Bishops begin fight for marriage vote

Church leaders say amendment that would ban gay marriage is a top issue in 2012 election.

(Really bishops? This is your top issue? Not jobs, not economic equity, not poverty, not justice? Shame on you!)

Minnesota’s Roman Catholic bishops are taking the unusual step of urging parish priests across the state to form committees to help get the proposed marriage amendment passed by voters in 2012.

“It is imperative that we marshal our resources to educate the faithful about the church’s teachings on these matters, and to vigorously organize and support a grass-roots effort to get out the vote to support the passage of this amendment,” Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote in a letter to his priests dated Oct. 4.

“To give a sense of the scale, in 2009, more than $9 million was spent for and against Maine’s Question 1, a popular referendum to overturn the Legislature’s legalization of gay marriage,” Smith said.

Adkins, with the Minnesota Catholic Conference, declined to say how much money the Catholic Church has spent so far — or plans to spend — in its campaign.

Tegeder said he believes the archbishop should be devoting more of the archdiocese’s resources toward fighting poverty and hunger and other issues.

The Rev. James G. Wolnik, pastor at Church of the Holy Childhood in St. Paul, said he doesn’t have a problem with the committees and sees it as the church’s mission to inform Catholics about its stance on gay marriage.

“We are certainly not in favor of somehow changing marriage as it has been understood from the beginning. God, as far as we’re concerned, made marriage between one man and one woman.”

Full Article HERE!

The letter asks parish priests to “appoint a captain or co-chairs to lead a special parish ad hoc committee to spearhead this effort.”

Coming more than one year ahead of the November election, the move is the latest sign of the early intensity surrounding the amendment to change the state’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Catholic leaders say they are taking this “unique” and unusual step because they see the amendment as one of the most important issues the state’s Catholics will have to consider in the coming year.

With nearly 1.1 million Catholics in Minnesota, the organizing effort could be a powerful force in getting boots on the ground to support the amendment. But Catholics tend to be a diverse group, not a monolithic voting bloc, and many could vote against the amendment or take umbrage at the church pushing for it.

Pros and cons

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, said the state’s other bishops are expected to send out similar letters, “if they haven’t already done so.”

“We believe it [marriage] is a vital social institution, and it’s under attack in the courts, the Legislature and the culture,” Adkins said. “And it would have profound consequences if marriage is in fact redefined. That’s why we’re putting extraordinary resources toward making sure this marriage amendment gets passed.”

But the Rev. Mike Tegeder, pastor at both St. Frances Cabrini and Gichitwaa Kateri churches in Minneapolis, said he spoke up against the effort at a meeting of priests and the archbishop this week.

Tegeder, a frequent critic of Archbishop Nienstedt’s policies, said he believes the letter calling for parishes to form committees to organize a get-out-the-vote effort is “imprudent” and “divisive.”

“There’s all kinds of wonderful ways to promote marriage, which I do on a regular basis and other churches are doing,” he said. “You don’t promote marriage by taking away the rights of a small segment of the population, many of whom are not Catholic or have no connection to the Catholic Church.”

Religion and politics expert John Green said he’s never heard of U.S. Catholic leaders encouraging clergy to form special committees at churches to mobilize Catholics to vote on particular issues.

“Oftentimes Catholic bishops ask priests to read letters … or let it be known the church definitely has a position on a certain issue,” said Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron, who studies politics and religion. “But actually instructing people to organize committees to support a ballot issue is very unusual.

“It may be very divisive,” he added. “Roman Catholic parishes tend to be large and diverse.”

Green also said he doesn’t think the church has violated its tax-exempt status “as long as it stays focused on the issue. If it got involved in any way with partisanship, with a political party or with a candidate, it would be highly problematic.”

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops made another unorthodox move before last fall’s legislative elections when they mailed DVDs to nearly 400,000 Catholics across the state, with a message encouraging them to support a state amendment defining marriage between a man and woman. That DVD prompted a complaint to the state’s campaign finance regulators, though the outcome is not clear yet.

Political battle taking shape

The bishops join other faith-based groups already gearing up for the heated political battle ahead.

Among them are members of Minnesota for Marriage, a coalition of groups formed in an effort to get the marriage amendment approved. The group includes the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage.

On the other side is Minnesotans United for All Families, a coalition that includes a number of more liberal-leaning faith-based groups opposed to the marriage amendment.

Unlike 2004, when there were 11 measures opposing same-sex marriage on the November ballot, Minnesota is likely to be the only state deciding on such a measure in 2012. As such, millions in out-of-state dollars will flow into the state, supporting and opposing the referendum, said Daniel A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

Kansas City Bishop Indicted in Reporting of Abuse by Priest

The Roman Catholic bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert Finn, and the diocese he leads have been indicted by a county grand jury on a charge of failure to report suspected child abuse in the case of a priest who had been accused of taking lewd photographs of young girls.

