I continue to be surprised and saddened by some of the things that Bishop Richard Malone (of Portland, Maine) has repeatedly stated in his goal of encouraging Maine Catholics to vote for the repeal of recent legislation allowing same-sex couples in that state to marry. In a letter last year, Bishop Malone made the odd statement that, “Marriage is an institution that predates civilization…” I’m not quite sure what the bishop means by that, but surely he doesn’t mean that our prehistoric ancestors were forming the types of marital relationships currently being discussed, does he?
Thankfully, many good and faithful Catholics in Maine seem to be taking to heart their baptismal right as full members of the Church and voicing their disagreement with Bishop Malone. A commentary in the National Catholic Reporter quotes the bishop as stating, “‘that it is the doctrine of the Catholic church — not my personal opinion — that all Catholics are obligated to oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage.'” (Though not cited, this apparently appeared in a September pastoral letter.) By using the word “doctrine,” it appears that Bishop Malone is trying to give greater weight than is due to certain pronouncements from Church leaders. While legitimate questions can be and are being raised about whether the bishop is correct on this point, it is quite clear that the “obligation” Catholics have is that they follow their well-formed consciences, even in matters in which their consciences lead them to conclusions that are different from Church leaders. The matter at hand — a civil law that recognizes a civil right and in no way infringes on religion or the rights of the Church — clearly does not by its very nature place Catholics under an obligation to oppose such a law, even if it does not reflect current Church law.