I am grateful that Matt Bowman chose to write about the fact that several Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle (including, notably, the Cathedral parish of St. James) are refusing to join the efforts of Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify a referendum for the November ballot and thereby re-establish the commonsense definition of marriage.
[Full disclosure: I work for the National Organization for Marriage, which is involved in the effort to preserve marriage in Washington.]
I want to add my very succinct reaction to this news, and then some of the reasons for my reaction.
First, my reaction: it is WRONG of them to refuse to preserve marriage.
Now, my reasons–
First, Pope Benedict has been perfectly clear about the urgent need for Catholics to defend the legal and cultural institution of marriage. He told a group of bishops of Minnesota in Rome last month for their ad limina visit (Minnesota is voting on its own Marriage Protection Amendment in November) that:
“Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.”
It is hard to formulate a more forceful and definitive exhortation for why we all have a duty to preserve marriage for the good of children, the rights of parents, and for the common good of the entire human family.
The pope also said during this meeting:
“…particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage.
Note what the pope is calling for: a reasoned defense of marriage in response to the attempts to alter its legal definition, in the face of intense political and cultural pressure. Sound familiar? That’s what is happening in Washington State.
In other words, he’s actually asking Catholic bishops and priests not only to preserve the legal definition of marriage – he’s asking them to explain why they are working to do so as well!
The pope is asking for far more from his bishops and priests than the priests of the Archdiocese of Seattle are being asked to do by simply helping to gather petitions.
I must seriously doubt, based on his statements, that Fr. Michael Ryan of the Cathedral of St. James is doing anything to defend or articulate the Church’s views on marriage. In fact his failure to enlist his parish in preserving marriage speaks volumes. On a question as central as marriage, the Church does not have the option or the capacity to be “neutral.”
Even more revealing is the way he has chosen to frame this effort to preserve marriage, saying it could “prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.”
… divisive?! The Church’s teaching about marriage and the natural reality of marriage as the union of male and female is “divisive”, even “hurtful”?!
When a Catholic priest starts saying a teaching of the Church is “divisive” what he really means is he has chosen to divide himself away from the Church’s teaching. And make no mistake — this is exactly one of the consequences of redefining marriage: it divides Catholics from one another.
Now there are six parishes in the archdiocese that have refused to join the petition gathering effort. The local media is eager to turn this internal dissent into a public scandal:
The congregation at Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church gave the Rev. Tim Clark a standing ovation Sunday when he announced that the parish would not gather signatures for a referendum to repeal same-sex marriage.
…“I am happy to report that Our Lady of the Lake parishioners have been overwhelmingly and, thus far, unanimously supportive of the decision I made NOT to gather signatures in support of this Referendum,” Clark wrote in response to an e-mail.
“The standing ovation experienced during one of the Masses says less about me and much more about the health of this parish. I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the ‘sensus fidelium’ — of the people. He needs to listen to this ‘voice.’ That is my prayer.”
Other parishes to shun the signature drive have includes St. James Cathedral, St. Joseph Church, St. Mary’s Church, St. Patrick Church and Christ Our Hope Catholic Church.
We all know what “sensus fidelum” actually means when it is used to justify dissent from Church teaching.
I want to commend Archbishop Peter Sartain for bravely enlisting Catholics in his archdiocese to preserve marriage despite the obvious attempts by some priests to embarrass him in front of their congregations and the media.
If you are a parishioner of one of these six parishes, I would ask you to charitably contact your pastor and ask him to re-consider allowing the petition to circulate. Let him hear your voice! I would suggest including quotations like the one I’ve posted above from Pope Benedict on the imperative that Catholics stand up to preserve marriage.
As for the remainder of Catholics in Washington State, please make an extra effort to help gather signatures to make up in some part for the failings of your wayward brethren. According to their Facebook page petitions continue to come in at a good clip but they still have to gather over 150,000 by June 6th, so time is short.
Bottom line: preserving marriage is yet another opportunity to forge greater Catholic unity in the face of focused political pressure and cultural attempts to divide us. We need to dare to be faithful. We need to dare to believe we can win this battle and the many other struggles we are facing. Standing on the sidelines is not an option.