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Spotlight Report

Gays, lesbians lash out at church

Same-sex marriage opposition blasted

By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff, 5/31/2003

Gay and lesbian groups said yesterday that the Catholic Church, under siege for the clergy abuse scandal, lacks the moral authority to mobilize parishioners against same-sex marriage. They are urging parishioners to walk out of services if priests voice the church's opposition to same-sex unions and to boycott church collections.

Massachusetts' four Catholic bishops have told pastors to remind parishioners this weekend of the church's opposition to same-sex marriage. The bishops have also asked that announcements be placed in church bulletins telling worshipers how to contact their legislators to express their opposition.

Activists called the church's renewed focus on the issue an attempt to regain lost credibility, and to distract congregations from the damaging sexual abuse crisis of the last year.

''I think it's really appalling,'' said Gary Daffin, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus who is also Catholic. ''The leadership of the church right now has no moral authority to be beating up on gay people, and that's exactly what they're doing. The leadership of the church that covered up the most heinous crimes against children has the gall to come and say, `Well, we can't give any support to two people who want to love each other and take care of each other and make life a little more comfortable for each other.' The irony there is just glaring.''

A spokesman for the archdiocese did not return calls yesterday, but earlier in the week, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of Worcester told the Globe by e-mail that the bishops have a ''right and a duty'' to remind Catholics that the church defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The bishops' call for action on same-sex marriage comes at a crucial time for gays and lesbians seeking the right to marry. The state Supreme Judicial Court is considering whether the Massachusetts Constitution allows same-sex marriage, and the Legislature is expected to consider this year a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.

The time is also crucial for the church. After a year in which the church was grappling with the sexual abuse crisis, the mobilization may signal an effort to reenter the arena of public policy.

But that scandal is what most angers some gays and lesbians as the church makes its pronouncements on same-sex marriage.

''So much for `He who is without sin should cast the first stone,''' said David Breen, a Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus board member and a Catholic. ''For four decades the church was promoting and protecting priests who abused children. For the church, which has done nothing for these families, to come along and suddenly say, `We have the credibility to speak out about these social issues.' ... The bishops have as much credibility to speak out on marriage as Jack Kevorkian has to speak out on elder care. It makes no sense.''

The focus on the same-sex marriage issue is a way for the church to move on from its own troubles, said the activists.

''Anything they can do that can rally their membership and take attention away from [the sexual abuse crisis] I think they'd like to focus on, rather than what's really happening internally,'' said Nina Selvaggio, copresident of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women. ''So much of the abuse was same-sex, and I think that's in there, too.

''It just seems as if it is not going to do anything to bring their membership together,'' said Selvaggio. ''It's not in a spirit of love, or of any true Christian value I'm aware of, and I was raised Catholic. It just seems really divisive.''

Neither the case before the SJC nor the constitutional amendment before the Legislature concerns religious ceremonies. If the court rules that same-sex marriage is allowed under the state Constitution, churches cannot be compelled to perform those marriages.

''The concern I do have is we are talking about civil marriage, not religious marriage,'' said Holly Gunner, a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. ''And it is one thing for clergy of any denomination to tell their own co-religionists what they think is right, but in America, we don't have one religion using the government's laws to get everybody else to follow that one religion.''

Some activists said church resources should not be used for this political battle.

''It is an entirely inappropriate use of church resources to be funding these attempts to institutionalize a two-class system in society, in which some families have rights that other families are not entitled to,'' said Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, an organization of gay and lesbian Catholics. ''For church leaders to be taking a stand on that in the name of the entire church is an absolute perversion of everything our church should be about.''

Duddy said she had heard from a number of people who intend to walk out of services tomorrow if priests speak out against same-sex marriage, and to challenge priests who include a statement of the church's opposition in bulletins. A group called People of Faith for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Civil Rights has called for parishioners to boycott church collections tomorrow, and to put a note expressing their support of same-sex marriage into collection plates instead. And a gay youth group called QueerToday.com will lead a protest this weekend against the mobilization effort outside Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Some said that in addition to the sexual abuse crisis, the church should be focusing on other issues, such as the impact of the poor economy on marriage, said the Rev. James Keenan, a priest who testified in April against the constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

''I think one does have to stop and ask why is this the very first major political stand the bishops of Massachusetts are taking after this crisis,'' said Keenan, a professor of moral theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. ''Why do they perceive, and what evidence do they show, that a sustained committed relationship between gay and lesbian persons has such a devastating impact on the married state?''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 5/31/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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