The Maine Issue With The Catholic Right's Culture Wars.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Feb 13, 2012 at 09:02:50 AM EST
Portland Bishop Richard Malone, whose diocese encompasses the entire State of Maine, took on the legislature about two years ago.  He led a successful referendum campaign to repeal a bill granting marriage to same-ex couples.  But in the end Malone and the Catholic Right may have won a Pyrrhic victory.
It didn't matter to Bishop Malone that, as then-Governor John E. Baldacci explained: "The new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs," he told the National Catholic Reporter. "It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees." What did matter to the Portland bishop was the defeat of marriage equality, no matter what the cost.

And indeed the cost to Maine Catholics has been great. William H. Slavick, a retired professor, recently detailed how Bishop Malone has alienated much of his flock by his highly active role in defeating marriage equality.  Slavick wrote in a recent op-ed in The Maine Sunday Telegram the diocesan journal on social justice:

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.

He continued:

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.

Indeed parishes are closing, mostly from financial strain. Now it appears that Maine is getting ready to revisit marriage equality, once again putting the issue to the voters in the form of a referendum.  Will Bishop Malone drag the Church into this battle with the same ferocity, with perhaps causing more harm to Her parishes?

Maybe.  Bishop Malone has given the green light to diocesan involvement with the Courage  Ministry, a program that treats homosexuality as if it were a disease such as alcoholism.  Both Bishop Malone and the chaplain appointed to run the group, Rev. Kevin Martin told The Kennebec Journal that "the support group is being established in Maine because people here have asked for the church's assistance."  A Maine Catholic is left wondering where the funding for this program will come from?

It is worth repeating that the Maine marriage equality law did not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs.  And yet even though his diocese was exempt from performing LGBT marriages, Bishop Malone -- with strong outside support from the Knights of Columbus -- went to war.  In doing so, they combated the rights of not only the dissenting faithful, but also non-Catholics.  As the Church complains about the Obama administration's supposed violation of religious freedom in the controversy over requiring contraception coverage in insurance programs, hierarchy clearly did not follow the Golden Rule when the shoe was on the other foot.

Yet when Bishop Malone is at odds with culture war allies, like much of the Catholic Right, he lowers the volume. For instance, when Maine's ultra-conservative governor, Paul LePage, decimated social safety net programs, Bishop Malone limited his protestations to a complaint published on the diocesan web site.  This was in stark contrast to the $553,000 Malone spent to defeat marriage equality.

The Catholic Church in Maine is suffering from a self-inflicted wound. Congregants are being driven away, parishes are closing and spiritual needs are being ignored. What is going on in New England reminds me of what my old pastor would complain about: culture war priests go off to fight some political battle at the expense of the poor who need assistance; the downtrodden who seek hope; and the sick and dying who require comfort. Even ordinary individuals who seek a neighborhood house of worship are moved to the back burner. Bishops such as Malone seem to have forgotten that the Church is about people, not causes. The Catholic hierarchy, both within and without the Pine Tree State, has become distracted to the point of spiritual negligence.

Jesus didn't have anything to say about homosexuality. He did, however, say quite a bit about helping the poor and economic justice. That being the case, why do Bishop Malone and other culture war bishops seem to have it backwards?

In light of the harm done, it is worth watching if the referendum is put on the ballot if Bishop Malone will again go full throttle.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Feb 13, 2012 at 09:05:36 AM EST

The slow alienation and attrition of Catholics from their parishes will have a negative effect on the dioceses' bottom line. The Tom Monaghans and Erik Princes may offer substantial financial assistance, but it won't be enough to offset the decline in financial contributions from the ordinary parishioners. The American bishops only started paying attention to the sexual abuse crisis when it started hitting their bottom line, and they won't pay attention to their alienation of large numbers of Catholics until it starts showing up in declining Mass attendance and Sunday collections.

There was a Pew survey that showed the second largest religious grouping in the country was former Catholics. I wonder if Benedict XVI, Ray "Bully" Burke, and the American bishops really get this has and will continue to have negative effects upon the Church's bottom line? They may want their "smaller, purer" Church, but they will pay a high price for it financially and in terms of acrimony and backbiting. I won't contribute to my archdiocesan appeal because of the former and current archbishops using archdiocesan funds to contribute to the campaign against same-sex marriage.

by khughes1963 on Mon Feb 13, 2012 at 01:05:53 PM EST

the Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, has declared that Christians must "violently oppose" the "powers of evil" trying to get a hook in the world and allow women to have adequate means of birth control. See here: -City-calls-on-Christians-to-violently-oppose-birth-control?via=b log_1

I have to keep reminding myself to separate my disgust with the reactionary church hierarchy from my deep regard for all the good that ordinary Catholics accomplish in the world. When the leader of some skinhead white supremacy group makes a statement, we can safely assume that he is speaking for most, if not all, of his membership. I know that isn't true of statements by RC leaders like Bishop Nickless. But doesn't he realize that a lot of non-Catholics are not going to make such fine distinctions?

by MLouise on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 09:46:58 AM EST

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