On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.
The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:
“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”
The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.
Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has excommunicated himself by his action. Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case. Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President. So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.
Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.
Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”
I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.
“Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine” read a Catholic church’s sign which has drawn criticism from those concerned it could promote acceptance of gay parents.
Saints Columba-Brigid Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, intended for the sign to be a message of welcome to children with a father and stepfather, according to the pastor, Fr. Roy T. Herberger. He found it in a Google search for “funny church signs” and hoped this particular message would welcome those in non-traditional families.
Having spent nearly five decades in ministry, Herberger has encountered many children made to feel less worthy because of their family structure. He told the Buffalo News:
” ‘My only purpose was to say, “Look, hang in there. People understand what you’re going through. Don’t give up on yourself.” ‘ “
Herberger said he was thinking specifically of children in the parish with both a father and a stepfather, and in other non-traditional family groupings. He explained to Yahoo! News, speakingof his inclusive message in signs and in homilies, that:
” ‘They are a challenge to be more open to the teachings of Christ. . .his openness, his acceptance, his love. . .That sometimes gets covered over by church traditions, rules, and regulations.’ “
Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone mandated the sign’s removal after claiming that he received critical calls from “around the world.” Despite the pastor’s explanation of his intention for the sign, Malone said the possibility that this inclusive message “be misunderstood and even perceived in a heretical way” necessitated its removal.
Parishioners have generally supported Fr. Herberger, who said the only complaints he received were from outside the parish because those inside know his intentions. Margaret McGrath, a parishioner who directs the church’s Family Resource and Advocacy Center, said the priest was both the “true spirit of the Catholic Church” and “Pope Francis among us.” Buffalo News reported:
“Herberger recently gave a homily encouraging the church’s flock to be accepting of all loving relationships, McGrath said, and she saw the sign as an extension of that pulpit message.”
Petra Fontanez, a parishioner who was a single mother, said she does not always feel accepted in church settings, but this message helped her feel welcome.
This incident is, sadly, another incident where a highly vocal minority attempts to stymie local Catholics’ efforts towards mercy and inclusion. The truism “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” comes to mind. Everything, it seems to LGBT-negative activists, is tied to their negative narrative about LGBT families.
Whether the sign refers to same-gender parents or stepparents or grandparents really doesn’t matteer. Nontraditional families, rather than nuclear families,are increasingly normative. Fr. Herberger’s decision to reach out to the margins of his own parish is pastorally wise and in keeping with Pope Francis’ desires for the church in this Year of Mercy.
The sign in dispute is funny and welcoming, but it also reveals a deeper truth. Jesus was born into a most nontraditional family. When the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family in a few weeks, a reminder that it is love which defines family, Fr. Herberger should consider what message about family to include on the church’s sign. I suggest he do a repeat: “Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine.”
Yesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT news. Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year. Much good has happened in 2012, with Catholics at all levels of the church speaking out for justice and equality for LGBT people.
Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories. The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.
4 & 5. TIE Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the state’s marriage equality referendum. 8.39% Surveys show increase in support for LGBT issues among Hispanics, especially Catholics. 8.39%
7 & 8. TIE The University of Notre Dame gives official recognition to a gay-straight alliance after years of student activism. 5.24% Austrian Cardinal overturns a pastor’s decision to bar a gay man from serving on a parish council. 5.24%
9. Catholics in Media Associates gives its top award to TV’s Modern Family, a show featuring a gay family. 3.85%
10. Maryland priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral is removed from pastoral ministry. 3.5%
Editor’s Note: One item which we neglected to add to the list for voting was that Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, endorsed marriage equality, paving the way for President Barack Obama to do the same. Biden also referred to transgender equality as “the civil rights issue of our time.” We feel these should deserve some mention on the list of the best Catholic news of 2012. We regret that we didn’t include them for voting. Mea maxima culpa.
It is understandable that certain Catholic bishops would be disappointed in Tuesday’s ballot victories for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. All the bishops in those particular states were vocal in trying to defeat marriage equality initiatives.
In Maine, Bishop Richard Malone attempted to be reconciliatory in his statement following the vote. While noting that he was “disappointed” in the outcome, he also showed some awareness that Catholics who supported marriage equality did so out of a sense of justice, though he disagreed with their motivation:
“I trust that those who voted for such a radical change did so out of concern for our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Respect and acceptance of all people regardless of sexual orientation is not a point of controversy. It is a teaching of the Church, but so is the authentic meaning and definition of marriage. That is why the Catholic Church will continue its commitment to work for the basic human rights to which all people are entitled, while remaining devoted to preserving and strengthening the precious gift of marriage.”
Although Bishop Malone needs to learn that not all gay and lesbian people “struggle” with their sexuality–indeed, many see it as a gift from God and celebrate it as such–it is commendable that in this statement he reaffirms his dedication to human rights.
In Maryland, Archbishop William Lori responded to the vote for marriage equality in his state by continuing to speak as if the campaign were still ongoing, instead of a settled affair. In The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, quotes from Archbishop Lori’s response:
“ ‘I think that vote will prove not to have been for the common good of our state,’ Archbishop Lori said. . . .
