Former priests say marriage rights do not infringe on church
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
As SGN goes to press, 63 former Roman Catholic priests have endorsed Referendum 74, supporting equal marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples. The priests remain observant Catholics and all are reportedly married.
The ex-priests delivered their statement at St. Clement of Rome Episcopal Church in Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood.
'Nothing in this legislation infringes on religious rights or restricts the Catholic Church from maintaining its own standards for sacramental marriage. It simply provides the protection of civil law so that same-sex couples may enjoy a set of civil and human rights involving health, financial, and end-of-life decisions,' the former priests said.
'We regret that our Washington State Catholic bishops have chosen to oppose Marriage Equality and attempt to impose what we feel is a very narrow point of view on all society,' they added.
HICKEY WEIGHS IN
The priests' announcement comes exactly one week after a stunning blog post by Seattle Preparatory School president Kent Hickey, also endorsing marriage equality.
'I am committed to conservatism. I am more conservative on social issues than is the norm in the Pacific Northwest. I believe interpretations of our Constitution should preserve the original intent of our Founding Fathers. And my worldview is grounded in Catholic faith tradition,' Hickey wrote on his personal blog.
'It is for these reasons that I support Washington's Gay marriage law. Although Gay marriage is usually perceived as a liberal position, I actually see this law as being consistent with conservatism, especially when viewed within its root - 'to save, guard, protect.'
Hickey's statement is especially significant because he heads a prestigious Catholic school, and he too remains an observant Catholic. Seattle Prep advertises itself as 'Seattle's Jesuit High School since 1891.'
BISHOPS LAUNCH OFFENSIVE
These statements of support for marriage equality come in the wake of a weekend offensive against Referendum 74 by the state's Catholic bishops.
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain authorized anti-R-74 flyers to be passed out in his parishes at Mass on October 7. The flyers claimed that R-74 threatens parental authority, personal freedom, religious liberty, and the good of society.
Sartain previously issued a pastoral letter and a video sermon against Referendum 74, in which he stated that society would be 'harmed beyond repair' if same-sex couples are allowed to marry.
Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima said in his own pastoral letter, also issued on October 7, 'R-74 jeopardizes freedom rather than expands it. It endangers our religious liberty and the right of conscience.'
Last month Tyson found himself in trouble with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission when he announced plans to collect money in church for the anti-equality group Preserve Marriage Washington.
BIG BUCKS FOR NOM
Despite the bishop's problems, Catholic money is definitely flowing into the coffers of Preserve Marriage Washington, new PDC reports show. NOM, which is reportedly financed largely by Catholic and Mormon sources, added another $400,000 contribution to the Reject R-74 campaign last week. The new contribution raises NOM's total investment in Washington to $725,939.99.
The Vancouver chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic lay organization, also contributed $250,000 this month. The Seattle Knights of Columbus have given $5,000 to Preserve Marriage.
On October 8, the former priests responded to the bishops' weekend blitz, noting that most Catholics support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
'We are uneasy with the aggressive efforts of Catholic bishops to oppose R-74 and want to support the 71 percent of Catholics who support civil marriage for Gays as a valid Catholic position,' the former priests said in their statement. (The 71% figure comes from the Public Religion Research Institute.)
'Our approach is not going to be getting into a big peeing match with the Bishops, but there are so many good-willed Catholics in the laity that it's time for us to give some witness,' former priest Pat Callahan told reporters.
Callahan said he had been a priest for over 15 years
'This is the first public action we've taken,' he added. 'We are used to fun and games within the Church, but [the anti-R-74 campaign] is such a violation of church-state separation.'
Catholics for Marriage Equality, another group of Catholic laypeople supporting Referendum 74, also issued a statement after the bishops' Sunday attacks.
'We are shocked when we read the language and examples used by our bishops to incite fear in our Catholic brothers and sisters if Referendum 74 passes,' they said. 'The message of Jesus is love and compassion, not fear.'
THE MINNESOTA INQUISITION
Nevertheless, Washington's bishops did not go quite as far as Minnesota Archbishop John Nienstedt, who openly threatened Catholics opposed to that state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
'Catholics are bound in conscience to believe this teaching [on marriage],' Nienstedt wrote in a pastoral letter. 'Those who do not cannot consider themselves to be Catholic and ought not to participate in the sacramental life of the Church.'
Nienstedt also issued orders to Catholic priests in his jurisdiction that no 'open dissension' of the marriage amendment would be allowed, even threatening one outspoken priest that 'I will ... remove you from your ministerial assignments.'
'He silenced his priests under the order of obedience,' said Ed Flahavan, a member of Former Priests for Marriage Equality, a group that went public in May with the names of 80 former Minnesota Catholic priests against the amendment.
'It's the first time in my experience or knowledge that kind of blanket order has been given' in the Minnesota archdiocese, Flahavan added.
Seattle's Catholic archdiocese and Seattle Prep president Hickey were invited by SGN to comment for this story, but neither responded by press time.
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