Bishop Finn is accused of covering up abuse that occurred as recently as last year — almost 10 years since the nation’s Catholic bishops passed a charter pledging to report suspected abusers to law enforcement authorities.

The bishop has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of the photos last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.

During that period Bishop Finn and the diocese had reason to suspect that the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, might subject a child to abuse, the indictment said, citing “previous knowledge of concerns regarding Father Ratigan and children; the discovery of hundreds of photographs of children on Father Ratigan’s laptop, including a child’s naked vagina, upskirt images and other images focused on the crotch; and violations of restrictions placed on Father Ratigan.”

The indictment was announced on Friday by the Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters-Baker. It had been under seal since Oct. 6 because the bishop was out of the country. He returned on Thursday.

“This is about protecting children,” Ms. Peters-Baker said.

The bishop and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were charged with one count each, a misdemeanor.

Bishop Finn appeared in court at 1 p.m. and pleaded not guilty, as did lawyers for the diocese.

Bishop Finn said in a statement, “We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”

He said that he and the diocese had given “complete cooperation” to law enforcement. He also pointed to steps he had taken since the scandal first became public, which included commissioning a report to look into the case and reinforcing procedures for handling allegations of abuse.

Father Ratigan was arrested in May and has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently during an Easter egg hunt last spring.

His case prompted a civil lawsuit filed in August that asserts that between December 2010 and May 2011, Father Ratigan attended children’s birthday parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted the Easter egg hunt and presided, with the bishop’s permission, at a girl’s First Communion.

The case has generated fury at a bishop who was already a polarizing figure in his diocese, and there are widespread calls for him to resign. Parishioners started a Facebook page called ’”Bishop Finn Must Go” and circulated a petition. An editorial in The Kansas City Star in June calling for the bishop to step down concluded that prosecutors must “’actively pursue all relevant criminal charges” against everyone involved.

Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to report anyone suspected of being a pedophile immediately to law enforcement authorities.

Bishop Finn, who was appointed in 2005, alienated many of his priests and parishioners, and won praise from others, when he remade the diocese to conform with his traditionalist theological views. He is one of few bishops affiliated with the conservative movement Opus Dei.

Full Article HERE!

Victims of sexual abuse by priests barred from meeting pope

Italian victims of pedophile priests demanded to meet Pope Benedict XVI in an open letter published Saturday, accusing papal officials of blocking them.

“We have gone through all the official channels possible in order to meet you, but have been given nothing but evasive replies,” the letter from various associations of child abuse victims said.

“We are forced, alas, to admit the extent to which the victims of pedophile criminals are treated with disdain, as if they have the plague.”

The letter noted that the pope had met people abused by priests when young in Australia, Britain, Malta, the United States and most recently in his native Germany, but not in Italy.

“We cannot speak to you face to face to express our grief and frustration in the face of so many words and so few acts,” it added. “We ask you for an audience in the hope of being listened to, to understand the real meaning of your words when you express your sadness and shame.”

The letter asked for a meeting with the pope on Tuesday, the day after the head of one of the associations that signed the letter, Francesco Zanardi, is due to arrive at the Vatican at the end of a protest walk across Italy begun last month.

His group, L’Abuso, claims to have uncovered 130 cases of assault by pedophile priests in Italy since 2000.

At his last meeting with abuse victims, in Germany on September 23, the pope “expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families”, according to the Vatican.

“He assured the people present that those in positions of responsibility in the Church are seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people.

“Pope Benedict XVI is close to the victims and he expresses the hope that the merciful God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind, may heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace.”

Over the past year large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium, the United States and Germany.

Long accused of a systematic cover-up, the Vatican says it has adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and that victims should be heard and helped, while the guilty are punished in the courts.

However many associations feel that its measures, including the brief meetings between the pope and abuse victims, are not enough.

Full Article HERE!

Catholic Bishops Endanger Church Tax Exempt Status

COMMENTARY

New York Archbishop and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) president Timothy Dolan recently wrote to Barak Obama asking the president to sign the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): “We cannot be silent, however, when federal steps harmful to marriage, the laws defending it, and religious freedom continue apace.”

Can the marriages of some really “harm” those of others? Does Dolan not recognize how much support there is among active, practicing Roman Catholics for same-sex marriage? Does he really not know that scores of LGBT Catholics on the Communion lines at his own masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral are married? That many work in Catholic ministry? That some are raising their children in the church? Dolan’s diocesan schools are filled with families in which there are only one or two children? Can he be naïve enough to imagine that this is accomplished through Natural Family Planning (NFP) alone? (NFP is the method of birth control the Vatican recommends and which its parishes often teach.)

Like much of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Timothy Dolan is out of touch with who we American Catholics actually are.