“The election results on same-sex marriage should serve as a ‘wake up call’ for Catholics, Archbishop Lori said, demonstrating ‘our need to redouble our efforts to defend marriage, to preach about what marriage is, and to help people understand it as a unique relationship that does not discriminate against anyone, but is for the good of children and for the good of our society.’ ”
Lori’s comments differed greatly from those of Ryan Sattler, a Catholic layman who was profiled by The National Catholic Reporter for his work on marriage equality in the state, and who was sought for his reaction to the election’s outcome. Sattler stated simply:
“On Election Day, Maryland voters chose justice. They chose equality. They chose love.”
Similarly, Karin Quimby, deputy faith director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, praised the work of Maryland Catholics like Sattler:
“I think the work of Catholics on Question 6 here in Maryland shows that the social justice teaching in the Catholic church is alive and well. Lay leaders did a great job at the grassroots level, making their voices heard, and their fellow Catholics responded. Catholics clearly believe, very strongly, that every person has dignity, every person should be treated fairly, and every person deserves the same rights.”
In Minnesota, the Archdiocese of St. Paul, led by Archbishop John Nienstedt, also emphasized the idea that it is time to move forward from the rancor of debate:
“Although the defeat of the amendment is a very serious concern to us, it will not deter us from continuing to serve this community and the whole state in pursuit of the common good.”
Father Michael Tegeder, who publicly opposed Archbishop Nienstedt during the marriage debate, called for the Ordinary’s resignation in a letter to the Star Tribune:
“As a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, I would ask our archbishop, John Nienstedt, to prayerfully consider stepping down from his office. It would be healing for our state and our church and would show some magnanimity on his part. His misguided crusade to change our Constitution, spending more than a million dollars and, more importantly, much goodwill, has been rejected. Elections have consequences.”
In Washington State, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle also seemed prepared to continue the debate about marriage. In a statement, he said:
“I am disappointed that so many voters failed to recognize marriage between a man and a woman as the natural institution for the permanent, faithful covenant of love for a couple, for bringing children into the world, and for nurturing and educating those children. This change in civil law is not in the best interest of children or society.”
More joyous in response was Washington State’s Catholic Govern Christine Gregoire, who had signed the marriage equality legislation into law. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted her reaction to the vote:
“ ‘Washington has made history and I couldn’t be prouder,’ said Gregoire. ‘Voters stood up for what is right and what is just and said that all Washington families are equal under the law . . .
“ ‘This is a day history will look back on as a turning point for equality. It is a day I will look back on as Washington state leading the nation. And it is a day that I will carry with me forever.’ ”
Commenting on all four successful votes, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, also seemed intent on putting a negative spin on the outcomes in his statement:
“Yesterday, November 6, was a disappointing day for marriage, as the effort to preserve the unique meaning of marriage in the law lost by only a narrow margin in four states, even though vastly outspent by those who promote the redefinition of marriage.
“The meaning of marriage, though, cannot be redefined because it lies within our very nature. No matter what policy, law or judicial decision is put into place, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union. It is either this, or it is nothing at all. In view of the fact that every child has a mother and a father, our society either respects the basic right of every child to be raised by his or her mother and father together and so supports the true and unique meaning of marriage for the good of children, or it does not. In a society marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation, marriage needs to be strengthened, promoted, and defended, not redefined. I hope and pray that political leaders, judges, and all people will seek to honor this foundational and common sense truth of marriage.”
In L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, tried to place the Catholic hierarchy’s position in a positive cast, even in the face of such resounding defeats. A Religion News Service story offers the following summary:
” ‘You could say that the church, on this level, is bound to lose,’ writes [Lucetta] Scaraffia. ‘But this is not the case.’
“According to the historian, the church’s fight on moral issues such as gay marriage and abortion has drawn support and admiration’ from many non-Catholics.
“By opposing legislation allowing gay couples to adopt in the United Kingdom or fighting the birth control mandate in the U.S., the church ‘made it clear for everyone that this is not about progress’ but about ‘the loss of one of the founding freedoms of the modern State, religious liberty.’ “
In all these cases, where Catholics have been working on both sides of the marriage question, it will be incumbent on the local bishops to work toward reconciling these factions in the church so that there are no lingering senses of animosity or alienation. This will be particularly important where the bishops have been particularly politically involved on the marriage question, and thus have risked alienating marriage equality supporters. Now that the electorates have spoken for justice and equality, the work of reconciliation must begin in earnest.
As we come into the final week before Election Day, Catholics in Maine are becoming more public about their support for the state’s referendum to legalize marriage equality, while the Catholic bishop there is becoming more vocal about his opposition.
Catholics for Marriage Equality, the state’s organization of Catholic in favor of the referendum, took out quarter-page ads in three Maine newspapers this past Sunday urging people to vote for marriage equality. 100 Catholics across the state put their names to the ad to show their support.
