marriage Equality Washington, a large grassroots network of Catholics who support the rights of lesbian and gay couples to marry are countering this effort by asking their members to distribute an alternative brochure outside their churches today.

In the brochure, Love Overcomes Fear, they stress Catholic social teaching about the dignity of each human being and Jesus’ message of love for all.

“We are shocked when we read the language and examples used by our bishops to incite fear in our Catholic brothers and sisters if Referendum 74 passes.  The message of Jesus is love and compassion, not fear,” said Kirby Brown, of Catholics for Marriage Equality Washington (CFMEWA).

“While many pastors and their parish ministry teams may not use what the Bishops are sending them, remember we, the laity, are the Catholic voice of support for marriage equality in our state. We are the Church. “Let’s use our voice!”  said Brown.

You can read the bishops’ two bulletin inserts, a Q & A sheet and a list of supposed consequences of legalizing marriage equality by clicking here.

You can read the CFMEWA brochure by clicking here.  For a high-quality copy of this handout, email cfmewa@gmail.com.

CFMEWA is also encouraging members to attend three upcoming events which are of interest to Catholics who support LGBT issues:

Jamie Manson, The Church at a Crossroads

Jamie Manson, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, will be at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill  in Seattle on Sunday, October 14, 1 – 4 PM. Jamie will lead a dialogue about the crises facing the Catholic Church in the U.S. and in a search for signs of hope in this challenging climate. (The cost is $25 at the door. Please rsvp to Call to Action Western Washington, Betty Hill, tombethill@comcast.net)

People of Faith Singing A Gospel Concert for Marriage Equality

A participatory concert at Seattle First Baptist, 1111 Harvard Avenue. Come and sing! Come and be inspired! Come and commit to Washington United for Marriage.  Sunday, October 14,from 6:30 – 8:30 PM (Goodwill offering goes to Washington United for Marriage)

Sisters & Brothers in Christ: Faith Journey of LGBT Catholics

On Thursday October 18th from 7 – 9 PM, St. Joseph Parish in Seattle offers a panel presentation of personal stories about how some St. Joe’s parishioners who are gay and lesbian, as well as family members and straight supportive friends live lives of faith. The panel will be followed by an open community discussion, conversation and refreshments.

For more information on these events, contact cfmewa@gmail.com

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Washington State Catholic Pastors’ Refusal Continues to Inspire

August 27, 2012

While we were in Washington State last week doing educational programs on Catholic support for marriage equality in anticipation of that state’s referendum on the issue in November,  Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and I met with several pastors and parish leaders who earlier this year had refused the local archbishop’s request to use their parishes to collect signatures for petitions  to put the new marriage law to a ballot test.

Our discussion was lively and encouraging.  For one thing, we learned that there were many more parishes that had refused to collect signatures than had made the news accounts back in April.  We knew about a handful, but it turns out there were probably close to twenty that abstained from the collection.  In fact in one deanery (a geographic division) of the diocese, the pastors of all twelve parishes had met and agreed corporately not to allow signature collection.

The pastors we met  said they mostly had two reasons for their refusal:  1) they believed that collecting signatures would cause great divisions in the parishes; 2) many of the parishes have an explicit welcome to LGBT parishioners and their families, and they felt that collecting signatures would be a sign of inhospitality.

Response from parishioners has been universally positive about the decision not to support the signature campaign.  A number of the priests said that the announcements of the decision received standing ovations from their congregations.  The few parishioners who disagreed expressed their thoughts quietly and respectfully, and the priests felt that the decision helped to open up avenues of dialogue.

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

During our discussion, we learned about one pastor, in particular, who has been very public and vocal about not supporting measures to defeat marriage equality.  Fr. John Whitney, SJ, of St. Joseph Parish, Seattle, has added a section to the parish’s website about the upcoming referendum.  In that section, he includes a letter describing his decision as well as his perspective on Referendum 74.    He begins:

“Many of you may have read in the media that St. Joseph, among other parishes, has decided not to allow the gathering of signatures for Referendum 74, which aims at repealing the marriage equality bill passed by the State of Washington. This referendum is supported by the Archdiocese of Seattle, who has asked the Knights of Columbus to collect signatures at various parishes. Although many of you have offered support for the decision not to allow signature gathering here, I believe all of you deserve an explanation of the reasoning behind the decision.

“The primary reason for not allowing this petition is the nature of the worshipping assembly. Women and men of all opinions, orientations, backgrounds, and motivations are welcomed at this altar, and are encouraged to pray for wisdom and unity, even as we all work to create social policies that respect our faith and support each other. The Church should not be a place of coercion, but of discernment, as each member of the Church (as well as each citizen), decides whether a proposal such as Referendum 74 makes us more or less like the Kingdom described by Jesus. To have petitioners at the doors seems to me inappropriately coercive and contrary to the mission of the Church, especially in the Sunday assembly.”

Fr. Whitney goes on to describe why he feels the church is not the place to debate the referendum:

“Further, the nature of the piece of legislation makes it inappropriate to be brought into the context of our worship, I believe, since Referendum 74—like the marriage equality act it seeks to overturn—concerns civil marriage, not the covenant of Catholic marriage, which is a matter of faith and exists in the Church through the ministry of every couple. Although the Archbishop has the right and responsibility to speak and educate the community about legislation, I believe that this level of involvement around the issue of civil marriage is ill-considered, and risks placing the Church on the side of injustice and the denial of civil rights. Thus, I cannot in conscience allow such signature gathering at St. Joseph. I am not telling others how to vote, but I think that a Catholic, in good conscience, can oppose this referendum and should not be pressured to support it in the context of Sunday mass.”

In addition to his statement on the parish website, the pastor also posted Archbishop Peter Sartain’s letter requesting signatures,  and an FAQ sheet from the  Washington State Catholic Conference on why Catholics should oppose marriage equality.  Fr. Whitney explained his approach:

“Finally, I want to be clear that the Archbishop empowered pastors to make the decision about whether or not to allow signature gathering, and that we are not acting in opposition to his leadership. I am committed to offering his words directly to this community, when that is requested, and to encourage all members of the community to read them respectfully and thoughtfully, as part of the formation of conscience for any Catholic. In those rare situations where I may disagree with the Archbishop’s conclusions, I do not intend to use the pulpit or bulletin to debate, since that is not the place. As I have said, I think such debates belong outside the Church.”

He closes with a hope and prayer for unity among Catholics, even those divided by the marriage equality issue:

“It is of primary importance in all this, however, that we know we can be one community, united in heart and mind, only if we believe that every person is loved by God and valued in his or her humanity. We must listen to one another with respect—to the reality of our experiences and the grace of our call, in Christ. Hearing and loving each other is the root to true discernment, for it is in this communion that the Spirit is present and the Church—the true Church, for whom Christ was crucified and to whom he gave his body and blood—made flesh.

“May we hear God in our midst and always live to do God’s will in our world.”

On the website, Fr. Whitney provided a link for people to easily respond to him and/or to the archbishop.

We need more pastors like Father Whitney who speak forthrightly and who encourage respectful dialogue among their parishioners and between parishioners and their pastoral leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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