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

If I could vote in Maine on Tuesday …

This coming Tuesday (November 3, 2009), voters in Maine will have the opportunity to do what is just and right by saying “No” to an attempt to overturn a law enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor allowing same-sex couples to marry.  I wish I could add my vote in this referendum that many say will be close. While I can’t do that, I can hope and pray that this vote will not be an example of the “tyranny of the majority,” but that Maine voters will continue to provide full recognition for same-sex couples in loving, committed, and faithful relationships.

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,