Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Minnesota Catholic Bishops: Every Catholic Parish to Form Teams Attacking Marriage Equality

To many of us in many different faith traditions, it often appears that our religious leaders have actively betrayed our religious traditions, in their core significance . . . .  [T]hey focus obsessively on issues that appear peripheral to the most pressing moral problems of our period of history, while they ignore those pressing problems--as the American Catholic bishops continue to do, in the perception of many American Catholics, with their unrelenting attention to issues of sexual morality, while they remain almost totally silent about matters of economic and social justice.

A disturbing case in point: in the state of Minnesota, where the Catholic hierarchy is now doing everything in its power to turn its church into a lean, mean anti-gay marriage machine as the 2012 elections near, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis has just sent a letter to every priest in the state requesting the formation of teams in every Catholic parish of Minnesota to support an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

As Andy Birkey reports in The Minnesota Independent, these teams will have a "church captain" to organize the parish as a voting bloc, a model used by conservative anti-gay Christian groups in California to rescind marriage equality in that state in 2008.  And as Michael O'Loughlin notes at America, the tactics Nienstedt and the Minnesota bishops are employing to try to amend the Minnesota constitution in 2012 call to mind the expensive DVD campaign the same bishops mounted in the 2010 election, when they sent an anti-gay marriage video to every Catholic household in the state.  Readers wanting information about that campaign (and how the bishops never disclosed their funding source for the expensive DVD's and mailing) and my own comments on it can click the tag "Minnesota" at the bottom of this posting.

What the Minnesota bishops are doing now is disturbing at many levels.  In the first place, this overt politicization of Catholic parishes comes dangerously close to a breach of the line separating church and state, and may well raise questions about the tax-exempt status of churches.  In the second place, the overt politicization of Catholic parishes utterly ignores the fact that a large proportion of Catholics in Minnesota do not agree with the bishops' moral and political position regarding marriage equality, and do not want to have their church identified with prejudice and discrimination.

In addition, many Catholics throughout the U.S. remain perplexed at--and seriously troubled by--the amount of economic and other resources the U.S. bishops continue to pour into their attack on the rights (and the humanity) of a stigmatized minority group, at a time in which the bishops are closing parishes and schools, and at a time in which there's serious economic need and even hunger in some communities in the U.S.  On the face of it, the allocation of so many dollars towards hateful attacks on a minority group when people are in need seems downright sinful.

And I can't help saying this: when I read Birkey's article and Nienstedt's letter, what leaps first of all to my mind is the way in which the Nazi party organized itself at the local level throughout Germany during the 1930s.  "Church captain" sounds, to my ears, not altogether distant from Gauleiter.

I'm frankly appalled at what the Catholic bishops of Minnesota are choosing to do.  I hope that many of the good Catholic folks I know in that state will share my revulsion, and will push back against this shameful politicization of their church, and this shameful attack on the human rights of a stigmatized minority community.  And they are doing so already in marvelous ways, as the latest posting at Michael Bayly's Wild Reed blog abundantly indicates.

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