“Fortnight for Freedom” Fails to Rouse Catholics to Oppose LGBT Equality

For the fourth year in a row, the U.S. Catholic Bishops declared a “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21st to July 4th–a time for Catholics to pray and organize to protect supposed threats to religious freedom.  For the fourth year in a row, this project has failed to find an audience among Catholics in the pews, who don’t agree with the bishops that their religious liberty is threatened.

Many Catholics think that claiming religious liberty is threatened is a way for religious leaders, such as the bishops, to oppose a number of governmental initiatives, including marriage equality.  By saying that marriage equality will harm the Catholic Church’s ability to practice its faith works as a red herring.  As Father Thomas Reese recently pointed out in The National Catholic Reporter,  the U.S. bishops have made accommodations with other civil laws that do not match their beliefs, so, morally, they can do the same with marriage equality.

It’s surprising that the bishops’ campaign did not pick up more speed this year than in the past since the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality came right in the middle of their Fortnight.  But perhaps it’s not surprising, since many Catholics welcomed the decision and don’t see it threatening their freedom.  As Paula Ruddy, writing at The Progressive Catholic Voice blog wrote:

“American Catholics have been formed in the values of two traditions – the value of community in the Roman Catholic tradition and the value of individual liberty in the U.S. democratic tradition. Most of us have learned to value both, to integrate the two more or less successfully. We try to avoid both the excesses of “group think” and the excesses of ‘go-it-alone’ individualism. We have to do this without the support of our institutional church.”

That sentiment was shared by Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, and Reverend Barry Lynn, president of Americans United, in an op-ed they co-authored for The Baltimore Sun at the very beginning of the Fortnight campaign.  O’Brien and Lynn pointed out that American Catholics want a nation where everyone’s needs are met and everyone’s consciences are respected:

“The American public has arrived at a consensus that it’s not OK to be mean and nasty. They don’t think it’s OK to take taxpayer money to diagnose someone with HIV and not give that person — through condoms, medication and counseling — the ability to live and love as HIV positive. It’s not OK when refugees from Latin America, or those who are victims of sex trafficking or sexual abuse, are denied emergency contraception that could prevent pregnancy — especially when they are not even referred to another provider who can give survivors what they need. The American public does not agree when an employer either refuses to hire you because you want to marry your same-sex partner, you want contraceptives covered by your insurance or you would like to use IVF to have the baby you’ve always wanted.”

The real danger is that real religious freedom is threatened by the unholy alliance between pulpit and government. O’ Brien and Lynn stated:

“[T]he real threat we see is an all-time low in political commitment to, and understanding of, the idea of separation of church and state.”

O’Brien underscored this problem in a separate op-ed that he wrote for Crux:

“Real religious freedom is freedom of and freedom from religion. Neither party seems to understand that you don’t get to impose your beliefs onto somebody else — your freedom stops at the end of your nose.”

Or, as Ryan Hoffman, communications director for Call To Action, said it in a post on the organization’s website:

“Real ‘religious freedom’ upholds an individual’s decision to live in accordance with their sexual identity and religious values. Discrimination on the basis of such is not a Catholic value.”

Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow with Political Research Associates, framed the problem this way in an essay on LGBTQNation.com:

“The narrative is usually framed in terms favorable to the Christian Right: casting religious freedom versus LGBTQ rights. But there is more to it as the battle for the definition of a religiously plural society rages hotter than meets the eye. . . .

“The Christian Right, in both its evangelical and Catholic expressions, is seeking to co-opt the great tradition and constitutional doctrine of religious liberty as a front to advance their particular cultural and religious agenda at the expense of everyone else.  But there is a broad-based pushback from many sectors, both religious and non-religious, to preserve and advance religious freedom for all, and not just the self-selected few.”

If Catholic bishops continue to take a narrow view of religious liberty, they will, in effect, be making the Catholic religion a more narrow and marginalized sector of society.  Mark Silk, a contributing editor at Religion News Serviceargued against the idea that it is beneficial for religious institutions to shrink down in order to preserve their identity in a way that is totally separate from mainstream society.  In a blog post, Silk pointed out an important historical example:

“[I]t’s hard to see an American future where, as the early Christian intellectual Tertullian put it, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ What a number of latter-day Christian intellectuals are hoping for, instead, is what American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher is calling the Benedict Option, by which he proposes that Christians in America take as their model Benedictine monasticism after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. . . .

