Last week, we reported that Bishop Joseph Tyson of the Diocese of Yakima, Washington State, had instructed parishes to distribute collection envelopes in its parishes to raise money for Protect Marriage Washington, the state’s main organization working to defeat Referendum 74, a ballot initiative to uphold a law guaranteeing marriage equality.
This week, however, the Associated Press reports that the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has ruled that for parishes to collect the envelopes would be illegal and has informed the diocese of its decision:
“. . . Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, says no organization can be an intermediary for a contribution. She says the church can hand out envelopes, but either a member of Preserve Washington has to be on hand to collect them or parishioners must send them in individually.”
The diocese appears to be ready to dispute the PDC decision. Diocesan Chief of Staff Monsignor Robert Siler claims that the procedures are not a “collection” :
” ‘As far as I know, the procedures we sent to the parishes meet the requirement of state law,’ he said, noting that the envelopes are preaddressed to the campaign.
” ‘We’re not collecting and counting money,’ he said. ‘We’re just collecting envelopes and forwarding them.’ “
“Bishop Tyson says it’s just one big misunderstanding. In fact, he told KIMA that he has yet to see one of the donation envelopes.
“In the letter, where the Bishop specifically asked parish staff not to open the donation envelopes, but instead place them into the addressed security envelope and mail them directly to Preserve Marriage Washington. It says the collection is supposed to take place September 8th and 9th.
“ ‘It’s not our collection, we’re not collecting the money, it’s not our envelope. We’re not banking the money, we’re not rolling the money, we’re not collecting the money and we’re not taking the money. Preserve Marriage Washington is doing that…we’re going to follow the state law and I’m going to make sure that we’re doing that,’ said Bishop Tyson”
“We are delighted by this ruling because we represent so many Catholics in those pews who not only find political fund raising inappropriate for their Sunday services, but also strongly disagree with the Bishop’s stance.
“We believe we should all be able to practice our faith without pressure from our Bishop or our parish priests to support an effort we oppose. “
Legal questions aside, the moral question remains: why are church institutions raising money for a political organization?
A small but significant movement is happening in the Archdiocese of Seattle. Archbishop Peter Sartrain has asked parishes there to collect signatures on a petition to call a referendum to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law. So far, three parishes, including the archdiocesan cathedral, have publicly refused to circulate the petition.
“The majority of parishes in Western Washington are expected to make the petitions available — some as soon as this Sunday, following Mass, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle.
“But pastors of at least three prominent Catholic churches in Seattle — St. Mary’s Church, St. Joseph Parish and St. James Cathedral — have notified members that the petitions will not be made available there.”
Very Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, said in a statement posted on the parish’s website that collecting signatures would be “divisive” in the parish, and he appreciated that the archbishop left the decision to do so up to the discretion of pastors. Ryan described his decision in a news article which appeared in The National Catholic Reporter:
“I decided to take a preemptive strike by sending out my email (April 11) thinking that many of my parishioners would either boycott Mass this coming Sunday or that they would arrive in a white heat. The tone of my email was low-key and anything but inflammatory. I have received 115 responses to it — when none were required or even expected! — and fully 110 of them have been strongly supportive of my decision. And I mean strongly supportive!”
“At St. Joseph’s in Seattle, the Rev. John Whitney, S.J., said that he couldn’t in good conscience allow signature gathering. In a bit of a broadside in this Sunday’s church bulletin, he writes that Catholic leadership seems deaf to the spirit of its own people, who, he implies, could teach the bishops a thing or two about acceptance of gays and lesbians.
” ‘The leadership of the church sometimes confronts the world as an enemy of the Spirit,’ he wrote. ‘The church needs greater humility and openness.’ “
Westneat also quotes the woman whose opposition to the petition drive got this movement started:
“Barbara Guzzo is the parishioner at St. Mary’s who got this little rebellion going by speaking out against the archbishop’s campaign. She said she’s often asked how she hangs in there with a church that seems afflicted with an ” ‘institutional deafness’ (as Whitney dubbed it in his Sunday bulletin).
” ‘My answer is: because it’s a human institution,’ Guzzo said. ‘I mean it took the Catholic Church 400 years to acknowledge we were wrong on Galileo! But eventually we did do it. We did say, “Oops, we were wrong.”
“She’s not saying that’s coming again anytime soon. But this is how the change often starts. From the inside out.”
While many Catholic dioceses have taken strong measures to opposed marriage equality in legislatures and referendums, none had yet taken the bold step of collecting signatures at parishes to get the question put on the ballot. The decision to do so remains highly controversial among Catholics in Seattle. According to the Times news report:
“Calls to the archdiocese have been running about even between those opposed to the archbishop’s stance on the issue and those who favor it, archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said.”
Additionally, the same report provides background on the question of diocesan involvement in marriage questions. Links to Bondings 2.0 blog posts about the following actions can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted text:
“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for gays within the Catholic Church, called Sartain’s position ‘a very aggressive step — and in the wrong direction.’
“In other states, ‘there appears to be a trend of the church supporting civil unions or domestic partnerships, arrangements short of full marriage,’ he said.
” ‘That’s important for Archbishop Sartain and others to consider,’ DeBernardo said. ‘This could have a devastating effect, regardless of the outcome.’ “
Letters to the editor ofThe Seattle Times express outrage at Archbishop Sartrain’s petition drive. Joe Martin writes:
“As a practicing Catholic, married and a proud father of two sons, I was horrified to learn that Archbishop J. Peter Sartain has plans to implement what amounts to a church-sponsored gay-bashing campaign.
“Whatever Sartain and Catholic officialdom thinks of gay people, the proposed inauguration of a petition drive to actively promote the rescinding of the gay-marriage act is a most misguided and contemptuous maneuver on the part of the institutional church in this region.”
Larry Clement writes:
“I have felt St. James Cathedral (and other churches, synagogues and mosques) to be a sanctuary, not only for me, but for others as well. A sanctuary where I could be in the presence of God for a while, away from the troubles outside, including all the dirt, accusations and innuendoes of politics. I also believe that the church must be separated from politics.
“If our archbishop is now allowing signatures to be gathered in or around the church and the services therein, for or against any political matter, my sanctuary is gone. It does not matter to me if the cause is gay marriage or discrimination of any kind, it does not belong in the church. I am saddened, and I am experiencing a great loss. I don’t want to go back.”
Ann Horwitt writes:
“The archdiocese has every right to engage in a political fight against gay marriage but it does so at some peril.
“Churches currently hold tax-exempt status as religious institutions. If the archdiocese of Seattle and other religious groups sponsor political actions such as petition drives against certain laws then perhaps it is time to revisit the privilege of tax exemption.”
Let’s pray that other Catholic parishes in Seattle and around the country will follow the example of these courageous communities.