Bishops and Vatican React to This Week’s Marriage Equality Electoral Victories

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.

Bishop Richard Malone

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.

Archbishop William Lori

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.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt

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.”

Archbishop Peter Sartain

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.’ ”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

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.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Tireless Catholic Advocate Works for Marriage Equality in Maryland

Ryan Sattler

As the campaign for marriage equality in Maryland winds down, there is layman whose enthusiasm and generosity has buoyed the spirits of all those working in this states’ Catholics for Marriage Equality campaign: Ryan Sattler.

Sattler is profiled in this week’s National Catholic Reporter, focusing on the work he as done in the past seven months to mobilize Catholics in Maryland to get out and vote for the marriage equality referendum on Election Day.

The NCR profile describes Sattler’s motivation for his untiring work:

“Ryan Sattler, 68, thinks about his sister Mary every day. The youngest of four siblings, Mary was ‘the darling’ of their close-knit Catholic family. She was barely a teenager when she told Ryan’s wife, Joan, and later Ryan himself, that she was gay. It was difficult for Mary’s parents to accept at first, but Ryan says their ‘fierce love’ for her helped them overcome their initial shock and disappointment.

“Ryan worried about his sister, who never seemed entirely happy. He overheard her lying about nonexistent boyfriends, even while living with her partner.

” ‘She was afraid people wouldn’t accept her as she was. She couldn’t be herself,’ he said.

“When her long-term relationship ended, Mary felt she had nothing — not the heterosexual life she’d been lying about and not the life she was building with her partner. She began drinking heavily and taking pills, and shut out her family’s repeated offers to help. Five years ago, she took her own life.

“There are many reasons why Ryan supports Maryland’s ballot referendum on marriage equality. But first and foremost, there is Mary.”

Sattler, who is also a board member of New Ways Ministry, has spent the last half-year organizing events, raising funds, staffing phone banks, and participating in countless meetings to help mobilize the Catholic vote in Maryland.  His pastor commented on his energy and spirit:

” ‘Ryan is a good, faithful Catholic,”‘said Fr. Joe Muth, his pastor at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Baltimore. ‘He and others have tried to encourage thoughtful discussion about same-sex marriage at our parish. People want to talk about their beliefs and seek truth with compassion — it’s not necessarily healthy to shut down those conversations.’ “

And Ryan has not been alone in his work (though many of those who have become involved have done so because of his enthusiasm and encouragement):

“Ryan estimated that there are more than 1,000 Catholics statewide working to pass the referendum. According to Karin Quimby, deputy faith director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, Ryan and other Catholic lay leaders have been “very effective” at the regional level.

” ‘Catholics like Ryan are active in this campaign because of their faith,’ she said. ‘They have a deep need to speak out about justice and equality.’ “

Ryan’s faith as a Catholic goes deep, beyond the question of marriage equality:

” ‘The church has given me God’s love, God’s true presence,’ he said. ‘When I receive the Eucharist, I’m not thinking about the bishops. I receive the body and blood of Jesus, who loves me and welcomes all people to his table — the same Jesus who is asking me to do what I can to feed the hungry, help the poor, love my neighbors. I know that I need a relationship with him and that I need to share his love with others. That’s why I’m Catholic.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


MD Catholics Light Up Marriage Equality Message at Basilica & in Newspapers; Baltimore Pastor’s Pro-Equality Sermon Is Removed from the Web

Maryland Catholics who support marriage equality had a busy weekend showing their support for their state’s referendum on the issue which will be on the ballot tomorrow.

Catholics for Marriage Equality vigil outside Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption.

On Saturday evening, November 3rd, about 40 Catholics in the state stood outside the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption holding lighted signs which read “Catholics for Marriage Equality.”

On Friday, November 2nd, a half-page ad appeared in The Baltimore Sun signed by over 340 Catholics expressing their support for the state’s Question 6, which will ratify the marriage equality law passed in the spring.   The same ad appeared in The Star Democrat, a newspaper on the state’s Delmarva peninsula.  The ad’s statement read:

“As Catholics, we believe that all God’s children are created equal and have inherent dignity. We believe every member of our family and our community should enjoy the same opportunities, freedom, and fairness in life. Therefore, we support the Civil Marriage Protection Act signed into state law on March 1, 2012. The Civil Marriage Protection Act preserves religious freedom and protects civil liberties in a manner that respects the diversity of our great state.

“As Catholics, we will follow our consciences and vote FOR Question 6 on November 6, 2012 to support the Civil Marriage Protection Act.”

The statement was a condensed version of a pledge to support marriage equality.  The full text of the pledge can be found on the Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland website.  You can visit the website to make a donation to the Catholic campaign to support marriage equality.

A news story on Washington DC’s Metro Weekly website quoted two of the ad’s organizers:

” ‘Catholic lay people in Maryland are voting their consciences to make sure that our state’s laws treat all people equally and fairly, and that all families in Maryland are strengthened and protected,’ said Francis DeBernardo, a spokesman for the coalition and the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a coalition partner, in a statement announcing the ad.

“The statement also quoted Ryan Sattler, one of the ad’s signatories: ‘While we respect our church’s leaders, we disagree with them about this issue of public policy. Our Catholic faith impels us to work for justice and dignity for all people, and supporting marriage equality is the right way to secure those values, and that is why as Catholics we are proud to be voting for Question 6.’ “

This weekend it also became known that the online video and audio recordings of a Baltimore Catholic pastor who preached in support of marriage equality had been taken down.

Who withdrew the video and audio recordings of Father Richard Lawrence’s October 28th sermon at St. Vincent dePaul parish?  Dan Rodricks, a Baltimore Sun reporter has a theory:

I inquired about what had happened, but the pastor declined to comment and I haven’t heard back from St. Vincent’s. I assume Lawrence’s superiors might have had something to do with the removal of the video. The same day it disappeared, a message about “the teaching role of priests” appeared on the archdiocesan web site. “

As part of that statement, Archbishop William Lori said:

“Preaching the word of God requires subordination of personal views to the word of God as taught by the Catholic Church. This was my promise when I became a priest, as it is the promise of every priest at his ordination. … No bishop, priest or deacon has the right to use the pulpit to advance his personal opinions. … May all priests, including myself, be mindful of their obligation to preach the Gospel even when it is unpopular with prevailing culture.”

Rodricks commented:

“None of this surprised me — not Father Lawrence’s courage in speaking from conscience, not the church’s predictable position against such a challenging expression from the pulpit. The church feels empowered to press its views about a civil matter, to lobby and to influence representatives, to campaign, to be a player in the democratic process that culminates in Tuesday’s election. And yet the church is itself no democracy; it refuses to hear dissent, even from one of its most eloquent and faithful servants speaking about a matter of civil justice.”

The actions of Maryland Catholics described at the beginning of the post, and the fact that Fr. Lawrence had received a standing ovation from his congregation, reveals that the laity do not agree with suppressing discussion of this issue in the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





Maryland Catholics Organize to Support Marriage Equality

Sixty Catholics from the greater Baltimore region gathered for a workshop Saturday, June 9th, to discuss ways to protect Maryland’s newly-minted marriage equality law from a referendum challenge in November.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, was the keynote speaker for the event, which also included a panel of speakers representing a variety of perspectives supporting marriage equality:  Rose Glorioso and Donna Senft, a married lesbian couple; Erma Durkin, the mother of a gay man who is married; Mark Clark, a gay man who had been previously married to a woman; and Karin Quimby, the field director for the Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign.

The event, which took place at Goucher College, Towson, Maryland, was sponsored by the Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland coalition which is comprised of faithful Catholic individuals and organizations, including: Baltimore Catholic Parishioners for Marriage Equality, Dignity/Washington, New Ways Ministry, Quixote Center/Catholics Speak Out, Thomas More Project, Viva House, Women-Church—Baltimore, and WATER–Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics & Ritual.

Ryan Sattler, a member of Baltimore Catholic Parishioners for Marriage Equality, who served as spokesperson for the event, described the meeting’s purpose:

“Despite negative messages about marriage equality from our hierarchy, lay Catholics support legal recognition for the committed relationships of lesbian and gay couples. Our Catholic tradition of justice requires that we support lesbian and gay couples not only to protect their families, but to strengthen the common good.”

Participants discuss strategies at Catholics for Marriage Equality–Maryland workshop.

Participants at the workshop discussed a number of strategies to support the marriage equality bill including pledging to go to the polls in November, encouraging other Catholics to do the same, raising funds to support the campaign for marriage equality, talking with their pastors about the referendum, and attending a rally in the fall for Catholics who support marriage equality.

Towson’s interviewed Sister Gramick before the event to get her perspective on marriage equality.  She stated:

“It’s a great shame that the leaders of my church—the bishops—are all out there campaigning against marriage equality. I want to be proud of my church and that makes me very ashamed.” also interviewed Catholic gay couple Dave Kolesar and Patrick Wojahn, for their opinions on the church’s involvement in marriage equality politics:

” ‘I think one thing I discovered growing up Catholic is that the institutional church doesn’t necessarily speak for the parishioners,’ Kolesar said. ‘I think homosexuality and gay marriage is one area where the church leadership and laity diverge.’

Dave Kolesar and Patrick Wojahn

“In fact, a 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 52 percent of Catholics believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

“Wojahn, a College Park councilman, said it’s not the church’s place to comment on civil marriages.

” ”m not going to tell the Catholic Church what they should or should not believe,” he said. “But our state shouldn’t discriminate.’

“Gramick said she plans to do her best to avoid just that.

” ‘What I believe the Vatican is trying to do is stamp out questioning, to stamp out dissent; to really destroy any kind of thinking that’s different,’ she said.”

Catholics for Marriage Equality—Maryland also plans two more workshops for Catholics in the state:  on September 29th in Prince George’s County and on October 6th in Montgomery County.

Information about these workshops and the coalition’s other events can be found on their Facebook page.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry