Politics

September 15, 2012

In same-sex marriage fight, church steps back

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

CAMDEN -- As debate about the same-sex marriage referendum swirled around Maine, the social hall of Our Lady of Good Hope church was a bastion of Catholic conviction after Mass last week.

About 30 people listened as two theologians from Massachusetts talked about the importance of marriage and why allowing same-sex couples to wed is contrary to church doctrine.

Marriage is a lifelong commitment that is "oriented to the procreation and education of children," said Angela Franks, director of theology programs at the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Mass.

"The whole debate over marriage is fundamentally a debate about 'What do I desire?' " said her husband, David Franks, a professor of theology at the seminary. "All the church asks is (that) we be intelligent about our desires. Is it good? Is it true? Will it lead to real happiness?"

The 90-minute session was the first in a series of statewide meetings aimed at promoting the traditional concept of marriage among the 190,000 Catholic parishioners in Maine, and perhaps convincing them, in the process, not to support the Nov. 6 referendum.

It's a stark contrast to 2009, when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland played a major role -- financial and organizational -- in the successful ballot drive to overturn Maine's same-sex marriage law.

Leaders of the effort to defeat the same-sex marriage question say the church's absence has been felt.

"The diocese has a built-in organizational structure that we don't have in any other way," said Bob Emrich, chairman of Protect Marriage Maine. "We miss that."

The church made significant monetary contributions to the 2009 campaign.

Bishop Richard Malone videotaped a message that was played during Mass and ordered that additional collections be taken to support the campaign. In total, the church donated $568,024, of which $295,404 came from the diocese's general treasury.

It also solicited contributions from other dioceses across the country, which yielded $50,000 gifts from Philadelphia and Phoenix and $10,000 donations from Youngstown, Ohio, Providence, R.I., Kansas City, Kan., Newark, N.J., and St. Louis, according to campaign finance reports on file with the state.

Contributions from Catholics -- either in Maine or from around the country -- constituted about 19 percent of the total funding for the campaign. This year, the diocese will not donate any money, raise funds from other dioceses, or ask churches to pass the collection plate for the cause, said Suzanne Lafreniere, associate director of public policy for the diocese.

"This shift in venue should not be regarded as acquiescence on the issue of marriage or seen as a retrenchment," Lafreniere said in a prepared statement. "To the contrary, it was an effort to better focus our efforts on providing the faithful with a comprehensive understanding and appreciation for the church's teachings on marriage in all its fullness."

Three years ago, the church also loaned its top spokesman -- Marc Mutty -- to Stand for Marriage Maine, the leading opposition group. It distributed pamphlets in the churches, and the bishop himself was involved in the campaign decision-making hierarchy.

Malone spoke directly with Frank Schubert, a key political consultant, about the campaign, and it was Schubert who called Malone on election night to tell him they had won. A filmmaker who was inside campaign strategy sessions said the chain of command was Schubert to Malone to Mutty.

"I think the church took a lot of heat for being involved," said Joe Fox, one of the filmmakers behind "Question 1," a documentary detailing the campaign. "Their stand didn't go over very well with a sizable and vocal number of parishioners."

(Continued on page 2)

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