September 15, 2012

Diocese scales back role in latest effort against gay nuptials

After helping finance and organize the 2009 drive to overturn gay marriage, the diocese this year is focusing on education.

By SUSAN M. COVER MaineToday Media

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Bob Emrich, chairman of Protect Marriage Maine, says opponents of the same-sex marriage referendum will miss the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland’s “built-in organizational structure.”

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

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Portland Mayor Michael Brennan says the Catholic church’s diminished role in the same-sex marriage question this time around “increases the likelihood the referendum will pass.”

The Associated Press

The diocese declined to make either Mutty or Malone available for an interview, and instead released a statement that described the diocese involvement this year "as significantly different" from 2009.

In addition to the educational discussions around the state, the diocese is making materials available to pastors so they can talk about "how marriage is a unique relationship which unites a man and a woman with any children born from their union," the statement said.

Lafreniere did not explain why the church is taking a different approach in 2012 and did not return phone calls seeking additional comment.

Fox and others familiar with the 2009 campaign note that Maine is without a full-time bishop, following a decision by Pope Benedict XVI in May to transfer Malone to the Diocese of Buffalo. Malone is still the administrator of the Portland diocese.

Some speculate that the diocese, which has closed schools and churches in recent years, doesn't have the money to contribute in a significant way. Others said the backlash from parishioners -- including a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality -- led the bishop to move the church's message outside of Mass. And then there's the depiction of Mutty in the "Question 1" documentary.

Filmmakers Fox and James Nubile featured Mutty heavily in the movie, which showed him as a frustrated, sometimes angry person. After the documentary was released, Mutty apologized for using profanity in it, and said the clips used by the filmmakers didn't tell the whole story.

"I fear I'll be remembered for the work I did on this campaign," he said in the documentary.

The film also showed Mutty questioning the television ads used by the campaign, saying they were overreaching in saying that same-sex marriage would be taught in schools.

"All you have to do is create doubt," he said in the film. "You don't have to convince people that you're right."

Fox, who is gay, said he thinks the church wants to distance itself from those kinds of comments, and the "embarrassment of the last campaign in the form of Marc Mutty."

Frank O'Hara, spokesman for Catholics for Marriage Equality, said in 2009, he wrote several letters to church leadership expressing his disappointment with the church for the way it lobbied parishioners.

"It was a little shocking to some of us," he said. "A video in Mass about a political vote? It upset even people who were agreeing with the bishop. I think that's part of the reason they have gone more low-key."

O'Hara also speculated that the church saw offerings drop during the campaign because people cut back on their giving to express their anger over what they perceived as heavy-handed tactics by the church hierarchy.

This time, Malone released a 22-page pastoral letter on marriage in March and then directed his staff to organize the nine statewide meetings that began last weekend in Camden and continue until Oct. 28, just nine days before the vote.

Opponents were successful three years ago in repealing the law that would have allowed gay marriage in Maine. With 58 percent turnout, gay-marriage opponents won, 53 percent to 47 percent.

This time, the question becomes one of impact. Will the church's diminished role produce a different result?

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, a Catholic and a same-sex marriage supporter, thinks so. Brennan spoke at a rally of supporters last week, saying he hopes his city is the first to host a same-sex wedding in Maine. The church's diminished role this time around will help proponents, he said.

"I think it's helpful and increases the likelihood the referendum will pass," he said.

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