Richard Malone is the bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Maine. One of his predecessors, William O’Connell (1859-1944), eventually left the backwaters of rural Maine to become the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston. O’Connell pulled off this promotion because of his close friendship with Vatican officials involved in making the selection and because, as secretary to the group of New England bishops putting forth recommendations, he played loose with the facts and the truth, somehow managing to get his own name at the top of the list when he forwarded the bishops’ recommendations (which did not include O’Connell) to Roman officials.
Looking at the statements of Richard Malone on the Portland diocesan Web site — statements that include a “Referendum Alert to Faithful Catholics” (see below) and a 12-minute video in which Malone calls same-sex marriage a “dangerous sociological experiment” — one wonders if Malone has inherited from O’Connell more than just a title, a cathedral, and a diocese. Malone’s “Alert” quotes Cardinal Ratzinger in stating that Catholics have a duty to oppose civil efforts to recognize same-sex marriage. Ratzinger’s statement certainly deserves respect and consideration — but neither this nor any particular statement by a Church leader on any particular issue can ever supersede what the Church has always taught is the ultimate norm — the individual’s well-formed conscience.
Malone’s statement is an abuse of his episcopal role, an example of spiritual abuse causing great harm to the thousands of good and faithful Catholics who, having used the many tools that go into forming one’s conscience, have come to a conclusion different from his. The role of any bishop is to help people form their consciences — it is NOT to be their consciences, telling them what their conscience alone can tell them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that “…conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” Catholic moral teaching is unequivocal in stating that, “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience,” (CCC, 1800). Bishop Malone (and Cardinal Ratzinger, for that matter), in this instance would usurp this sacred place of the human conscience, standing between the individual and his or her relationship with God, saying that “I have the truth” on the issue of same-sex marriage, and all you need to do is listen to us and do what we say.
Sadly — Malone’s strong-arm tactics with the good people of Maine have contributed to a temporary setback for those seeking justice and civil respect for God’s gay and lesbian children. Voters in Maine yesterday approved a referendum repealing earlier legislation granting same-sex couples the right to marry. I know in the depths of my heart that this setback is indeed temporary, that this example of the “tyranny of the majority” to deny a minority its rights will one day be relegated to the wrong side of history. I had hoped that yesterday’s vote would bring that day closer. While not yet fully within sight, that day will indeed come and one day not only civil society but even the Church and leaders like Bishop Richard Malone will see their gay and lesbian neighbors as the children of God we are.
Posted on the diocese of Portland, Maine prior to the vote on November 3, 2009:
Bishop of Portland