Thoughts on the Ref 74 Petition drive

Here in Washington there’s a petition to keep marriage what it as has always been: heterosexual. Pretty sensible. So the Abp is asking (not requiring, asking) parishes to allow signatures to be collected by any laity who wish to do so. Nobody is being ordered to do anything. And, to be ultra-clear the normative distinctions are being made between what the Church teaches (i.e. marriage is intrinsically heterosexual and gay “marriage” is an ontological impossibility) and particular political approaches toward addressing that reality (such as Ref 74). Catholics are bound to support the former, not the latter. Somebody might, for instance, refuse to support Ref 74, not because they support gay “marriage” but because they believe the state should play no role in marriage at all. That’s a view compatible with the Tradition. But, basically, all that’s happening is that laity who think Ref 74 is a good idea are being permitted to gather signatures on Church grounds. It’s not “the Church interfering with the state”. It’s “the Church letting citizens who happen to be Catholic act in accord with their convictions on Church property if they want to”. Really pretty innocuous. I can’t see a thing wrong with it.

As I mentioned below, Fr. Michael Ryan at our Cathedral and a few other parishes (six, I think) have opted not to allow this. Two things can be said about this. First, I think they are wrong to constrict the freedom of their parishioners like this. It’s ironic, in a tedious sort of way, that it is generally the very same people who constantly declared that Progressive Seattle Catholics are Integrated Adult Personalities who don’t need the Church to Tell Them What to Think are also the same people who say that their parishioners are so fragile that they can’t cope with a few tweaks to the liturgy or ideas they dislike without freaking out, so they have to be protected and must not encounter a signature collector in the vestibule lest they have a total meltdown. I would gently suggest that if you are forming your people to be this delicate and helpless in the face of intellectual diversity, then “spiritual maturity” is not the name I’d give it.

Second, that said, I think the pastors are, like it or not, within their rights to do this and the calls for (yawn) excommunication from the various combox Star Chambers and self-appointed bishops around the web fail to grasp distinctions between words like “request” and “order”. Like it or not, it was a request from the bishop, not an order. A pastor is free to respond as he likes. When he responds by refusing to allow the collection of signatures–and his parish responds with applause–that’s a sad thing and a sign of spiritual unhealthiness, but not an excommunicable thing.

To review: excommunication is a *very* rare event in the life of the Church, just as amputation is seldom applied. Do it yerself combox bishops eager for excommunication are like doctors who want to treat everything from leg cramps to hangnails with amputation. It’s as unhealthy a first instinct as the impulse to constrict free speech by Fr. Ryan and Co. And it tends to repel ordinary people who see it, not as zeal for the Church, but as a scary Inquisitorial mindset that will surely spin out of control into a reign of terror should it ever escape the vanishing small culture of the combox pseudo-episcopacy and take root in the real Church. Happily, that will never happen.

What’s the solution to the people who can’t sign the petition in six parishes then? My suggestion is: walk down the street to the next parish. The weather in Seattle is beautiful right now and it’s a beautiful day for it. You can get in line behind me to sign the petition at Blessed Sacrament. Then, go pray for the tiny handful of parishes that are too afraid to be Catholic and allow diversity of opinion be expressed. But don’t freak out. Polarization is not going to help anything.

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