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Sunday, March 27, 2011

American Catholics to Bishops: No ’Confusion’ About Equality Issues

By Kilian Melloy -

A Catholic support group for GLBT people of faith says that the Church is using money contributed by its memberships to support anti-gay causes with secret donations.

Moreover, the group bristles at suggestions from the Church hierarchy that those who support full legal and civil equality from gays and their families are "confused."

"Two polls reaffirming vast Catholic support for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity does not suggest ’confusion’ on an issue," Catholics for Equality head Phil Attey declared. "These polls show that pro-equality American Catholics are clear in our beliefs. Our eyes are wide open and we know what we see!"

A March 24 news release from the group said that there was "an orchestrated effort by conservative leaders within our church to frame the growing supermajority of pro-equality Catholics in America as ’confused.’

"The group also expressed concerns over parish funds being used by our bishops to fuel anti-gay political campaigns across the country and calls for greater financial transparency," the release added.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that although gays and lesbians do not "choose" their sexual orientation and are as deserving of respect as heterosexuals, they are nonetheless "disordered" when it comes to personal relationships and are "called" by God to lead celibate lives without the support and fulfillment of families of their own.

The Church’s leadership has gone so far as to say that gays are guilty of doing "violence" to their children simply by raising them in same-sex households. Church teaching also condemns sexual expressions of love and devotion between consenting adult partners of the same gender.

But two recent polls indicated majority support for GLBTs and their families among America’s devout Catholics.

One recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute that showed less than one-third of churchgoing Catholics as being foes of legal, civil recognition for same-sex couples. Only 31% of Catholics who attended church weekly said that there should be no legal acknowledgement of gay and lesbian families at all. By contrast, 38% said that same-sex couples should be granted civil unions, Over one-quarter--26%--said that gays should be granted the same access to civil marriage and its attendant perquisites--more than 1,000 rights and protections in all.

In total, the poll found, 64% of devout Catholics supported some form of legally recognized status for gay and lesbian families.

"Latino Catholics are more likely to be faithful to Church teaching on this issue than are white Catholics," a March 23 Catholic article said. "30% of Latino Catholics oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions; only 19% of white Catholics do. In contrast, 58% of white evangelicals, 52% of black Protestants, and 33% of the general public oppose granting legal recognition to homosexual unions."

The article cited church doctrine regarding committed same-sex relationships and referring to them as "grave depravity."

Catholics for Equality celebrated the news, issuing a March 18 press release to trumpet the results of a similar poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post.

That survey, carried out by Laver Research Associates, showed strikingly different results, with respondents answering only to a question about marriage--not marriage versus civil unions. The numbers of family parity supporters generally mirrored the Public Religion Research Institute’s findings, with 63% of respondents saying that gay and lesbian families should be accorded marriage equality.

Respondents were asked, "[D]o you think it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married?"

"The issue remains divisive; as many adults ’strongly’ oppose gay marriage as strongly support it, and opposition rises to more than 2-1 among Republicans and conservatives and 3-1 among evangelical white Protestants, a core conservative group," a news release on the ABC News / Washington Post survey says. "But opposition to gay marriage has weakened in these groups from its levels of a few years ago, and support has grown sharply among others--notably, among Catholics, political moderates, people in their 30s and 40s and men."

The release noted that acceptance of gay and lesbian families, once the sole province of those under 30, had crept into older demographics over time.

"In an ABC/Post poll five and a half years ago," the release said, "under-30s were the sole age group to give majority support to gay marriage, at 57 percent. Today it’s 68 percent in that group--but also 65 percent among people in their 30s, up a remarkable 23 points from the 2005 level; and 52 percent among those in their 40s, up 17 points." Moreover, the release said, those over 50--while still "skeptical"--were notably more in favor; with one-third of 50+ years old respondents saying that marriage parity should be granted to same-sex couples.

By religious denomination, the numbers were also encouraging, the release noted.

"Support is up by a striking 23 points among white Catholics, often a swing group and one that’s been ready, in many cases, to disregard church positions on political or social issues. But they have company: Fifty-seven percent of non-evangelical white Protestants now also support gay marriage, up 16 points from its level five years ago."

Overall, noted Catholics for Equality, 53% of the American public were now seen to be in favor of giving gays and lesbians the same legal rights and responsibilities before the law as those available to heterosexuals.

"The findings of today’s poll are heartening, but not surprising," Phil Attey, the head of Catholics for Equality, said. "American Catholics consistently poll higher on progressive social justice issues--including the freedom to marry for all. Our Catholic faith tradition is strongly based on social justice and our duty to take care of those who are unjustly oppressed and marginalized.

"Our families have already dealt with this issue at a personal level and Catholics largely base their moral understanding of the world through their personal relationships, not by the dictates of institutional forces; be they from our church hierarchy in Rome or conservative political groups," continued Attey.

"We see healthy, happy gay and lesbian families within our [extended] families, parishes and communities, and we know love and commitment when we see it. On the issue of civil marriage equality, we Catholics support the freedom for gay and lesbian couples to marry. Period."

Dazed and ’Confused?’

Attey suggested in the March 24 release that the Church was attempting to put pressure on lawmakers as well as the public, but that this was not working.

