January 26, 2012

Maine Voices: The Maine Catholic Church doesn't need to take another battering

The same-sex marriage referendum campaign had 'devastating,' lasting effects on Maine congregations.

By William H. Slavick

A few days after the 2010 same-sex marriage referendum nullified Maine legislation granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference gave Portland Bishop Richard Malone a standing ovation.


William H. Slavick is a retired University of Southern Maine professor who wrote extensively on social justice and peace issues for the diocesan Church World weekly.

Recently, a parish cluster administrator acknowledged that the referendum repeal campaign was, for the church in Maine, "devastating." No explanation was necessary. We know. The lack of charity occasioned wide discomfort. Some left, often among the better educated and more generous. More stopped attending Mass after weeks of campaign bullying. With $200,000 of diocesan referendum contributions unexplained, many refused to make contributions from which the bishop received a cut. That includes the Sunday offertory collection.

In a recent documentary that went inside the referendum campaigns, the diocesan legislative lobbyist and campaign chair, Marc Mutty, acknowledged that its claim that the legislation would lead to "teaching homosexuality in the schools" was unfounded.

If my parish, Sacred Heart/St. Dominic in Portland, is an indicator, the consequences have been dire. One parishioner observed that parish energy appeared to have drained. Two deeply committed couples left the church. Adequate parish financial support has fallen more than 20 percent below the minimum required, if partly in response to a loss of pastoral care and off-putting cluster administration actions.

If contributions do not recover (as they have for a few weeks now), the parish will close. So far, neither Malone nor the cluster administration has accepted responsibility for any part of the shortfall. To the contrary, the Rev. Louis Phillips, cluster administrator, defends the referendum campaign: It "was a clear-cut moral issue."

Yes, for the homophobic Benedict XVI and his curia, it was – and still is. They ignore the Second Vatican Council's recognition of the state's proper responsibilities, as for legislation regulating divorce; of a right to freedom from religious coercion, and of primacy of conscience (which for the Vatican and Malone means following episcopal instructions). Malone had also not heeded Vatican II in failing to consult the faithful before deeply troubling and/or embarrassing Maine's Catholics.

So what should we expect this time?

For certain, the Maine Church does not need another battering and huge drop in contributions.

Yet, neither before the Legislature approved same-sex marriages nor since the referendum has Malone moved to secure, outside of marriage, legal recognition of same-sex relationships needed to adjudicate offspring, hospital visitation, medical decisions and property rights. A committee formed after the referendum to develop a proposal, at a priest's request, gave up when a highly regarded attorney's draft wasn't accepted.

Mutty's statement that he will not run another such campaign and Malone's silence in a new referendum year raise some hope that they recognize the cost of doing Benedict's bidding to be prohibitive, and the likelihood of defeat this time great, so they will sit this one out.

But Malone, like virtually all John Paul II and Benedict XVI appointees, chosen primarily for obeisance, has consistently done what pleases Benedict and the Vatican curia. Their record is clear:

Prompted to silence by popes and Vatican officials, hundreds of bishops became criminally complicit in priest sex abuse.

English-speaking bishops everywhere acquiesced in Rome's illicit rejection of widely praised 1998 English missal translations consistent with Vatican II norms assuring accessibility to all and approved by all 12 English-speaking bishops' conferences. Now, despite grumbling and loud protests in South Africa after a premature introduction there, U.S. bishops and clergy, including here, have been supinely uncritical in imposing flawed, sexist, often unprayable translations that substitute rote conformity to an undistinguished Latin text for accessibility and decent English prose.

Like Rome, virtually all U.S. bishops are disengaged from the great moral challenges of the day: corporate greed, economic disorder, environmental degradation, empire, exploitation, war, sexism and torture. Echoing Rome's discouragement of pastorals, Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently dismissed the much-praised 1986 U.S. Bishops' "Economic Justice for All" as "perhaps … a mistake."

The St. Paul archbishop will challenge proposed Minnesota same-sex legislation.

So hopes should not rise until Malone's silence has extended into November. I won't be betting on it.

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