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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  • Mitch

    I’m always surprised when Bishops don’t control what is going on in their own Cathedrals. Since it is supposed to be the model parish of the diocese. I think Abp. Sartin’s approach to it seems really good though. You’ll be happy to know Bp. Cupich is promoting the referendum out in this part of the world (did his hour with the Bishop radio show about it recently, or so I am told), and the petitions are available at most parishes.

  • Yours is one of the blogs I enjoy reading on a daily basis, particularly for your careful balance of orthodoxy and the freedoms that are part of our faith. Thank you for that and for this article.

    It would be good for us all to continue to keep Archbishop Sartain (and all ordinaries) in our prayers; the temptation to discouragement must be especially great with the pressures he faces both in the world and in his own archdiocese. I imagine a kind letter would not be unwelcome either!

    As another blogger often says: “brick by brick”!

  • Ted Seeber

    We have a similar issue with Citizen Initiatives #22 and 25 down here in Oregon; 22 there may be some reasonable objection to (Personhood for the unborn, for some reason, goes even too far for many Catholic Bishops), but 25 there isn’t (this is just Oregon’s version of the Hyde Amendment; but due to the number of poor in this state taking the desperate act of abortion, it’s passage will knock abortion back by 33%- simply because it will end taxpayer funding of those abortions).

    • Ted Seeber

      Got the answer today- the objection to #22 isn’t what I thought it was- it was that it excludes the death penalty from an absoluteist right to lie. If it had that, they’d be backing
      it too.

      • Ted Seeber

        Right to life, not right to lie. Boy was I tired last night.

  • A Random Friar

    I do not agree with Fr. Ryan’s decision, but I do not think we can say he is restricting the freedom of his parishioners. No organization or group has a right to any kind of right to solicit signatures, or act as a group on parish grounds.

    This can be good and bad, granted. Many times, pastors are loathe to allow *anyone* to do *anything* on their property, because that opens the tent for the camel to get his nose in.

  • I am curious. Let’s say I just bring a small camping table, set up and start at gathering petition signatures. Let’s further say that I politely refuse to pack up when the pastor spots me, saying that the Holy Spirit is drawing me to do this thing. How does that play out assuming nobody backs down?

    • Peggy Hagen

      Plays out that you should have obeyed your pastor; the Holy Spirit wouldn’t be guiding you to disobedience. St. Faustina and Mother Teresa got to deal with that one a LOT, their stories are a pretty good guide.

  • MF

    Well, I don’t know which parishes that you know about that are not allowing it, but I bet you there are more than you think. I will not name the parishes, but mine will not and also our closest neighboring parish will not. Also, a parish we used to go to will not.

  • thomas tucker

    In general, I agree with what you said.
    However, let’s call a spade a spade. We all know that that some priests disagree with the Church’s position on homosexuality and it is reasonable to theorize that priests who do so would be disproportionately represented in the set that refuse to allow this petition. Does that mean that every priest who disallows the petition disagrees with Church teaching? No. But I think a prudent person (or bishop) would ask a priest who refuses the petition if he accepts and teaches what the Church teaches on homosexuality. If he doesn’t, then the question becomes what should happen next.

  • Thank you for an even-handed handling of this sensitive topic, Mark. The parish I attended as a child/teen split from the RCC when our pastor (Fr Jim Callan of the Rochester diocese) was excommunicated for, among other things, performing gay “marriage blessing” ceremonies against the orders of his bishop. It was tragic. There were death threats. People threw bricks at his car and the into the houses of other staff members of the parish–even threatened the lives of staff members’ children. While I think some parishes and pastors approaches to this are terribly sad, I cannot wish the pain and division my home diocese went through on anyone unless there is truly a legitimate cause. It is so, so sad.

  • KT

    This is such an unfair represenation of Fr. Ryan. He is one of the most compassionate and caring leaders I know of in our Catholic community. The reason he did not distribute the petitions signing is because there are practing Catholics at the cathedral who are gay/lesbian, have relatives that are gay/lesbian or just have empathy for the gay/lesbian indiviuals. He did not want to create a state of division within his parish. I think this is extremely sensitive. I, for one, and I might be the only one on this thread wish that the Archbishop would have taken this opportunity to educate rather than alienate. And believe me, we will lose good, practicing Catholics over this. Where is the love in any of this? You ask people not to be polarized by this, but when parishoners are asked to sign a petition going against their gay & lesbina brothers & sisters, what do you think will be the result?

  • Siberian

    I am a very devout Roman Catholic and I do not support the Archbishop’s petition drive because I think it is totally inappropriate for petitioners to approach parishioners after Mass. Also, this is a civil rights issue – it is not a religious issue. If the State of Washington issued a theological definition of gay marriage then yes, I think the Archbishop would need to step in and I would support him 100% in that case. He does not know what he is talking about when he says that treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination. If you treat a person differently solely based upon him/her being a member of a particular class, that constitutes unjust discrimination according to civil rights laws – and I know this because I did enforce civil rights laws for a Federal agency. All these people who are gay want is to be accepted for who they are, which includes having their marriages socially accepted according to civil law. And since the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States also guarantees a gay person the right who is not Catholic to express his/her religion he/she has the right to not be bound by the Judeo-Christian definition of marriage that I as a Roman Catholic adhere to. It angers me to hear our bishops on this kick about freedom of religion — because what they are really saying is that Catholics should have the freedom to express their religion and anyone else who disagrees with us Catholics is wrong and does not have that same right. To be quite honest also, I really liked Archbishop Sartain when he first arrived in Seattle — but as time has progressed I now see him not as a bishop who is journeying with us, but as a bishop who is using us in order to become a cardinal. And as far as the petition drive is concerned I will not sign it, and I don’t care if it costs me everything I have as a Catholic to not sign it, because I perceive our bishops manipulating the laity – who have no voice in the Church – as their pawns to get their own religious/political agendas passed. And I think they have a lot of nerve doing that, because it is just one more example of how they abuse their authority. But what Archbishop Sartain does not realize is that he is skating dangerously on thin ice right now in the Archdiocese, because there are enough Catholics in our Archdiocese who have had just about enough of this petition drive and his taking the assignment with regard to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious that Catholics are not coming to Mass and they’re not putting money into the collection plate. The laity of our Archdiocese have just about had enough of not having any voice in the Church. We are celebrating in October the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, and many principles from that Council are being tossed aside. The Magisterium does not recognize that the Holy Spirit really does speak through the laity. There are 1.2 billion lay Catholics in the world and only 5,100 bishops including Pope Benedict. Our input does not count at all. So even though I accept the Church’s teachings on important moral issues such as this, I do not experience members of our hierarchy living into those principles which Christ exampled for us.

  • 1 question….Please tell me how me being a gay man wanting to marry the person that I love in any way involves you? Not one of you know me or my life partner/husband. How does what we do affect you or any one of you in your Parish?