In a Boston Globe news story, Anne Underwood, the lead organizer of Catholics for Marriage Equality, explained the background for the ad statement:
‘‘ ‘The premise is we support marriage for same-sex couples because it’s a matter of conscience,’’ said Underwood, an attorney from Topsham. ‘’And Catholics have an obligation to form their own consciences, especially on political issues and issues of morality.’ ’’
(You can view a video clip of an interview with Underwood by clicking here.)
The same news story quotes former governor of Maine, John Baldacci, a Catholic who is a strong supporter of marriage equality:
‘‘While we’re tremendously respectful, we also recognize that God gave us the ability of free choice and to be able to follow our hearts. When we see people who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, that’s something we should be praising and supporting.’’
Baldacci recently hosted two spaghetti dinners to raise awareness for the marriage equality referendum.
Meanwhile, the state’s Bishop Richard Malone, the state’s Catholic ordinary who is governing the diocese from his new diocese in Buffalo, New York, issued a statement that any Catholic who votes for marriage equality is opposing Catholic doctrine. He stated, in part:
‘‘A Catholic whose conscience has been properly formed by scripture and church teachings cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the church. The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, open to the birth of children, is a matter of established Catholic doctrine.’’
In response to the bishop’s statement, a Catholics for Marriage Equality spokesperson encouraged Catholics to vote as their conscience directs them:
“ ‘Emotionally, I have to say I’m disappointed and embarrassed a little bit that he would put out a statement like this,’ Frank O’Hara of Catholics for Marriage Equality said Thursday in a telephone interview. ‘In some respect, I think the bishop is overstepping the bounds of church teaching by telling Catholics how we should vote on an issue.’ ”
“O’Hara, 62, of Hallowell said he and other Catholics who support same-sex marriage will be voting their consciences on Election Day.
“’The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “man must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience,’” O’Hara said in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon by Catholics for Marriage Equality. ‘Bishops cannot ask Catholics to vote against their consciences. No council has ever given them the authority to dictate obedience in matters of politics and civil government.’
“O’Hara agreed with Malone that Catholics for Marriage Equality does not speak for the Catholic church or every Catholic in Maine.
“ ‘We do, however, speak for an important group of Catholics, all of whom are part of the universal church,’ he said. ‘In this perspective, the bishop does not speak for all Catholics either, at least insofar as politics and government are concerned.’ “
In a related item, the Knights of Columbus have recently donated $100,000 to the campaign in Maine opposed to the marriage equality referendum, according to a news story in the Kennebec Journal.
Earlier this year, Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, announced that the diocese would not take an active political role in the campaign to defeat the marriage equality referendum that state voters will decide in November.
Instead, he said, the diocese planned to educate people on the meaning of marriage according to the magisterium of the church. He issued a pastoral letter about marriage in March, entitled “Marriage: Yesterday, Today, Always.”
With just about nine weeks to go before the election, the diocese has decided to set up a series of lectures to promote the pastoral letter–just when the state’s debate about marriage equality is heating up in anticiapation of the referendum.
“Suzanne Lafreniere, associate director of public policy for the diocese, said the speakers will ‘promote the principles of the faith’ in nine lectures that begin Saturday and are open to the public.
” ‘The big take-away is marriage is the union of man and woman and any children born of that union,’ she said. ‘This is part of our communications effort. We’ll be continuing our educational efforts after the election.’ . . . .
“Lafreniere said she has lined up theologians from around New England to speak at the events and that clergy will serve on the question-and-answer panel. Because the sessions are open to the public, they could draw same-sex marriage supporters, and she said they will be prepared for give and take ‘so long as people are respectful.’
” ‘Even Catholics don’t always agree with the church on it,’ she said.”
Some of those Catholics who don’t agree with the the church hierarchy on the issue are the members of Catholics for Marriage Equality, led by Anne Underwood and Charles Martel. A spokesperson for their organization commented on the diocese’s lecture series:
“Frank O’Hara, a former speechwriter for Democratic governors and spokesman for Catholics for Marriage Equality, said he’s glad the diocese has moved its message ‘out of the middle of the Mass,’ an approach that drew complaints in 2009. Still, O’Hara said, the forums won’t provide the kind of discussion necessary to address the issue.
” ‘It would be better if it was an invitation to Catholics to dialogue about marriage,’ he said. ‘All Catholics share the values of fidelity, love, faithfulness. These (forums) are designed to tell us what to believe and how to vote.’ “
The Portland Daily Sun reports that faith supporters of marriage equality are planning an weekend-long event to show how and why their religious beliefs lead them to this position:
“. . .[O]n Sept. 15-17, a ‘faith weekend’ is planned throughout the state to promote ‘Yes on 1,’ the initiative to legalize gay marriage. Mainers United for Marriage will conduct the “faith weekend” for those of the Protestant, Jewish and Catholic faiths to support ‘marriage equality,’ according to David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage. Fifty congregations around the state will hold services or activities supporting the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, the coalition announced.”
Catholics for Marriage Equality recently participated in an event where they held banners proclaiming their support for the referendum on the bridge over the Damariscotta River between Newcastle and Damariscotta.
Back in June, the diocese declined to participate in an interfaith fundraising effort to defeat the marriage equality referendum organized the Christian Civic League of Maine, a political action committee in Maine.
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.
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).