He has every right not to remain silent, but the bishops’ presumption (fantasy?) that a majority of active U.S. Catholics will lend support to Vatican efforts to restrict the reproductive and marriage rights of non-Catholics is alarming — especially since so many active Catholics exercise those very freedoms. Furthermore, although the pope and his bishops may truly believe a zygote is a “preborn child,” the truth is that a great number of active Catholics do not, and they vote, in great numbers, accordingly.

There’s a reason the Vatican appointed the cigar-smoking, baseball-loving, borderline-charming Dolan to serve as shepherd of the Sodom and Gomorrah that is New York City. The passing of same-sex marriage rights legislation in his state and the reproductive health aspects of the new health care mandate present New York’s top priest with fresh opportunity to make his mark as the defender of the faith in the U.S. On Sept. 30, Timothy Dolan, in his capacity of USCCB president, announced the formation of a sub-committee whose task will be to respond to the “erosion of freedom of religion in America”: “…the new subcommittee would be one of several initiatives designed to strengthen the conference’s response and bring together a broad cross-section of churches and legal scholars to oppose attacks on the First Amendment.”

Dolan is fronting this crusade, and the degree of difficulty involved makes going out on a limb with a shaky “First Amendment” argument worth the gamble. He has appointed a Connecticut Bishop, William Lori, to head up the new committee. Unfortunately the first association many Catholics have with the “Diocese of Bridgeport” is its notorious status as a locus of sexual abuse. (In 2001, the Diocese of Bridgeport settled in 23 civil sex abuse cases, and there, according to Bishop Accountability.org, Timothy Dolan’s predecessor is alleged to have allowed priests facing multiple accusations to continue in ministry.)

The USCCB is now lobbying hard to make same-sex civil marriage illegal in the U.S. and to deny (Catholic and not) employees in agencies run by the church medical coverage for contraception and sterilization. And they want Catholics in the pews to help. The bishops can count on the holy-father-knows-best Roman Catholic fringe to serve as hoplites in what the hierarchy-friendly Catholic News Service calls the “culture wars”. They’d follow the Borgia pope into hell. However, the bishops will lack critical Roman Catholic mass in these “culture wars,” and their strongest support for DOMA may come from “bring-your-gun-to-church” and “God hates fags” so-called “Christian” churches. Progressive Roman Catholics, who tend support LGBT marriage and view family planning as a moral responsibility and not a sin, are likely to think the First Amendment angle disingenuous and inane. Moderate Catholics, who might not long ago have had the USCCB’s back in a such controversies as DOMA or the health care mandate, are alienated and sickened by the pedophilia crisis. They can no longer be counted on to fall in line behind the bishops.

Were so much not at stake, I’d find Dolan’s recent foray into First Amendment advocacy amusing. Has he read the First Amendment? For he appears to miss the point. The First Amendment does not guarantee one religion the right to obtain religious liberty by stripping others of theirs.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Many religions recognized and sanctified same-sex marriages long before same-sex marriage was legal in any state in the U.S. What (legal or moral) right has Timothy Dolan to tear lawful marriages asunder? Or to nullify covenants consecrated by Reform Jewish or Christian rites? Dolan’s campaign to (in effect) annul same-sex marriages reflects neither the spirit of ecumenism nor that of secular law as it pertains to marriage.

Same-sex couples in states in which equal-marriage legislation has passed are family now.

Furthermore, many atheists hold marriage equality (for lack of a better word, I say) “sacred.” Under the First Amendment, atheist LGBT and straight Americans enjoy the right not to be subject to religious law. DOMA wold impose religious law on everyone. This is an affront to all who take seriously the principle of separation between church and state. Though same-sex marriages are legal in the state of New York, no law compels Timothy Dolan to recognize them, and the First Amendment protects his right to refuse to marry LGBT Catholics in his church.

The consternation of the conflicted “believer” working at the marriage license bureau who finds processing marriage licenses for LGBT couples distasteful is nothing new. Many a court clerk during the Civil Rights Era no doubt endured a similar kind of anguish when required to process marriage licenses for heterosexual interracial couples. People allow moral discernment to shape their decisions about employment all the time. Marriage Bureau employees who find gay marriage distasteful must either suck it up or seek employment that better accommodates their prejudice.

Dolan is quoted in the National Catholic Register as having said the following: “If the label of “bigot” sticks to us — especially in court — because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.”

The archbishop is right to worry. The “label of bigot” will stick. The best way to defend against being called a bigot is to not be one.