“Dreher’s idea is that just as European civilization re-emerged from these ‘islands of sanity and serenity,’ so a religious civilization can eventually re-emerge from contemporary Christian communities that hold to traditional values and beliefs.

“It’s a pretty lousy analogy, actually. The heavy business of keeping peace and order, and effecting the transition from Roman emperors to the likes of the Frankish King Clovis, was done by popes such as Gregory the Great and aristocratic (and married) Gallo-Roman bishops. Monasteries did preserve a good deal of ancient Roman culture — among other things, monks copying out enough naughty Latin literature to keep latter-day classicists in business. But the idea that people outside the cloister forgot what it meant to be a human being, while small communities of celibate men (and women) didn’t, is romantic nonsense.

“More importantly, however, the monastic model served Western Christendom badly in important ways during the era of extraordinary economic and institutional growth that began after the Viking invasions ended in the 11th century — not least by making celibacy obligatory for priests serving communities in the world, and consequently devaluing the religious lives of married folks.”

After four years of failed Fortnights, U.S. bishops should learn that Catholics in the pews do not see their religious freedom threatened.  So much wasted money on a campaign which looks more like a political strategy against policies the bishops don’t like than a humanitarian effort to preserve an ideal.   In other parts of the globes, people’s religious freedom is severely threatened, and they pay for it with their lives.  The U.S. bishops would do better by funding programs to oppose those oppressive measures instead of trying to convince Catholics here that there is a monster under the bed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Minnesota Catholics Rely on Conscience and Community in Marriage Equality Debate

Pride flag in front of the Twin Cities' St. Paul Cathedral.

Catholics are playing a major role in the marriage equality debate in Minnesota, where this November, voters in the state will go to the polls to vote on proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage between people of the same gender.  Bondings 2.0 has reported several times on the issue, particularly the good work that the group Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota has been doing.  (Links to previous posts can be found under the heading “Minnesota” in “Categories” listing in the right-hand column of this blog . →)

MinnPost.com recently featured the role that Catholics are playing in the debate in an article entitled “Conflicted Catholics: Consciences wrestle with church actions on marriage amendment.”    The personal stories explain not only the division that the proposed amendment is causing among Catholics, but the faith journeys that many individuals and faith communities are experiencing  by becoming involved with the campaign to promote equal marriage rights for all.

The article profiles Lisa Vanderlinden, the mother of a gay son, whose family moved to a parish which has a public outreach to LGBT people.  Their former parish, she explains, has become heavily involved in work to support the ban on marriage equality:

“In keeping with orders from Archbishop John Nienstedt, a prayer is now said during Sunday services affirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman. A committee has been formed to work in favor of a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution banning same-sex marriage that will appear on the November ballot.

“And a percentage of every dollar parishioners give goes to the archdiocese, which recently donated $650,000 to the group pushing for the ballot initiative.”

But Vanderlinden and her family have taken a different Catholic approach:

“ ‘The Catholic hierarchy would like the public to believe that it is the only voice of the people,’ she said. ‘Since Vatican II that’s not true. Our teaching says we must speak our conscience even when it conflicts with church authorities. . . .’

“ ‘The silencing that’s going on is incredible,’ said Vanderlinden. ‘I know a lot of people are not giving money anymore. I know a lot of people are not going to church anymore.’ ”

Laura Kuntz, another Twin Cities Catholic, found that the archdiocese’s increasing political involvement to defeat marriage equality was having a detrimental effect on her identification with the Church.  And then, she got involved with Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota:

“A year and a half ago when Nienstedt circulated a DVD calling for a same-sex marriage ban, Kuntz and her husband stopped giving to their church, because it was obligated to tithe 8 percent to 10 percent of their donation to the archdiocese.

“Two months ago, there were a series of communications about the marriage amendment in the church bulletin, including the announcement of a committee to manage communications about the amendment.

“ ‘My heart just stopped,’ she said. . . .

“At some point after she shared her feelings with a few fellow parishioners, she got a call from someone she describes only as a diocesan employee, who told her about a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality. Throughout Lent, the group held vigils outside the chancery in St. Paul. For Kuntz, participating brought comfort.”

