Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Grateful for a Catholic School Teacher's Integrity

Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN and DignityUSA stand proudly with Trish Cameron, the Catholic school teacher in Moorhead, MN who was fired from her job for privately expressing to school and church leaders her support of civil marriage freedom for same-sex couples. A 5th grade teacher, well-loved and respected by parents, students and peers, Ms. Cameron was skewered for her broad heart and integrity. Fidelity to her informed conscience cost her greatly – the loss of a beloved community and the loss of work she treasured.

She is the face of many Catholics who in good conscience oppose this divisive anti-marriage amendment; Catholics who, in her words, "are no longer willing to simply accept what the church leaders say without discussion."

We call on all Catholics who are troubled by our Church leaders' obsession with adding permanent restrictions to Minnesota's Constitution to stand forth in love, courage and integrity. We applaud all Catholics who draw family, friends and co-workers into respectful conversations about why marriage matters to all of us.

For coverage of Trish Cameron's story, listen to and read the June 27 Minnesota Public Radio piece here.

Image: MPR/Dan Gunderson.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can 'True Catholics' Support Same-Sex Marriage?

By Chris Welch

Note: This article was first published June 20, 2012 at CNN's Belief Blog.

Minneapolis (CNN) – Jim Smith [right] is a former Roman Catholic priest who left his post with the church 10 years ago. He's an ex-priest for several reasons, he says, but one of his main concerns was the church's stance against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

But Smith remains a Catholic – though he says being a Catholic who actively campaigns for legalized same-sex marriages can be difficult these days.

"I'd much rather this wasn't happening," Smith says of the division that the issue has created among Minnesota Catholics. "But it does provide some real opportunities because it challenges us to talk to each other, Catholics talking to other Catholics."

Minnesota has become the newest epicenter in the same-sex marriage fight. This November, voters will decide whether they want an amendment added to the state's constitution that would ban marriage between members of the same sex.

Smith will be voting "no." And he has helped spearhead efforts in the state to persuade other Catholics to do the same.

A group he helped form, Catholics for Marriage Equality-Minnesota, aims "to encourage Catholics to consider the profound sacredness of same-gender relationships and to defeat this marriage amendment," Smith says.

Vatican edicts against same-sex marriage often give Catholic same-sex marriage supporters the impression they're in the minority.

But a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests 59% of American Catholics support rights allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. One reason behind that statistic - says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones – is because U.S. Catholics "overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed." A PRRI poll bears that out – with 69% of Catholics nationwide saying a person's sexual orientation cannot be changed.

In the Midwest alone, Catholics are evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage – with 46% in favor, 47% against.

Like Jim Smith, Michelle LaFrance is a Catholic who has also taken the bold step against the church in support of marriage equality.

"I remember thinking 'wow, maybe I shouldn't [remain a Catholic],'" LaFrance said. Ultimately they've remained with the Catholic faith, citing its many positive aspects including going to church. It's an important weekly ritual for LaFrance, her husband and their three kids.

"The Catholic Church, despite the media [attention] it typically gets, does a lot of great things, a lot of great social justice," LaFrance said. She noted the church "feeds the poor, houses the homeless, takes care of the abused."

The LaFrance family belongs to the Church of St. Margaret Mary in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley, a congregation which LaFrance describes as fairly progressive. She says the majority of her fellow parishioners agree with her stance on same-sex marriage.

But when LaFrance hears the archdiocese telling people how they should think about it, she can't help but sometimes feel like less of a Catholic.

"I don't think anybody – whatever their religious denomination – whole-heartedly follows every single rule down to the letter."

On the other side of the debate stands Dave Deavel.

Although he agrees with LaFrance to an extent, he says he believes there are certain pillars of the Catholic faith that people should follow. One of those is the church stance that marriage should remain between one man and one woman.

"The whole point of what the church teaches is to form people's consciences," Deavel says.

For Deavel, his wife and their five children, attending church is so important they strive to go multiple times a week.

He's active with Minnesota for Marriage, which supports of the same-sex-marriage ban, and has written various blog posts on the topic for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Asked whether he believes a person can be "less of a Catholic" for disagreeing with the church, Deavel says the Vatican "doesn't really have a certain category for 'less of a Catholic.' "

"But they certainly don't represent what the church teaches," he said. "Is it a spiritual problem? I think yes."

In a written statement the MCC said groups such as Catholics for Marriage Equality "do not have any right to call their organizations 'Catholic.'"

In the past, the conference has issued statements accusing Catholics for Marriage Equality of trying "to confuse Catholics and the public about authentic church teaching" on marriage.

"Catholics for Marriage Equality MN attempts to convince Catholics that they can be in good standing with the church and oppose church teaching about human sexuality and marriage, which centers on the complementarity of the sexes and the mutual self-gift of loving spouses in marital union," said an MCC statement.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis declined CNN's request for an interview, but it agreed with sentiments expressed by the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Does church doctrine make it impossible for same-sex marriage supporters to be true Catholics?