Dolan is not nearly so interested in the First Amendment protections as he is in holding the Vatican’s doctrinal/political ground. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is under attack from within and without. Dolan is taking his shot. He’s hoping that cloaking bigotry the finery of constitutional protections might make him and his hierarchy appear more freedom-forward and perhaps a tad less medieval. But blurring, perforating, crossing and erasing the line of demarcation between church and state won’t win the archbishop any points with most American Catholics. And outside the church, Dolan’s First Amendment-based power play is likely to come off as the Captain Queeg-like snit of a “religious leader” who knows his ship is going down.

Dolan is playing the “good cop” role now, but “bad cops” surround him. On the matter of the health care mandate, Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishop’s pro-life committee was quick to whip out the shiv. He said this on Sept. 26, about a month after the USCCB announced its dissatsifaction with the terms of the the federal health care mandate:

“Under the new rule our institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics. … Although this new rule gives the agency the discretion to authorize a ‘religious’ exemption, it is so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and healthcare providers.”
The ultra hierarchy-friendly Catholic News Agency’s choice of the word “warned” says a lot. It’s code for “Give us what we want or we’ll stop healing, clothing, feeding, sheltering and offering hospice to non-Catholics.”

Another bishop, Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburg, weighed in with a similar kind of warning in a Sept. 15 letter to Human Health Services (HHS) secretary Kathleen Sibelius;
…Catholic Charities in his diocese alone has served over 80,000 people last year 
”without regard to the religious belief” of those they ministered to.

But “under this [health care] mandate, Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh would either be forced to cease to exist or restrict its employees and its wide ranging social services to practicing Catholics alone.”
Essentially, Bishops Zubik and DiNardo are floating ultimata. They don’t come right out and say so, but the implication in Zubik’s case is that the bishops might have little choice but to add to the suffering and hardship of 80,000 people currently under the care of Catholic Charities. Not much Christ in that.

Thank God this vicious game of chicken won’t work. The public relations fallout would be disastrous if the bishops were to make good on such threats. Even the most conservative of Catholics would be ambivalent about such tactics because even daily-mass-attending, novena-praying rosary ladies who oppose abortion know that sacrificing sick, hungry, homeless “born” children to the supposed greater good of preserving the lives of zygotes and embryos would constitute a sin as grave as any.

That any bishop thinks it acceptable to use works of mercy as leverage is troubling and indicates just how estranged from Christian ideals many of the Catholic bishops are. From a public relations standpoint, the utter lack of diplomacy in such expressions as Zubik’s reveals how out of touch the Catholic hierarchy is with what the worlds sees when it beholds the church.

Much of the world now views the Roman Catholic Church as a corrupt organization led by a there-but-for-the grace-of-extradition-agreements-go-I pontiff. Were Ratzinger not head of a sovereign state, the world might well have witnessed his perp walk by now. The damning Cloyne Report turned the most pious Catholic nation in Europe against the hierarchy. The Vatican is on Amnesty International’s list of torturers for its human rights violations/crimes against children. The Center for Constitutional Rights and SNAP (Survivors Network of Persons Abused by Priests) are filing suit against the Vatican in the International Criminal Courts. Yet, even as it faces the possibility of a trial at the Hague, the Vatican continues to show poor faith in addressing the hundreds of thousands of brutal crimes against its own children.

Catholics in the pews are repulsed by this, and have grown weary of pro forma expressions of contrition for the anguish pedophile priests inflicted and which bishops facilitated. These apologies are never more tainted than when topped off with not-so-gentle reminders that justice (i.e. damages) for each and every victim would bankrupt the church.

The Vatican may be rich, but the church has money problems.

In the Brooklyn (N.Y.) diocese, where I worship, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has used his weekly column to urge Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens to vote against the Child Victim’s Act in the New York State Assembly. Payouts, we have been told, would bankrupt the diocese. DiMarzio has publicly threatened to close parishes whose members fail to vote his way. He recorded robocalls for a local politician. His politicking is, at least, risky behavior, and, at worst, possibly a violation of tax law. The aforementioned attempts at clerical blackmail, though unseemly, may be blessings in disguise, however, because they show the world who these “religious leaders” really are and where they stand on the church/state divide.

I take great pride in the work my church does on behalf of the aged, infirm, indigent and marginalized in the city where I live. My own experience working in social justice ministry has offered me opportunity to see closely how fervently devoted we (Catholics) are in it, yet I believe the world outside the church would indeed pick up the slack were the bishops to take their ball and go home.

Bishops play a dangerous game when they threaten to use the leverage they think they have to bring secular law in line with canon law. The church receives much financial support from the government in the form of tax exemptions. I don’t want to see my diocese or any other lose its tax exempt status, but the bishops are pushing their luck — which could soon run out, along with the money. The bishops would do well to bear in mind that they are called to be teachers and priests, not emperors. They play fast and loose with their tax-exempt status at their own peril and their recklessness in this puts needy people of all faiths — and no faith — at risk. Political power can be expensive. The religious freedom argument cuts both ways.

Full Article HERE!