Following the Good Shepherd’s Example

Fr. Joe Palacios, who teaches sociology at Georgetown University and whom many of us know, is quoted in an online article from Religion Dispatches about immigration reform proposals and the rights of same-sex couples.

In addition to referencing Fr. Joe’s advocacy work, the story also quotes Sr. Jeannine Grammick speaking very clearly about the opposition of US Bishops to “Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)—which would close a loophole that currently prevents US citizens in same-sex, committed relationships from sponsoring their undocumented partners for citizenship.” Says Grammick, “I find their arguments specious and I think their stand, personally I find it scandalous.”

What is most heartwarming, however, is the reference to two Catholic women who seem to have found a Catholic parish and pastor that welcome them and accept them — and their family — as they are.

Fr. Piers M. Lahey is the pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd Roman Catholic parish in Pacifica, California. Fr. Lahey lived up to the name of his parish when he went out on a limb and wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in supporting her efforts to seek legislation that would provide individual relief to one of his parishioners, Shirley Constantino Tan. Tan and her partner of 24 years are active members at Good Shepherd, but she was subject to deportation after her appeals for asylum were denied. Fr. Lahey wrote that Tan and partner Jaylynn Mercado are “wonderful Christian partners, parents, role models for their two boys, and, as Scripture says, ‘living stones’ helping to form and build up the Church, the Body of Christ, in today’s broken and violent world.”

God bless Fr. Lahey for following the example of the One True Shepherd.  His example of supporting those entrusted to his pastoral care speaks volumes when viewed next to those who claim the title of “shepherd,” but whose actions seem less than shepherd-like.

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Much of my attention this week has been focused on the result of the referendum in Maine which repealed that state’s recognition of same-sex marriage.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.”

"There is something radically wrong …"

“…with the institutional Catholic Church.”

That sentiment, expressed by Fr. Thomas Doyle in a National Catholic Reporter commentary on the recent report about decades-long abuse of children by clergy, brothers and sisters in Catholic-run institutions in Ireland, is nothing new to many of us who have lived both inside and outside the walls of clerical life.

While U.S. Bishops spend their pastoral energies condemning Notre Dame University for inviting the President of the United States to speak at its commencement, or organizing letter-writing campaigns to lobby against the recognition of the right to marry civilly for same-sex couples, the Church — the People of God — continue to be ignored and ill-treated.

Where I attend Mass regularly, there’s a man who offers a frequent prayer when the community is invited to voice its own “Prayers of the Faithful.” Today especially, I make his prayer for “new and enlightened leadership in the Church” my own.

Bishops Spend $$ to Promote Exclusion and Bigotry

Although I decided some time ago which of the two presidential candidates would receive my vote on November 4, I’ve made another decision today.

It appears that the Catholic Bishops of the United States, through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have given $200,000 to support efforts in California seeking to overturn the right of gay men and women in that state to marry (see “Catholic bishops give $200K to ban gay marriage“).

Though I’ll never be a “person of means,” I am making the personal commitment today not to provide financial support directly to any diocesan or parish effort – at least for the forseeable future. Instead, I will donate any funds that I would otherwise have contributed to an “official” Catholic diocese or parish to one that recognizes that all Catholics, including those whom God chose to create gay and lesbian, deserve their full rights as Catholics and as Americans.