"Vatican officials, U.S. bishops and paid lobbyists for state Catholic Conferences are all frustrated that American Catholics are not blindly following the heavy handed dictates from Rome, telling us not to support the wellbeing our LGBT family, parish and community members," Attey said. "And now that they’ve realized they’ve lost that battle, they’re trying to frame our conviction as confusion. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to see who’s confused here."

The Church has said on numerous occasions in the past that it was the public at large, and not the Church itself, that was "confused" on issues of sexuality and morality. More recently, the Church has declared that individuals who speak out against gays because of homophobic religious beliefs are being persecuted for it.

The Vatican representative to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council said on March 22 that when people who attack gays from a position of faith and then face consequences for it, such consequences constitute an infringement of their human rights, a March 23 Religion News Service article said.

"People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behavior between people of the same sex," said Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi. "When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature, which may also be expressions of religious convictions, or state opinions about scientific claims, they are stigmatized, and worse--they are vilified, and prosecuted.

"The truth is, these attacks are violations of fundamental human rights, and cannot be justified under any circumstances," added Tomasi.

Tomasi made headlines in the gay press in 2009 when he claimed that the pedophile priests whose actions stunned the world and tested the faith of Catholics worldwide were not actually pedophiles--individuals who prey sexually on children--but "ephebophiles," or individuals who seek sexual contact with adolescent boys.

To bolster his claim, Tomasi cited statistics that purported to show that most instances of sexual molestation of minors committed by priests involved pubescent or adolescent boys.

"Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17," Tomasi asserted.

Tomasi also suggested that because other faiths also have problems with pedophiles in positions of authority, the Church’s own pedophile scandal is not as serious as the media has made it out to be.

In his comments of March 22, Tomasi was sure to note that the Catholic Church teaches respect for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, and "condemn(s) all violence that is targeted against people because of their sexual feelings and thoughts, or sexual behaviors."

The overwhelming majority--more than 90%--of child molesters identify as heterosexual. For American Catholics, the identities of the abusers and their victims was only part of the picture, though: A tidal wave of outrage and anger at reports of supervisors simply shifting abusers from community to community, enabling them to prey on unsuspecting parishes, rivaled shock and fury over the sexual abuse itself.

The Church’s solution to the problem has been to deny gay people of faith entry into seminaries, effectively shutting them out of the priesthood.

Catholics for Equality challenged not only the idea that GLBT people of faith and their supporters were "confused," but also allegations that the Church had donated considerable sums of money to anti-gay organizations.

The March 24 release claimed that Catholic "bishops are channeling vast amounts of money into anti-equality political campaigns and that these financial reports are not making it into our parish bulletins.

"While Catholic parishes and schools continue to close due to lack of funding, in 2009, Catholic bishops nationwide sent over a half-million dollars in funds from parish collection plates to strip same-gender couples in Maine their right to civil marriage," the release added.

"Catholics for Equality believes this is just the tip of the iceberg to the behind-the-scenes fundraising U.S. bishops are orchestrating for anti-gay political groups and candidates," continued the release.

"Last year, Archbishop Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis spent over a million dollars (from an ’unnamed donor’) to support the Republican candidate for governor who opposed civil marriage equality in their state. Catholics in Minnesota protested the Archbishop’s political involvement, not only in the public square and in the media, but ultimately at the ballot box," added the release.

"Catholics deserve to know where our money is going and what our bishops are doing behind closed doors," Attey said. "We’re well aware of the strong ties between our bishops and ’suspected hate groups’ like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) but our bishops and these groups are being tight lipped when it comes to their political coordination and financial relationship. They owe it to us, Catholics in the pews, to be transparent about those efforts and relationships, especially when it comes to our money."

The release contained a link to a National Catholic Reporter article from Nov. 25, 2009, that said Maine’s Bishop Richard J. Malone had solicited funds from churches around the country to funnel toward anti-gay groups in that state seeking to overturn a marriage equality law at the ballot box. The campaign was successful, and voters repealed the law before it could take effect.

"According to financial records filed with Maine’s campaign finance watchdog, the Portland diocese donated nearly $286,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine, which was seeking to repeal the same-sex law," the National Catholic Reporter article said. "Malone had ordered a second collection be taken up at Masses one September weekend which netted $86,000.

"After Portland, Maine, the largest diocesan contributors were the Philadelphia archdiocese and Phoenix diocese, each giving $50,000," the article went on. "The Sees of Newark, N.J., St. Louis, Mo., and Youngstown, Ohio, each contributed $10,000. The Diocesan Assistance Fund of Providence, R.I., gave $10,000.00." A number of other parishes from around the country had also contributed smaller sums.

The Mormon Church-linked National Organization for Marriage was a major factor in the successful 2008 effort to pass Proposition 8 at the ballot box in California. After a hugely expensive and bitterly divisive campaign, the measure squeaked through, and gay and lesbian families in that state lost their then-existing right to marry. A subsequent court ruling determined that the 18,000 families that had already wed would be able to retain their legal unions.

Proposition 8 was found unconstitutional in federal court in August of 2010. That ruling is currently under appeal. NOM, meantime, has been identified as a possible hate group by a watchdog organization that tracks extremist groups.

"The National Organization for Marriage is a multi-million dollar political campaign, currently under investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center for continued use of misinformation, with the intention to demonize an oppressed segment of society," the Catholics for Equality release noted.
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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