Now what, Mr. Mutty?

New Ways Ministry’s blog, Bondings 2.0, has an interesting post today about the leader of the Maine Catholic Conference. Apparently Marc Mutty has had some second thoughts about the ways in which he characterized the impact legalization of same-sex marriage might have in The Pine Tree State. In Catholicism, of course, we’re all about changing hearts and moving more and more toward the greater good.

My comment to the post is below:

Yes, Frank, thank you for sharing this story. And while I share the respect expressed by others who are able to admire someone who now sees the “error of his ways,” the question then becomes, Now what?

At the time of the Maine initiative against same-sex marriage, I took the time to write to Mr. Mutty’s boss, Portland Bishop Richard Malone. Bishop (then Father) Malone had been a professor and advisor of mine at St. John’s Seminary College in Boston. “Dick” Malone — whose doctorate came from a secular, not Catholic, institution, Boston University — was well-like and admired as a careful thinker, a good teacher, and someone who challenged students with high academic standards. I reminded Bishop Malone of this in my letter, challenging him to see that from the perspective of reason, opposition to same-sex marriage (especially in the civil context) is on very flimsy footing. Needless to say, I never heard back from him.

So, I come back to my initial point, which I hope Mr. Mutty would consider. In our theology of Reconciliation, when we recognize we have done wrong, we are called upon to embrace a firm “purpose of amendment” through which we commit to changing past ways. So, Mr. Mutty …. Now what??

Giving Manhattan a Bad Name — The “Manhattan Declaration”

You may have heard that a group of Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox folks have signed a document that they’re calling the Manhattan Declaration. It’s subtitled, A Call of Christian Conscience, and it was released on November 20, 2009. (Here’s the Manhattan Declaration itself, and here’s a List of Religious Leaders Signatories). If you haven’t read it — you should.

For an overview of it, read the blog entry from National Catholic Reporter. As NCR reports, there were a number of Catholic bishops and archbishops — including Richard Malone of Portland, Maine and Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC — who lent their support to this historically inaccurate and deceit-filled statement.

Here are a few sections that demonstrate how low those who hate gay people will go, all the while cloaking their animus in the claims of being faithful to Christianity and our two thousand year tradition:

  • “The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture.”
  • “We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct.”
  • “On inspection, however, the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand. Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships. Should these, as a matter of equality or civil rights, be recognized as lawful marriages, and would they have no effects on other relationships?”

So much for a fair presentation of the issue, because all same-sex marriage efforts have also called for the legalization of “polyamorous” and “incestuous” relationships, right??

I have said before and I will continue to say:  the effort to civilly recognize same-sex unions is not about marriage; it’s about seeing God’s gay and lesbian children as fully human and worthy of the dignity of all God’s children — including the right to form loving, stable, and generative relationships.

What Rights for Same-Sex Couples Does the Church Support?

Much of my attention this week has been focused on the result of the referendum in Maine which repealed that state’s recognition of same-sex marriage. In his stated opposition, Portland’s Catholic Bishop Richard Malone also spoke of  certain benefits which he thinks same-sex couples should have. While I am not aware that he has offered a complete list of the types of civil benefits he would support, a legitimate question for the bishop would be to articulate which of marriage’s approximately 1,400 civil rights he thinks same-sex couples should have access to. Specifically, what rights constitute that package of “basic rights” that USCCB president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz says even gay people are entitled to?

The answer to this question is important. In trying to determine the line that indicates where the Church’s support and opposition begin and end, it’s been suggested by many that perhaps advocates of same-sex marriage should not use the term “marriage.” Rather, they should simply seek civilly recognized “domestic partnerships” that have all the same rights as civil marriage, but are just not called “marriages.” Would Bishop Malone (whose mantra was, “Marriage matters!”) have been supportive of the legislation if the relationships of same-sex couples were not called “marriages”? While this may seem like a reasonable alternative, actions by bishops on the other side of the country suggest that even this would not be acceptable.

On the same day that Maine voters rejected same-sex marriage, voters in Washington state voted the other way. They upheld a legislative expansion of “domestic partnership” rights to equate these rights with all those afforded married couples. Despite the change in terminology and the avoidance of the term “marriage,” even this wasn’t acceptable to Washington’s Catholic bishops. They opposed R-71 (as the referendum was called, and informally called “the ‘Everything but Marriage’ law”) not for what it would do now, but for what it might lead to at some point down the road.

So … what rights for same-sex couples does the Church support? How many of those 1,400 marriage rights would Bishop Malone or other bishops support?  For all the effort and energy that went into opposing Question 1 in Maine and Referendum 71 in Washington, one would think the bishops could find time to say so.

One positive note about the bishops of Washington:  although they stated their own opposition to R-71, they at least expressed this opposition while respecting the consciences of Washington Catholics, stating: “The bishops of Washington State urge all Catholics to vote after informing their consciences on these issues through prayer, Scripture reading and study.”

Bishop Richard Malone and Spiritual Abuse of Power

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:

A group of self-described Catholics who have chosen to dissent publicly from established Catholic doctrine on the nature of marriage as the union of one man and one woman recently published a paid political ad entitled “Statement of Conscience by Maine Catholics Regarding Marriage Equality.”The evidence for their dissent runs through the statement and is crystallized in the following sentence: “…we find disturbing any suggestion that formal Church teaching obligates all Catholics to oppose marriage equality.”In contrast, please let your conscience be formed by these clear and authoritative words of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger): “In those situations where homosexual unions … have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.” (Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, July 2003)A Catholic whose conscience has been properly formed by Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church cannot support same sex marriage. Please vote YES on question 1.

Most Reverend Richard J. Malone, Th.D.
Bishop of Portland

Letter to Bishop Malone of Maine

Richard Malone, the Bishop of Portland (Maine), was on the faculty of St. John’s Seminary College when I was a student there in the early 1980’s. Fr. Malone was not only an instructor in theology, the college’s academic dean, and my own faculty advisor; he was also one of about ten resident priests who shared daily life with the seventy or so seminarians in resident at the college commonly referred to as “St. Clement’s.” Fr. Malone was generally very well-liked and respected, an excellent teacher, and — at the time — considered by most to be open and progressive.

Because Bishop Malone has been in the forefront of efforts to undo the legislative action which expanded the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples, I felt compelled to write to him to express an alternative perspective. Here’s my recent letter:

October 18, 2009
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, Th.D.
Bishop of Portland
510 Ocean Avenue
P.O. 11559
Portland, ME  04104
Dear Bishop Malone,
You may not remember me, but I was one of your students when you were on the faculty of St. John’s Seminary College.  In fact, for one year at least, you were my faculty advisor and helped me to make the most of the educational opportunities provided at St. Clement’s.  When you were appointed Bishop of Portland, I was pleased that a man I had known to be intellectually gifted, theologically balanced, personally affable, fair, reasonable and pastoral would be receiving the miter and crosier and would be in a position not only to shepherd the good people of Maine, but might also have an impact on the wider Church, perhaps counterbalancing the actions of some of your more reactionary brothers in the episcopate.
Earlier this year, however, I was saddened to see a story in The Pilot that highlighted your homily of November 16, 2008.  In that homily, you took issue with Protestant leaders of Maine who publicly support the right of God’s gay and lesbian children to enter into unions that are legally recognized and that guarantee the rights that married heterosexual couples receive.  While I was pleased to read your reiteration of the position that homosexual persons should be respected in their full human dignity, and that homosexual couples should be allowed hospital visitation rights and the right to share health insurance benefits, I’m sure you’re well aware that same-sex couples do not currently have such rights and no mechanism exists to ensure them.  Insurance companies, hospitals, state and federal governments, and even family members who “disapprove” of their relative’s same-sex relationship are all huge obstacles to ensuring that the rights you recognize are respected and honored.
By most estimates, there are approximately 1,400 specific rights that are automatically accorded to married couples in the U.S. All of these accrue automatically the moment any 18-year old opposites-sex couple says “I do” in a Las Vegas wedding chapel and their marriage is civilly and universally recognized.  Unfortunately, the 80 year old gay or lesbian couple who has lived in a committed and faithful relationship for more than half a century has no such rights. Because they have been denied the rights that come with civil marriage, millions of gay and lesbian couples have been forced to consult expensive attorneys to craft legal documents stipulating their legal wishes in very detailed contracts. Sadly, the bigotry against God’s gay and lesbian children that you claim to disavow has also given rise to attempts in some states to make even such contracts as these illegal.
I am writing to you now because the vote to reconsider the legislation in Maine allowing same-sex couples to marry is coming close. While I harbor no illusions that you will change your mind and come to realize that there is no conflict between your understanding of the official Church’s position on “homosexuality” and the civil law at hand, I nonetheless feel compelled in conscience to ask that you consider doing just that. There is nothing in the legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry that undermines families, that infringes on religious rights, or that hurts society in the way claimed by so many who trade in fear, hatred, and ignorance.
I urge you as the good man I know you to be to consider the grave harm that would be done to God’s gay and lesbian children under your pastoral care if the voters of Maine rescind the legislation that has been a beacon of light for the rest of the nation.  At the core of his ministry, Jesus never sought to exclude, but rather included all those whom society or religion had otherwise discarded.  Please follow His example by not being an obstacle for God’s gay and lesbian children to participate fully in the fundamental human right to form relationships and establish families as they believe God is calling them to do.
In Christ’s Peace,