Some Catholic individuals and parishes are protesting by not reciting the prayer against marriage equality that the archdiocese has instructed communities to use at Masses:

One of the authors of the blog The Progressive Catholic Voice, Paula Ruddy is unconvinced the prayer is being said in very many parishes. “I don’t know anyone whose parish is pushing this,” she said. It doesn’t matter whether the priest agrees with it or not, the issue is introducing a potentially divisive element to a worship service.

“One of my friends said their deacon was asked to give it as part of the homily,” she said. “He said, ‘It’s not that I am opposed to it, but I don’t want to do something so controversial.’ ”

Her fellow blogger Mary Beckfeld has friends in four western suburban parishes who say the prayer is not being said there, either. A friend of hers was asked to read it on Good Friday and refused. Her pastor’s response: “Do what your conscience tells you.”

Ron Joki, a gay man who converted to Catholicism, speaks of the role that conscience plays in his decision to remain part of the church and to be involved in the struggle to secure marriage equality rights:

“Joki sees no contradiction between his sexual orientation and his faith. ‘There are many ancient rules in the Bible that no longer serve us, that were cultural,’ he said. ‘We are not breaking the important rule, which we interpret as the basic rule of loving God and loving our neighbors.’ ”

“He’s comfortable with the approach some liberal parishes are taking of engaging in discussions about the church’s support for the amendment, but making sure multiple viewpoints are represented. ‘God speaks to us in our conscience,’ Joki explained. ‘We need to be respectful of all sides.”

Joki sees the work of the Spirit in the differing voices present in the church on this issue:

“ ‘The spirit works in many levels, not only at the top of the hierarchy but at every level,’ Joki said. ‘Many of the people the church now recognizes as saints, as heroes of the church, were originally people who were renounced and condemned.

“ ‘Sometimes, the opinions that are the last to change are at the top.’ ”

What are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the experience of these Minnesota Catholics?

1.  Follow your conscience.

2.  Seek out a supportive community.

3.  Work together with others to enact justice.

4.  Respect all, even those who disagree with you.

5.  Change comes from the bottom and rises to the top.

6.  The church doesn’t always immediately recognize its saints who are working for justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Silencing Discussion Is Not the Archbishop’s Only Error

The Progressive Catholic Voice has published a letter from Archbishop John Nienstedt which orders priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of St. Paul to be silent if they disagree with the hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality.  In November of this year, Minnesotans will be voting in a referendum on whether they should adopt a constitutional amendment banning marriage between lesbian and gay couples.

Silencing discussion is a terrible option, and church officials should remove such a recourse from their possible responses to situations.  U.S. bishops should have learned a lesson from the sex abuse crisis that silence protects nobody and ultimately fails as a method to protect the church.  New Ways Ministry has  long called for more discussion and dialogue in the church on LGBT issues, including marriage equality.  We believe that through discussion and debate truth will be found and relationships strengthened.

Silencing his priests and deacons is what will be making headlines, but it is not the archbishop’s only error in this letter.  He also wrongfully speculates on the motivations of those who support marriage equality, and he does so in an illogical manner:

“The end game of those who oppose the marriage amendment that we support is not just to secure certain benefits for a particular minority, but, I believe, to eliminate the need for marriage altogether.”

First of all, he offers no evidence for such a claim, and it is difficult to imagine what such evidence might even be.  Such a claim is unfounded.  Why would the archbishop make such a claim if he is not willing to offer any evidence to support it?

More importantly, the claim is illogical.  Does he want us to believe that the people who are working and organizing to extend marriage rights to more people are actually really trying to end the institution that they are trying to extend?

Later in the letter, he states:

“. . . we must never vilify or caricaturize those who argue [in support of marriage equality]. . . “

Yet, isn’t that what he just did by speculating, with neither evidence nor logic, on the motives of those who oppose the constitutional ban?

One of the reasons that we need discussion, and not silence, on these issues is because without the free interchange of ideas, people become so solidified in their positions that they do not realize what they are saying sometimes, and they can often work against their own best ideals.

The folks at The Progressive Catholic Voice should be applauded for making this letter available to all.  You can read their full press release here and a shorter explanation introduces the archbishop’s speech here.  In noting why they decided to publish it, they offer an image and an ideal towards which we should tirelessly work:

“. . .we at The Progressive Catholic Voice believe it is important to model a way of being church that is open, honest, transparent and participatory.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry