Bart's post yesterday ("He who pays the piper") reminded me of Frances De Bernardo's report at Bondings 2.0, on how the diocese of Maine is a stark reminder of this. Back in 2oo9, the Bishop of Portland and his allies threw themselves into the battle to repeal the state's gay - marriage law (and no, it wasn't on the side of the traditional Catholic values justice and equality, or protecting all families).
The Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality during Maine’s 2009 referendum has had a “devastating” effect on the church there.
That’s the opinion of a Maine parish administrator, and also of William H. Slavick, who penned an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald entitled, "The Maine Catholic Church doesn't need to take another battering." Slavick, a veteran church reformer and peace activist who ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, points out that the hierarchy’s supposed “victory” has been a decisive defeat on the pastoral level, with financial consequences, too:
“Recently, a parish cluster administrator acknowledged that the referendum repeal campaign was, for the church in Maine, ‘devastating.’ No explanation was necessary. We know. The lack of charity occasioned wide discomfort. Some left, often among the better educated and more generous. More stopped attending Mass after weeks of campaign bullying. With $200,000 of diocesan referendum contributions unexplained, many refused to make contributions from which the bishop received a cut. That includes the Sunday offertory collection.”
Slavick’s concern is timely because supporters of marriage equality have gathered enough signatures to stage another referendum on the issue in November, so a new struggle is very near. Details about the referendum can be read in an article, “It’s on: Same-sex marriage supporters give it another try,” from Maine’s Sun Journal.
- Bondings 2.0.
What is especially shameful about Maine diocesan intervention in 2oo9, is that it was not even honest. As Frances De Bernardo outlined in a previous Bondings post, Marc Mutty, the Director of Public Affairs for the Diocese who had also been the Chair of "Yes on 1," and who led the fight against marriage equality in the referendum now regrets a lot of the anti-gay rhetoric that he promoted - and even acknowledges that some of it was blatantly untrue.
According to a Portland Press Herald April 17, 2011, article, the documentary contains interviews of Mutty acknowledging that his words were sometimes false:
"'We use a lot of hyperbole and I think that's always dangerous,' says Mutty during a Yes on 1 strategy session, at the time on leave from his job as public affairs director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine."
'You know, we say things like "Teachers will be forced to (teach same-sex marriage in schools)!" ' he continues. 'Well, that's not a completely accurate statement and we all know it isn't, you know?'"
There is a (small) silver lining here, and it is this: my reading of the situation now, for the 2012 campaign, is that the bishop has indeed learned that "He who pays the piper, calls the tune". He and Mutty have seen the wanton destruction their campaign wreaked on the diocese the last time around. They can read the newspapers, and will know that Catholic support for marriage equality is now even stronger than it was three years ago. They will continue to oppose marriage for all - but I will be very surprised if they throw themselves into this battle with anything like the reckless fervour that they displayed in 2oo9.
The Church is gearing up for another battle - but this time, reluctantly:
Maine's Catholic Church, which played a big role in the campaign to overturn the law three years ago is gearing up for another battle, albeit reluctantly.
"Quite frankly, we don't think we should have to go through this again,” said Church spokesperson Brian Souchet. “It's divisive and contentious lot of money spent on both sides."
Recognizing that it is so contentious, not least among Catholics, perhaps the diocese should simply stay on the sidelines, or at least display some of that "respect, compassion and sensitivity" demanded by the Catechism?
- 'Catholic Church Doesn't Need to Take Another Battering' (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- Meet Marc Mutty (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- UPDATED: Maine Marriage-Equality Supporters Ready To Announce Another Referendum (queerty.com)
- Lisa Cressman's Reasonable and Concise Answers to Marriage Equality Questions (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- A Civil Discussion on Civil Marriage (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- Maine Catholic Church vs Gay Rights Activists (NECN.com)