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Local gay Catholic challenges N.Y. archbishop to debate
by Chuck Colbert

This article shared 5107 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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The leader of a LGBT Catholic advocacy group has challenged Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York to a debate on gay marriage.

The Chicago-based Rainbow Sash Movement ( RSM ) invited Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference, the church's official lobbying arm, through a Dec. 7 blog entry posted on on the organization's web site.

Rainbow Sash's executive director, Joe Murray, said the offer to debate extends to Dolan for a meeting with him "in the public square at any Catholic university in the United States."

"Such a debate will not only be informative, but could highlight reason over homophobia," RSM board of directors said.

The National Catholic Reporter ( NCR ) reported that the archdiocese was aware of the invitation but that Dolan was unlikely to accept.

"You don't invite someone to dialogue by resorting to cheap ad hominem attacks on the person with whom you wish to debate and posting that invitation on a blog," Kate Monaghan, assistant communications director for the New York archdiocese, told NCR.

She added, "The movement states that it is interested in 'a mature exchange of ideas' but by employing the following, stating that Archbishop Dolan is an 'accomplice' in 'soul murder,' 'more comfortable taking cheap shots from his ivory tower,' 'lacks courage' and will likely meet the request with 'arrogance,' you run contrary to the very nature of your appeal for civil, respectful dialogue."

In response, Rainbow Sash posted a sharp rebuke. "Debating is a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints," wrote the RSM board of directors. "A dialogue is an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue such as gay marriage, with a view to reaching a amicable agreement or settlement. Dolan has shown by his previous mean spirited comments on gay marriage that he is not interested in a respectful dialogue process. That is why we are now calling for a debate."

Reached by phone, Monaghan said, "No further comment is necessary. But thank you for asking."

During a telephone interview, Murray said that "the memory of my deceased lover," who died last April, prompted him to challenge Dolan. "We had looked forward to taking advantage of civil unions here in Illinois."

Civil-unions legislation, however, did not take effect until June 1, with Chicago's Cardinal Francis George and the Catholic Conference of Illinois opposed to the new law.

In a change of tactics, Murray also said the time for "dialogue" has passed. "We've moved beyond asking for respectful dialogue, which we have requested for years on our blog."

"We need to move to a new level of engagement," said Murray. "We need to engage the bishops as adult human beings and hold them accountable in public for things they say about the LGBT community."

Last spring, for example, before New York legalized same-sex marriage, Dolan said on his blog, "To tamper with [ the ] definition [ of traditional marriage ] , or to engage in some Orwellian social engineering about the nature and purpose of marriage, is perilous to all of us."

The archbishop continued, "If the definition of marriage is continually being altered, could it not in the future be morphed again to include multiple spouses or even family members?"

In another blog posting Dolan wrote, "Last time I consulted an atlas, it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America—not in China or North Korea. In those countries, government presumes daily to 'redefine' rights, relationships, values, and natural law. There, communiqués from the government can dictate the size of families, who lives and who dies, and what the very definition of 'family' and 'marriage' means."

Over the years, the U.S. Catholic bishops indeed have stepped up anti-gay rhetoric and activism. For example, Catholic officials have sought to deny access to subsidized housing for gay and lesbian seniors, stopped providing foster-care and adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples, and fired openly gay people from employment for reasons that have nothing to do with job performances. Children of same-sex couples have also been banned, in some cases, from attending parochial schools.

With the advent of same-sex marriage in the nation's capital, the cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., decided to stop providing health insurance medical benefits to spouses and dependents of all employees in the archdiocese rather than offering them to same-sex couples and their families.

And in opposing civil marriage for gay couples—from Maine to New York to Maryland, from Rhode Island to Minnesota to California and the District of Columbia—the bishops have spoken out from the pulpit, through multi-media campaigns, bulletin inserts, and homilies.

In a Sept. 20 letter to the president, Dolan said the Obama administration's decision to stop defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal ban on same-sex marriage, would "precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions." Increasingly, the bishops say the religious liberties of those who oppose gay marriage are in jeopardy.

However, in a Nov. 14 open letter to Dolan, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a national LGBT Catholic organization, referred the bishops' activities as "pastoral damage," adding, "These actions contribute to the continued flood of members out of our Church, and to diminishing commitment among those who remain."

On behalf of Dignity, Duddy-Burke suggested that the bishops begin "a conversation" with LGBT Catholics, families, friends, "sisters and priests who minister with us, and theologians wrestling with questions that are important to our community and our Church."

To that aim, Duddy-Burke offered to identify persons to serve on a pastoral and advisory committee to engage the bishops' conference.

However, Dolan has yet to reply to her letter, Duddy-Burke said.

Other groups and individuals have attempted to engage Dolan and other members of Church hierarchy.

A year ago, Boston-based psychotherapist Charles Martel wrote to Dolan asking for conversation about same-sex civil marriage.

A graduate of Catholic University, Martel is a co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality.

Dolan responded in writing on Dec. 2, 2010: "It is not my practice to meet with advocates for change in matters of settled faith and morals."

In the same letter Dolan suggested that Martel request a meeting with Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Boston archdiocese.

However, as Martel explained to Dolan in follow-up correspondence, dated Dec. 15, 2010—when the Massachusetts-based Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry ( RCFM ) asked, several years ago, for a meeting with the cardinal—the organization never heard back from him. A lay Catholic, Martel served on RCFM's board of directors.

Increasingly, the bishops and the laity are at odds about same-sex marriage. Two recent public-opinion polls—ABC News and Washington Post, March 18, 2011, and Public Religion Research Institute, March 22, 2011—show Catholic support among the laity for same-sex marriage ranging from 63 to 71 percent. Moreover, Catholic support in both polls is 10 percent higher than the national average and shows a more rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage rights by Catholics than most U.S. residents.

Meanwhile, asked about the Rainbow Sash challenge to Dolan, Francis DeBernardo said, "Any effort at dialogue is a good effort. It would be wonderful if Dolan met with any group."

DeBernardo serves as executive director of New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive educational and pastoral organization based in Maryland.

While he likes the venue of a Catholic college or university, DeBernardo added, "I am not keen on a big public debate. That would force Dolan into a position of defending. What we need now is changing hearts and minds."

"My ideal would be a town hall meeting where people could come and express their views to the bishops," said DeBernardo. "There are precedents for dialogue, but I don't know there are precedents for debate."

Spokespersons for the Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for Equality, however, say reaching out to Church leaders is futile. " [ We ] ha [ ve ] made no attempts to engage Archbishop Dolan, as we believe it's not a productive use of time or resources," said the organization's executive director, Phil Attey.

"For the past 40 years, progressive Catholic groups have spent countless hours and dollars attempting to educate and engage our hierarchy on LGBT issues and church policy—all in vain, as the Vatican and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have ignored all such attempts, and if anything, have responded by levying even more heavy handed dictates on these issues," said Attey.

Catholics for Equality advocates political activism on behalf of the LGBT community. Accordingly, Attey said, his organization would "focus our efforts and resources on engaging Catholic citizens, elected officials and public policy makers who do allow pro-equality Catholics an audience and have the power to change the laws in our country which discriminate against LGBT Americans."

This article shared 5107 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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