On the Sundays of Lent, vigilers will be praying that Archbishop Nienstedt redirects his energies – and the resources of the Archdiocese – away from the divisive “marriage amendment” and toward actions that reflect Jesus’ Gospel call to care for the poor and marginalized.
MINNEAPOLIS – Local Catholics plan to hold a weekly vigil in front of the chancery offices of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (226 Summit Ave., St. Paul), 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., every Sunday during the season of Lent (Sunday, February 26 – Sunday, April 1).
Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, said that many Catholics have expressed sorrow and anger at the Archbishop’s recent expenditure of time, energy and money on ensuring the passage of the so-called “marriage amendment,” an unnecessary constitutional ban on civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in Minnesota.
Those who will prayerfully gather at the chancery each Sunday of Lent hope to convey to all Minnesotans that there are many Catholics who support marriage equality and oppose the anti-gay and anti-marriage equality activism of the Minnesota Catholic Conference of Bishops.
Organizers note that in the Christian tradition Lent is understood as a time of repentance, of turning around and away from those things that hold us back from fully experiencing God’s abundant love.
“Our hope and prayer is that Archbishop Nienstedt and all the bishops of Minnesota experience a change of heart on the marriage amendment,” says Bayly. “We’d like them to ‘turn around’ and see all the love and beauty embodied in same-sex relationships and families. We also pray that the bishops may be open to the experiences and insights of the majority of U.S. Catholics who support civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.”
Polls show that most of the country’s 75 million Catholics disagree with their bishops on gay rights. A Washington Post–ABC News poll last March found that 63 percent of Catholics believe same-sex marriage should be legal. When Catholics are assured that the issue is civil marriage “like you get at City Hall,” 71 percent of all Catholics support same-sex marriage, according to a national poll by the Public Religion Research Institute also conducted last March. These figures show that Catholics are more supportive than the public at large, whose support for gay marriage, poll after poll shows, hovers just above the 50 percent mark.
Last month the Minnesota Catholic Conference of Bishops announced that it had spent $750,000 in 2011 on efforts to persuade voters to approve the ballot measure in November. This figure includes $650,000 from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and $50,000 each from the dioceses of New Ulm and Duluth. The conference has contributed $350,000 to Minnesota for Marriage, an umbrella pro-amendment group. Collectively, pro-amendment groups have raised over $1.2 million dollars to persuade voters to approve the ballot measure in November. In 2010, the Minnesota Catholic Conference spent over one million dollars producing a pro-marriage amendment DVD which was mailed to over 400,000 Catholic households across the state.
Representatives of the Archdiocese say the money spent on the bishops’ pro-amendment activism comes from investment income, not collection plates or other donations.
Yet, according to Bayly, where the money comes from is beside the point. “It’s still money that is under the control of the chancery and which should be spent on actually helping people in need,” says Bayly, adding that, if passed, the marriage amendment will “help no one and do absolutely nothing to ‘protect’ marriage.”
In January, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN launched an online petition at www.focusonsocialjustice.com. According to Bayly, the primary message of both this petition and the weekly Lenten vigil at the chancery is the same: “We urge Archbishop Nienstedt and all the bishops of Minnesota to redirect our church’s time, energy, and money towards feeding the hungry and caring for the homeless and the sick, and away from the divisive issue of the marriage amendment which is causing unnecessary pain and hostility within the local Catholic community and beyond.”