Catholic Mom Vs. Maryland Catholic Conference

Erma Durkin

In November, the Maryland Catholic Conference published a document entitled, “Religious Freedom:  The Most Sacred of All Property.”  Despite its title, it quickly became obvious that this publication was really focused on the marriage equality debate, which the bishops seem to fear they are losing.  So instead of debating the merits of marriage equality, they have attempted to shift the terms of the debate to “religious freedom,” where they have framed themselves as the victims of a secular government and culture.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops followed suit later in the same month, when at their national assembly they heard an address from Bishop William Lori, Chair of their newly formed Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Much of the commentary surrounding this question of religious liberty showed how Catholics’ liberty is not threatened, but that the bishops’ opposition to marriage equality, in fact, threatens the religious liberty of others.  We posted about one such commentary a few weeks back in this blog post.  You can also read New Ways Ministry’s response to the Maryland Catholic Conference statement here.

But these questions are more than just legal and political.  They are also pastoral and personal.  We were delighted when we read a response from a dear friend of New Ways Ministry, Erma Durkin, which approaches the Maryland bishops’ religious liberty arguments from these more concretely human concerns.  Erma is an octogenarian mother of a gay son, and not only a devout Catholic, but a thought-filled one, too.    She speaks primarily as a parent:

We sincerely wish the Bishops of Maryland, when they campaign against Civil Marriage for gay couples, would focus serious attention to the profound effects this drive has on the families among their flock. Parents are desperate to know how to reconcile the negative messages the Church delivers, or allows to be
assumed about gays, with the truth they know about the children they have brought to birth, and love so well. The arguments, given on p.9 of the Statement we are discussing, are not convincing in the light of what is known today about gender diversity among humans. Parents cannot understand how the State, by legalizing same-gender marriage, would, “infringe upon the religious liberties of individuals and institutions….” The State is simply granting equal rights to persons of all faiths, or no faith, to commit to a monogamous, permanent, and exclusive marriage contract. It is not telling people what to believe “as an article
of faith” p.9.”

She speaks as a Catholic citizen, too:

“I have never felt any coercion or obstructionism from the State, in all my years, while practicing my faith in good conscience. On the other hand, I have noted an area of pastoral need that cries out for attention and conversational engagement with our Shepherds. “

It’s clear from their statements that the bishops have listened to a lot of lawyers and political strategists.  What they need to do is to listen, instead, to the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful) which has been expressed so eloquently by Erma Durkin.

By the way, Erma has written eloquently before on the issue of marriage equality.  She contributed a moving reflection to New Ways Ministry’s book, Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach.   You can download a PDF of the book from our website.  Erma’s contribution is on page 15.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Tale of Two Prayers

For Catholics in Minnesota, the debate over a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage for lesbian/gay couples has become “a tale of two prayers.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul sent out “A Prayer for Marriage” to all the parishes in the archdiocese, which he said is

“meant for use within the Holy Mass as part of the Prayer of the Faithful. In addition, I would encourage the posting of the prayer within Eucharistic Adoration chapels, along with an encouragement to adorers to pray for the success of the amendment and all efforts to strengthen marriage.”

You can read his letter to parishes and read the full text of the prayer here.

The natural question that comes to mind in response to this prayer is why is the archbishop offering a “prayer of the faithful” to the faithful?  Shouldn’t “prayers of the faithful” come from the laity, not the hierarchy?

Well, the faithful have issued a prayer for marriage.  Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN published a prayer on their website,, which supports marriage equality for lesbian/gay couples.  Written by Chris Wogaman, the prayer asks God for healthy and holy approaches to relationships and also

“God, we ask that you bring peace to the hearts of those who are troubled about the love that some people have for one another. Calm our defensiveness with your comforting Spirit, and enlarge our vision, for we can but see through a glass, darkly, the miracles of love you have empowered among us.”

You can read the entire text of this prayer here.

Since polls keep showing that lay Catholics are more supportive of marriage equality than the bishops are, we suspect that the prayer from Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN will be the one that is prayed more often in Minnesota.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry