Will Minnesota’s Bishop Follow Maine In Marriage Equality?

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

Catholics in Minnesota are asking the states’ bishops to follow the example of Maine’s Bishop Malone by taking a less activist approach to the state’s upcoming marriage equality referendum.  In the past week, the Maine prelate released a pastoral letter on traditional heterosexual marriage, and announced that the Diocese of Portland would not be funding or staffing the political campaign to make sure that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is defeated.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota has instituted a number of new initiatives to make sure that their state’s proposed constitutional amendment against marriage equality will be defeated, including asking their bishops to take a cue from Bishop Malone.  According to a news report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“ ‘We are encouraged by Bishop Malone’s decision to place at the center of the Church’s mission in Maine Jesus’ call to care for the poor and marginalized,’ said Michael Bayly, executive director of Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota. ‘We pray that the bishops here in Minnesota will not only follow the example of Maine but will also be open to the love and commitment embodied in the relationships of committed gay and lesbian couples.’ ”

According to Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota’s blog site, Sensus Fidelium, the group

” . . . has organized a weekly prayer vigil during the season of Lent. Over 100 people attended last Sunday’s vigil, and organizers anticipate the numbers of attendees to continue to increase. Those who gather bear public witness to the fact that they do not see anything of Jesus’ life or message in Archbishop John Nienstedt’s support of the so-called ‘marriage amendment.’

“The group has also started an online petition asking Archbishop Nienstedt to re-focus the energy and resources of the Church away from divisive and unnecessary constitutional amendments back towards the core Catholic teachings of compassion and care for others. The petition can be found at FocusOnSocialJustice.Com

You can learn more about Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota at their website,c4me.org.

For more information about the Maine bishop’s action, you can read yesterday’sBondings 2.0 blog post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NYT/CBS Poll: Catholic Religious Leaders Out Of Touch

Today’s poll on President Obama and the economy also gauged voter’s take on two key religious “hot buttons”- and it turns out they’re not so hot:

Mosaic cross ~Lobby of New West Catholic gym

Mosaic cross ~Lobby of New West Catholic gym (Photo credit: laudu)

Despite the deep divide between some religious leaders and government officials over contraceptives, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll found most voters support the new federal directive that health insurance plans provide coverage for birth control.

In addition, most voters said they favored some type of legal recognition for same-sex couples, at a time when the New Jersey Legislature is set to vote on gay marriage and after a federal appellate court ruled that Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage in California was unconstitutional.

A majority of Catholic voters in the poll were at odds with the church’s official stance, agreeing with most other voters that religiously affiliated employers should offer health insurance that provides contraception. Jennifer Davison, 38, a Catholic from Lomita, Calif., agrees with the federal requirement. “My opinion is that it is a personal issue rather than a religious issue,” she said in a follow-up interview.

Unlike Catholics, white evangelical Christian voters were more divided, with half objecting to requiring the health insurance plans of religious employers to cover contraceptives; 43 percent supported it. “It is a religious issue with me,” said Jessica Isner, 22, an evangelical Christian from Elkins, W. Va. “I believe that providing birth control is O.K. if the hospital is not religiously affiliated.”

Gay marriage is another debate in which the Catholic laity disagrees with church doctrine. More than two-thirds of Catholic voters supported some sort of legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships: 44 percent favored marriage, and 25 percent preferred civil unions. Twenty-four percent said gay couples should receive no legal recognition.

Click here for graphic of full poll results

TWO THIRDS. This is bearing out that the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful) is much more “common” (read ‘in touch’) than that of the magisterium. And the gap of common sense just seems to be getting wider….

 Read the complete NYT story here

Marriage, Civil Unions, Platform Planks and Communion

What do all of these things have in common?

The answer in my head is this: injustice. Let’s take them one by one, shall we?

Last week, New York joined ConnecticutIowaMassachusettsNew HampshireVermont, plus Washington, D.C. and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon in granting human beings the right to marry another human being and to enjoy all the rights and privileges thereof.

It was a dramatic moment for me.

I was sitting in the kitchen of two people I love very dearly (State of Washington-certified Domestic Partners), watching them make dinner while Tweeting the progress of the New York Senate and holding the hand of the man I love. I was thinking about the impact this could have on my life. To wit: If New York legislates marriage, does that mean that all the state constitutional bans on marriage equality will eventually be struck down and I could marry this man I love in the state we were both born in, live in, work in, pay taxes in, own property in? That I could enjoy the freedoms other people so casually have without the sense of gross injustice that people who are discriminated against know and feel deeply?

Wow. Maybe it COULD happen.

And then, the legislation passed and I experienced the same shiver of joy I felt when I first said “I’m gay” to another living person. Relief and truth and happiness. All rolled into one. And I knew I was not alone. This may have happened in New York, but it was felt all over the world- and the irony is not lost. The echoes of Stonewall nearly half a century ago, reverberated in every subsequent Tweet, text and Facebook update.

It was really happening.

Civil Unions
Rhode Island this week passed a bill which grants human beings the right of Civil Union if they do not qualify for marriage as defined by the state. Another dramatic moment for me. Rhode Island is heavily Catholic- I never thought this would fly here.

Well, at least not very easily.

It is very well worth noting, that Catholics, for the most part, have an overwhelming sense of social justice. Almost all of the polls conducted show a sensitivity to social issues on the part of American Catholics unparalleled by their Protestant counterparts. Still, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been working overtime to strike fear into the hearts of the people in the pews regarding human marriage. With phrases like “protect your children/family”, “slippery slope”,”moral decay”, “dangerous precedent”, the Catholic leadership has worked to make this particularly deep social justice issue one of moral urgency. I thought it might work.

I was afraid it might.

But Chicken Little and his frantic fear-mongering fell on (mostly) deaf ears. The Catholics in the pews remembered their catechism’s teachings on love, compassion and justice and supported non-discrimination in Rhode Island. That bodes well for the rest of the U.S., especially since more Catholics than not support marriage equality (and that number is poised to increase as the demographic ages).

Some say it’s not enough- we need full marriage. And they’re right. But listen to Rhode Island. They have something important to say- and it’s good news.

Platform Planks
Yeah, I know. I just can’t shut up about this. But doesn’t all of the above make the Montana Republicans and their bigoted platform plank look even more ridiculous and irrelevant?

A Vatican Adviser last week called for excommunicating Governor Andrew Cuomo for supporting free choice in human marriage in the State of New York. Professor Edward Peters of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit advocated using the Eucharist as “punishment” and “a warning” for others in official positions who might be considering following Cuomo’s lead. It doesn’t matter that the church has been slow to respond on civil rights issues before- the lesson seems to be lost. Well, on the higher-ups anyway (see above).

The dogmaticism of the Roman Catholic hierarchy is increasingly out of touch with the sensus fidelium– the ability of the people of the church to sense the propriety of doctrine and official positions within the church. The people are clearly seeing something that all the combined high-hatted prelates of the world cannot: discrimination based on sexuality is an injustice- and human marriage discrimination is an injustice.


The reasonable and thoughtful Catholics I know, the people in the pews who know me and know my partner see that all we want is to have the dignity and respect of just one of Newt Gingrich’s marriages. Just one. They realize that the love I have for this man is not a threat to them, or to the church, or to God. Marriage is not a threat to anyone. It’s just a simple recognition of the truth.

The truth of two human beings who love each other and simply want to publicly commit to their common welfare. Maybe with their children. Or a few chihuahas or cats running around. Whatever. No big deal.

Except that it is.

The levels of denial and refusal to acknowledge reality here by equality opponents is bordering on the psychotic. It’s becoming ridiculous. The good news is that with New York, Rhode Island and a very successful Montana Pride, it looks like most of America is beginning to realize that.

The sky isn’t falling after all. In fact, it’s beckoning us, welcoming us.

With a fucking rainbow.

A Warning Shot Across The Bow….

Today I received in the mail (at my home address no less) an unsigned, unmarked theological terrorism note.

When I collected the mail, I looked through it all as usual, tossing the “immediately recyclable” pieces into the bin, and taking the personal correspondence, a catalog I like, and a bank statement to my desk. I had a birthday card from Calgary (Thanks, Nicole!) and this strange white envelope addressed to “Fr. Greg Smith”.  I was puzzled. I looked more closely at the envelope. My name and address beautifully written (in pencil) across the front of the envelope. No return address. Postmark: Omaha, Nebraska. The back flap was taped for extra security.

Now, when I receive anything marked “Fr.” or “Rev.”, I usually toss it straight into the bin. Experience has shown me that those are either a solicitation or an assumption about my political preference. For some reason, I didn’t do that today.

I grabbed the letter opener and slit the envelope open. Inside were four photocopied pages and a smaller slip of paper. I opened the pages. At the top was the heading “J.M.J.” Uh-oh. Every Catholic school child (at least of my generation and before) knows what that is. Although the protection and intercession of Jesus, Mary and Joseph may be very useful during an exam or for a term paper, it doesn’t bode well in correspondence.

I was right.

The pages were a photocopied story by a woman whose life and marriage (“like a fairy tale”) was founded in the Gospel and about her friend, a Lesbian, who was a “miserable” person and “really messed up” because she wanted to be with another woman. It went on to describe how the natural law was ordained by God and how same-sex attraction was going against “His will” and could only result in disaster and eternal tragedy….

Oh, God. And there was more. The pages had handwriting at the end, the same beautiful handwriting in pencil from the envelope.

“Like many great men before you, you have been given the opportunity to be a fine teacher of truth, if you use it for that. Your experiences were not intended to be a tool for the destruction of souls, but to lead them into truth and light because of it.”

And the little slip of paper had definitions of love from the Biblical Greek, and its correlation with the truth. Summary: “What is true simply remains true all the time and for everyone”, despite the different experiences of persons, and the Church is the only authority capable of that determination.

I threw it away. I thought “I don’t need to bring this patronizing, arrogant energy into my house.”

It was too late, I already had. I was fuming. So I went to the recycling bin, fished it out and read it again.

The letter was arrogant, it was naive, patronizing and theologically unsophisticated. It was judgment and intolerance disguised as concern. And I couldn’t allow the coward who wrote it to have the last word. And maybe I could change that nasty energy. It worked before. So here goes…..

Dear Anonymous,

I received your letter today and am puzzled by the tone. You imply that I do not know who I am, that I am misleading others, deceiving myself and on the way to becoming (if I haven’t already) a threat to society, christianity and general morality.

You did not sign your name, tell me anything about yourself or in any way invite me to dialog. That tells me you’re afraid. I want to invite you to step outside your fear of me, and be open to my experience. I am gay. I have known that for a very long time. I have spent a significant amount of time in self-reflection and prayer. I am also a licensed theologian, so please don’t insult my intelligence by quoting scripture, defining Greek or quoting popes and theologians out of context.

I would invite you to study the role of the “conscience” in the church as well as the “sensus fidelium”- both are important and fundamental concepts, conveniently forgotten by those who simply want to obey the rules and blindly do whatever they are told to avoid the threatening punishment of hell by a God who only cares about the rules. I happen to believe, as did Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Theresa of Avila and a host of other saints and authorities, that God is loving and generous and kind, and is interested in my personal experience and my desire to live authentically. This I believe I am doing. I pray every day, I live a reflected life, and I am not ashamed.

I understand your fear. It is the fear of difference. It is the fear of change. It is the fear of discomfort. It is the fear of being wrong. It’s the fear that your whole moral structure could be founded on something unstable. I understand your fear, and I recognize that you are speaking to me from that fear, not from a place of love or understanding. This position of fear is held by most people who refuse to listen to the experience of other persons, favoring instead principles, dogmas or laws. If you think carefully, you might remember that Jesus taught against that kind of blind obedience. You speak from fear and I understand that. But I also know that fear wants to perpetuate itself, so I must refuse to buy what you’re selling. My integrity demands it.

In closing, I will say this: You said that you will pray for me. I will also pray for you. Every day. And maybe one day you can sign your name so we can actually talk.


D Gregory Smith, MA, STL