Thursday, December 11, 2008

At a crossroads.

On May 15th 2008, the California State Supreme Court ruled that same gender marriage would be legal in the state of California effective June 17th. This ruling came as a result of a case filed by a citizen of our state who claimed that the existing law which denied marriage to same gender couples violated the equal protection clause of the constitution. The State Supreme Court fulfilled its constitutional responsibility, heard the case, considered the evidence and rendered a decision.

Some, including the bishop of the diocese of Fresno, objected strenuously. As he sarcastically remarked, “Only by a slim majority did the court impose their wisdom.” I found the bishop’s statement ironic because I do not recall him ever objecting to a court decision when a pedophilia case was decided in favor of the diocese due to a legal technicality. The bishop was not the only one to be upset by the court granting civil marriage rights to same gender couples; the Mormon church and an assortment of evangelical churches were upset as well. These parties are more than willing to overturn the decision of an impartial judiciary through a referendum when it suits their needs.

In 2000, a referendum had been approved by California voters by a margin of 61% to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman. That was only eight years ago. By mid 2008, polls showed that support for Yes on 8 had dropped below fifty percent. “Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure,” said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus. Normally, a controversial ballot such as Proposition 8 would need to start out with a lead of at least 50% to win on Election Day. The Yes on Prop 8 side needed very large sums of cash and an extremely well run and highly organized campaign if they were going to win on November 4th.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Francisco, George Niederaurer, decided to intervene and influence the course of history on behalf of Yes on 8. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the following story on Thursday, Dec 4th 2008, “The Mormon Church has said Niederauer, previously the bishop of Salt Lake City for 11 years, played a pivotal role in its joining the cause. ‘We were invited to join the coalition.’ Michael Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the [Mormon] church, told The Chronicle in an interview shortly after the election. ‘We didn’t unilaterally go into the battle.’ Otterson said Niederauer’s letter persuaded the Mormon Church that they wouldn’t be fighting this battle alone, a status that would have made them vulnerable.” As a result, the Mormon church became eagerly involved donating millions of dollars to the Yes on 8 campaign and would later take the heat for having done so.

Had it not been for the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, the Mormon Church would not have been involved in the Yes on prop 8 campaign. Without those huge Mormon funds paying for deceptive and dishonest political ads, Yes on prop 8 would have lost. There is one piece of irony in all of this however. The people who voted “yes” on Proposition 8 out of emotion because they were angry at the power of the judges on the State Supreme Court unwittingly gave the interpretive powers of the State Supreme Court to two un-elected men: the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer and the Senior Elder of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. These two men, one of whom is not even a citizen of California, have questionably, if not illegally, used the non-profit status of their religious organizations to avoid taxation to fund, what was in essence, a political action committee. These two men effectively rewrote the constitution of the state of California.

As part of a strategy to dissuade us from our efforts at reversing Prop 8, Niederauer said, “We need to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to stop hurling names like ‘bigot’ and ‘pervert’ at each other, and we need to stop it now. We churchgoers need to speak and act out of the truth that all people are God‘s children and are unconditionally loved by God.” Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahoney said, “Supporting marriage, as it has always been understood, diminishes none of us. We welcome thoughtful and civil dialogue with you [the LGBT community] so that we can deepen our realization that all of us cherish God’s creative life which we equally share. We are committed to find ways to eliminate discrimination against homosexual persons, and to help guarantee the basic rights which belong to each of us.” In plain English they are telling us “Yes, we have stripped you of your civil rights because of our limited religious views, now accept your fate, don’t challenge us.”

While the archbishops were reassuring us of their noble intentions with word such as, “guaranteed basic rights,” and “all people are God’s children and unconditionally loved by God,” the Vatican representative at the United Nations in New York City voiced objection to the UN Resolution to decriminalize homosexuality. The Vatican, thereby, actively supports the criminality of being homosexual in repressive regimes. It is important to be clear here, gay people have been executed in countries like Iran and the Vatican knows this. There is no moral justification for the Vatican to take such a position. However, the Vatican is no stranger to turning a blind eye in regard to human rights abuses. One is reminded of its silence in the face of the Holocaust tragedy during World War II. The specter of “accommodation” to evil regimes by the Vatican seems discouragingly all too common. This action at the UN is merely an attempt to cozy up to despotic Middle East nations.These accommodations can not be dismissed by arguments of pragmatism, especially when they claim to be the arbiter of morality.

They have a saying in Mexico, “Hechos no palabras” (actions not words). Despite all of their sugar coated rhetoric, these churchmen have, by their actions, substantively contributed to a culture of bigotry and hatred directed at the LGBT community. By opposing the decriminalization of homosexuality, the Vatican has become an accomplice with the regimes that execute human beings for simply being gay or lesbian. This stance by the Vatican is in direct opposition with their repeated statements condemning capital punishment. Despite their florid statements on safeguarding the dignity of homosexuals, their actions at the UN were quite the opposite and revealed something morally repugnant.

We need to hold the California Catholic bishops answerable for the unwarranted and unjust role they played in stripping us of our civil right to marry. We need to hold the bishops answerable for their cowardice in not condemning Vatican opposition to a UN Resolution decriminalizing homosexuality. By their silence, they have become accomplices to torture and execution. We need them to be authentic pastors who, like the Good Shepard, make it a priority to protect their entire flock. Like the prophets of old, they need to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. We can’t simply be the “good little gays and lesbians” who quietly allow ourselves to be stripped of our rights and led to the slaughter. We need to stand up here and now. We need to say with a very loud and clear voice: no to hatred, no to discrimination, no to bigotry and no to injustice. As Catholics, we need to say “No your excellency… no your eminence, this is wrong. Please go back to doing God‘s work!” Truly, silence does equal death.


The Honourable Husband said...

Catholics: Withhold donations. Tell your parish priest why.

As you say, Father Geoff. Actions, not words.

Fran said...

Another brilliant post Father Geoff!

Earlier I was reading a Richard Rohr book that I pray with each day and today's passage was about the 10th commandment...

We sure don't hear much about that from the bishops, do we?

Coveting another's goods is the basic building block of capitalism, but hey - so what?

I am reminded of words from Matthew 25, as represented by priest, author and artist Tobias Haller.

What have Niederaurer or the others done for the least of these?

Is the irony that we are all the least been lost on them? Oh, of course it has.

Sebastian said...

Truly, this is a great column, and a clarion call for those of us in the Catholic Church to consider what we have done and what we have failed to do. The Church's hierarchy so often seems to tolerate any kind of political perversity by dictators and bullies, but is almost never tolerant of honest speech, without gloss, by her priests and observant Catholics.

Dusty in the San Joaquin said...

The Roman Catholic and Mormon Churches should lose their tax exempt status; at least in California. I’m sure this would help greatly in making up City and State budget shortfalls. They have no right to take money from members and use it against them

KJ said...

"Supporting marriage as it has always been understood..."

They must assume upon the lack of any historical knowledge on the part of the consumers of their fodder.

It is always interesting to me that organizations as disparate in religious belief as the LDS and the RCC (and Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals) can set all of that aside in unity since, apparently, homosexuality is far more important than anything else. Why do they not see that their actions reveal the fear-base of their "faith?"

Kay & Sarah said...

Thank you, Father Geoff for being a voice that speaks out.

After seeing how the Catholic hierarchy dealt with the child abuse issue among themselves, I do not expect them to stand for justice for the LGBT community. After all, they are using us as a scapegoat in the child abuse scandal. Disgusting!

Cindy said...

I was so thrilled that a Catholic priest had the courage to speak up and challenge the church's negative treatment of gays. I opposed Prop 8 and attend as many protests that I can.

I was hoping to get in touch with Father Farrow to invite him to speak in Northern California. Father, are you still speaking publicly? Just so you know, Bishop Steinbock use to be the bishop here in our diocese.

I hope all is well with you. Have they formally excommunicated you? Well, if so, you are in good holy company! As you know the hierarchy is after Father Roy of SOA fame. Too much for me.

Take care,


Unknown said...

I must say that I was shocked and saddened to hear that Bishop Neideraurer was the one who "invited" the Mormon Church to join the Yes on 8 campaign. As an ex-mormon from Salt Lake City, Bishop Neideraurer had a reputation for tolerance and acceptance in while in Utah.

That being said, I highly doubt that Neideraurer's letter was the reason the Mormon's joined in. It is simply their excuse, and is being used to deflect the negative attention they are receiving now. They would have been at the forefront whether or not they were "invited", just as they were in 2000, and just as they were with their campaigns in Hawaii and Alaska before that.

Anonymous said...

From: TheresaJ
Fr. Geoff, have you read the bishop's message on Prop 8 in the Dec.2008 Central Calif Catholic paper? Talks about confusion, and the celebration of diversity; I need someone to explain what he really means. Otherwise, is it just
doubletalk? Is this the Church speaking? So, now what happens?
I feel as though I'm just stumbling along in the desert or something not knowing which way to go--believe me I am praying for guidance and wisdom to understand all of this.

Leonard said...

Furthermore, the Anglican Archbishops of Uganda (Orombi), Nigeria (Akinola) in Africa actively witchhunt and preach fear and hate...not only in regard to LGBT Christians but also to Muslims...very dangerous, check out the Massacre of Yelwa, the Griswold article and Pete Akinolas grinning reply to her question about the massacre...we´re dealing with Christians who WOULD HARM fellow Christians and others and their Dominionist buddies in the U.S. who bribe them!

Anonymous said...

Re: my comment yesterday
I reread your 12/11 article and it
helped me to know what I must do. Thank you. At our Lady of Guadalupe's celebration (12/13) the thought came to mind that our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, not to the bishop. You're right; we must write to the bishop and voice our concerns. God be with you in all you do, Fr. Geoff.

Jim Williams said...

Hi Father Farrow,

Thank you so much for your conviction, bravery and tenacity in dealing with this issue.

Many years ago I sat down at the beach and had a long discussion with God. I decided that the Church and I could not be together because of the hypocracy and backwards thinking of the church leaders. Perhaps had you been my priest at the time I would have found more faith in the Church?

I still miss the church, and your story hit a heart string.

Thanks and God Bless.