"There is no judgment intended about an individual's 'Catholicity' or 'Catholic-ness,' " says MCC spokeswoman Jessica Zittlow.

Minnesota's November ballot proposal to ban same-sex marriage isn't an amendment against LGBT individuals, say the MCC and the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese. Instead, they say it should strictly be viewed as an amendment supporting traditional marriage.

For ex-priest Jim Smith, grappling with the issue has been difficult – a personal struggle that extends to the heart of his faith.

The inner conflict between what Smith believes is right and his love for the church has pushed him to consider leaving the Catholic religion altogether.

In the end, Smith vows he will stay. "It's in my bones."

See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
Why Catholics Can Vote 'No'
Hundreds of Catholics Gather to Speak Out Against Marriage Amendment as a Matter of Conscience
Archbishop Just One of Many Catholic Voices in Gay Marriage Debate
This is the "Living Word"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

C4ME-MN at Twin Cities Pride 2012

Catholics for Marriage Equality MN
will be at Twin Cities Pride this year!

Join us in showing the tens-of-thousands
of attendees that there are Catholics who,
in good conscience, are committed to
voting 'no' on the freedom-denying 
'marriage amendment' to
our state's constitution.

Our Booth Information

Throughout the duration of Pride (Saturday, June 23 - Sunday, June 24), we'll be sharing booth space with Dignity Twin Cities at Minneapolis' Loring Park. Out booth numbers are P28 and P30.

We're in the purple section on the Pride map, on the south side of Loring park, which is the 15th Street side (the street in front of St Marks Cathedral). We still have a few opportunities open for folks interested in helping staff our booth. For more information, contact Art Stoeberl at or 651-278-6630.

Our Parade Unit Information

As well as having a presence in Loring Park throughout the duration of Pride, we'll be marching in Sunday's Pride Parade.

Our parade unit number is 71, and we'll be gathering at 10:00 a.m. on 3rd St., between 2nd Ave. and 3rd Ave. Look for the "Catholics Voting No" banner. It might be helpful to know that the Stonewall DFL unit number is 70, US Bank #74, and Target #75.

Another helpful tip: If you arrive at around 10:00 a.m., you can access the MCTC parking ramp next to the Basilica for free.

There are 140 units in the parade so we are in the middle of the line up. Remember to carry water and sun screen and to wear comfortable shoes.

The parade moves down Hennepin Ave. from 3rd St. and ends in Loring Park. If you're unable to make it to the beginning of the parade, please feel free to join us anywhere along the route.

We hope you can join us!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Catholics Can Vote 'No'

By Father Bob Pierson, OSB

Note: The following talk was delivered Sunday, June 10, 2012, at the "Catholics Vote No" event co-sponsored by Minnesotans United for All Families, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, Call to Action MN, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Dignity Twin Cities.

My name is Fr. Bob Pierson, and I would like to talk to you today about “Why Catholics Can Vote NO” on the proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota.

The Catholic Church is obviously very supportive of this amendment, which would, they say, protect “traditional marriage”. But as an ordained priest, I feel compelled to speak out now, and let me explain why. On Saturday, June 2nd I celebrated my 28th anniversary of ordination. I became a priest because I felt called to share the Good News that God loves each and every one of us unconditionally. Too many of us have been taught to think of God in terms of God’s judgment rather than God’s tremendous love and mercy.

In 2001, I began a 5-year assignment in campus ministry. It wasn’t long before I found myself meeting gay and lesbian students who were being put down by some of their peers because of their sexuality. When I turned to my professional colleagues in Student Development to ask how I could support these gay and lesbian students, I was told, “There’s not much we can do. You know what the church says….”

Yes, I know what the church says. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in #2358, gays and lesbians “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” I spent many years as an LGBT ally on campus, starting a Safe Space training program on our campus, and while it was not without some controversy, I knew I was doing the right thing – I was called upon as a Catholic of good conscience, to do the right thing.

It was in November 2005 that I was offended to learn the Vatican had released a document that stated that gay men cannot be priests because they are “seriously obstructed from properly relating to men and women.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I knew that I was gay when I was ordained. Did that mean that my 21 years of ministry was a mistake? My faith suggested that I could not in good conscience continue to remain silent, and I cannot remain silent today. I spoke up then, and I am speaking up now to say that I believe this amendment violates an important principle of Catholic teaching, and that as Catholics, we can vote no.

As a Catholic priest, I am not here to criticize our Church’s teaching, but rather to lift up an aspect of the Church’s teaching that seems to have been forgotten by some who are supporting the amendment. The issue I am talking about is “Freedom of Conscience.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in #1782:

[The human person] has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” Dignitatis Humanae 3 § 2.

A young theologian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger, whom many of you know now as Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way in 1967:

Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.

My conscience tells me to vote NO on the amendment because I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need such an amendment to our state constitution. In fact, I believe that the church does not have the right to force its moral teaching on others outside our fold. When the religious beliefs of any particular religious group become the law of the land, we run the risk of violating everyone’s freedom to believe and their freedom of conscience. Allow me to mention three examples of where I see the church “fudging” the facts.

We have heard it said that civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples “will destroy the sanctity of the Sacrament of Matrimony.” But the truth is, until now the church has not concerned itself with civil marriage. The church does not recognize the civil marriage of its members. If a Catholic is married in a civil ceremony, they are said to be married “outside of the Church” and the marriage is not recognized as a sacrament due to “lack of canonical form.” Civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples is not the Sacrament of Matrimony, and the government cannot tell churches who they may or may not marry.

We have heard it said that if committed, gay and lesbian couples “are allowed to marry, then the church will be forced into recognizing the rights of those couples to adopt children.” According to the supporters of the amendment, “studies show that same-sex couples are not effective parents and that children need to have both a mother and a father.” But the truth is that the most reputable studies, those accepted by the American Medical Association, the American Pediatrics Association, and the American Psychological Association, say that same-sex couples are just as effective as parents as heterosexual couples are. This has no correlation to their effectiveness as parents.

We have heard it said that if committed, same-sex couples can marry, “then the church will have to recognize those marriages in its social service programming in housing, health care, and education.” This is true, to the extent that the church accepts government funding for social service programs—the same rules that everyone else must follow. Would we want other religious groups to discriminate against us based on their beliefs while using government tax dollars? I don’t think so.

In any faith, marriage is about love, commitment and responsibility. In our faith, it is a sacrament, a commitment to God to live with your partner, to raise a family together, and most of all, to live the word of God. We know that gay and lesbian couples want to get married for the same reasons as anyone else. And it is incumbent upon us as Catholics to ensure that the people in our community have the same freedoms—whether it’s the freedom to worship or the freedom to marry.

I would like to conclude my remarks with a quote from one of my favorite Catholic churchmen, Cardinal Basil Hume, who said in 1995:

Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected... When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next. . . .To love another, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to have entered the area of the richest human experience.” (Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church Concerning Homosexual People, 1995)

See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
Hundreds of Catholics Gather to Speak Out Against Marriage Amendment as a Matter of Conscience
Archbishop Just One of Many Catholic Voices in Gay Marriage Debate
"This is the Living Word"

Related Off-site Links:
Catholics Against Marriage Amendment Rally in Edina – Drew Miller (South West Minneapolis Patch, June 11, 2012).
A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage – Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo (The Washington Post, February 14, 2012).
Some MN Priests Differ with Catholic Hierarchy Over Marriage Amendment – Sasha Aslanian (Minnesota Public Radio, May 17, 2012).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hundreds of Catholics Gather to Speak Out Against Marriage Amendment as a Matter of Conscience

By Kate Brickman

Note: The following is an official media release from Minnesotans United for All Families.

More than 200 Catholics from all across Minnesota came together Sunday afternoon at a church in Edina to discuss how Catholics can vote no on the proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom to marry. Father Bob Pierson, OSB explained why Catholics, in good conscience, can vote no on this amendment in November.

“My faith suggests that I cannot in good conscience remain silent,” said Father Pierson. “I am speaking up now to say that I believe this amendment violates an important principle of Catholic teaching, and that as Catholics, we can vote no. As a Catholic priest, I am not here to criticize our Church’s teaching, but rather to lift up an aspect of the Church’s teaching that seems to have been forgotten by some who are supporting the amendment. The issue I am talking about is “Freedom of Conscience.”

Father Pierson’s sentiments were echoed by LaDonna Hoy, a lifelong Catholic and member of St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Wayzata. “As a Catholic I would also ask: How then can it be right for a particular faith tradition–for us–to support legislation that defines marriage in a way that removes the rights and limits the freedoms of all Minnesotans regardless of their beliefs or lived experience? We are called as Catholics to bring forth a kingdom of love and justice in our midst. What is core to our tradition and its teachings is that the intrinsic dignity of each person must be respected in word, in action, and in law.”

The event was organized by Minnesotans United for All Families, the official campaign working to defeat the amendment, in partnership with Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, Call to Action MN, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, and Dignity Twin Cities.

“I pray that we become that church,” said Hoy. “A church that upholds the sacredness of marriage and its commitments for all people and that is open and informed by the insights and wisdom of the lived experience of its people. A church where inclusive love is once again our guiding principle and justice lights our way.”

Above: The display table of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, one of the four Catholic organizations that partnered with Minnesotans United for All Families to present the June 10 "Catholics Vote No" event.

Related Off-site Link: Catholics Against Marriage Amendment Rally in Edina – Drew Miller (South West Minneapolis Patch, June 11, 2012).