Is this what schism looks like?

I have to wonder if same sex marriage will be the issue that finally and irrevocably rends the American church in two.

First, there’s Seattle:

The folk mass hymns and gospels were familiar, the response “And with your spirit” recited Sundays in church by millions of Catholics, but the 120 faithful gathered outside Seattle’s St. James Cathedral on Sunday afternoon were praying for a cause their bishops are campaigning against.

Mobilized by Catholics for Marriage Equality, they celebrated a “Liturgy of Love,” praying for the recognition of same-sex unions and the passage of Referendum 74, which would legalize marriage between persons of the same gender.

“I would just say the God I have come to know is not one to tell people they are not equal,” said Robert Gavino, a Seattle University student.

John House, a parishoner at Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Snoqualmie, added:  “Catholics believe Christ’s primary message is one of love, and Catholic social teaching teaches us that God loves everybody.  We are standing up for centuries of Catholic social teaching.”

They are also standing against their bishops.

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain has issued a pastoral letter denouncing Referendum 74, and put three anti-74 videos on the diocesan website.  “R-74 jeopardizes freedom rather than expands it:  It endangers our religious liberty and the right of conscience,” Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima claimed in a particularly strident letter to the faithful.

We disagree, said those on the steps of St. James Cathedral.

“I find (bishops’ claims) perplexing:. Nothing about marriage equality in the state of Washington is any infringement on liberty.  This is about civil marriage and civil law,” said John Morfield, a longtime parishoner at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

And Barbara Guzzo, organizer of Catholics for Marriage, argued that the bishops have brought “anguish, division and sadness” to the faithful, “particularly those with a gay person in their families, the hurt that this has caused.”

Fr. John Whitney, S.J., pastor of St. Joseph Church, has encouraged discussion and helped a recent meeting to promote reconciliation between those who share the bishops’ passionate opposition and those who back Referendum 74.  “Authority never supplants conscience,” he told parishoners in a recent “e-blast.”

But stridently conservative bishops across the country have brought politics to the pulpit — and delivered dictates of what belongs in the consciences of those in the pews.

“A properly formed Catholic conscience will never contradict the Church’s teachings in matters of faith and morality,” Bishop David Kagan of Fargo, N.D., said in a weekend letter.  The letter contained no mention of social teachings or poverty or human rights, but among things “never acceptable” was “not recognizing the unique and special role of marriage as a unique union of one man and one woman.”

Across the country, there’s Maryland:

In Baltimore’s St. Vincent de Paul church, Fr. Richard T. Lawrence read a nuanced letter from Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori at all the weekend’s Masses. It concluded: “Each one of us — as Catholics and faithful citizens — must show up on election day and do our part by voting against Question 6,” the Civil Marriage Protection Act.

“The archbishop’s thoughts on this question are powerful, and will be persuasive in conscience to many” and should be read and prayed over by all, said Lawrence, who has been St. Vincent’s pastor for 39 years.

He then stated his own homiletic thoughts:

I cannot tell you how any of this will come out, but I will tell you that I stand in genuine awe of all those parents, native-born, naturalized, documented and undocumented, who strive with every fiber of their being to ensure that their children have more opportunities than they had.

And I will continue to stand in genuine awe of all those couples — straight, gay and lesbian — whose day-to-day, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade faithfulness to each other is to me a sacrament, a believable embodied sign, of the absolute faithfulness of God to us all.

Lori’s letter to all parishes said the approaching election placed in the voters’ hands “the momentous choice of whether to maintain marriage as the union of one man and one woman in Maryland, or to irrevocably dismantle our state’s legal recognition of the most basic unit of our society — the family unit of mother, father and child.

“Maryland has long provided to domestic partners many of the same protections married couples receive,” the letter states. “These include medical decision-making and hospital visitation rights; exemption from inheritance and real estate tax laws, and government health benefits, to name just a few. Recognizing this fact, do not be fooled in thinking it is necessary to redefine marriage for all of society simply to provide other couples [with] benefits.

“Redefining marriage is not only unnecessary … We cannot underestimate the long-term consequences that redefining marriage would have on children, on the family, and on the religious freedoms of individuals and institutions who continue to hold fast to our deeply held beliefs about marriage,” the letter continues.

Lawrence then said in his homily that religious and civil law are separate and that “evil” civil law, like segregation, should be resisted in conscience while other civil laws, like taxes, can be complied with in conscience “even when we disagree with them…”

…The St. Vincent parishioners gave Lawrence a standing ovation.

Finally, there’s this, from Maine:

An Eliot, Maine, Catholic who supports same-sex marriage said he’s concerned about a last-minute groundswell of opposition from fellow Catholics to the gay marriage initiative on the ballot next week.

Jack Dougherty said the Catholic Diocese of Portland has concentrated efforts in October to “rein in” Catholics on the issue. These efforts culminated late last week with a statement from the former bishop of Maine, Bishop Richard Malone, stating those who support same-sex marriage are “unfaithful to Catholic doctrine.”

“I recognize that the Catholic Church has a right to teach doctrine, but I don’t believe church law should be the law that governs civil marriages,” said Dougherty, a parishioner at St. Raphael’s Church in Kittery. “I believe God is love and every couple, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to share in all of the same civil benefits of marriage that I have.”

On Nov. 6, Maine voters will be asked to cast their ballot on Question 1. A yes vote will allow same-sex marriage; a no vote will reject the measure.

Suzanne Lafreniere, associate director of public policy for the diocese, agreed with Dougherty that the diocese is making a concerted effort to educate Catholics this month.

“We want to make sure that our faithful are as informed as can be before they vote,” she said. “Bishop Malone is putting on his teaching hat big time right now.”

Of course, it’s impossible to tell how wide or deep these kinds of protests are. But they are out there.  And they’re getting a lot of sympathetic media attention.  No matter what happens next week, they won’t be disappearing any time soon.

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