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Analysis reveals Roman Catholic dioceses poured money into anti-marriage campaign in Maine

by Peter Cassels
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Nov 10, 2009

An analysis of state reports has revealed Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the nation made significant financial contributions to the campaign that nullified marriage for same-sex couples in Maine.

By a margin of 53 to 47 percent, Pine Tree State voters supported a referendum on Nov. 3 that nullified a law that had extended nuptials to gays and lesbians. Observers said the 55 percent turnout was exceptionally high in an off-year election.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland created a political action committee to collect funds for Stand for Marriage Maine, the campaign supporting the referendum. The church contributed close to $550,000. Almost half--about $250,000--came from dioceses, parishes, organizations and individual clergy from outside the state.

While the church was collecting out-of-state dollars, Marc Mutty, Stand for Marriage Maine's campaign chair, criticized the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign for not being "home grown." Mutty ran the anti-marriage effort while on leave from his job as spokesperson for the Portland diocese.

The church's out-of-state funds came from 65 separate contributions. Some were quite large. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Phoenix each gave $50,000. The Diocesan Assistance Fund in Providence, R.I., the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, and the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas each gave $10,000. Others were small--a number of priests gave less than $50.

Many question how a religious organization, which enjoys tax-exempt status, can make financial contributions to political causes. While federal and state tax laws prohibit such organizations from donating to politicians, many states permit them to financially support ballot initiatives, according to Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate.

Karger uncovered the Mormon Church's alleged "money laundering" in its multi-million-dollar contributions to the National Organization for Marriage, a major backer of Proposition 8 in California and Question 1 in Maine. Both launched investigations at his behest.

"Churches have every right to participate in the electoral process," Karger said in a phone interview with EDGE. "They do it at the peril of dividing their congregations. I think the Catholic Church in Maine has stepped up and become the new Mormons."

Portland Bishop Richard Malone appeared in a video shown in parishes across Maine that urged his flock to support the referendum. Churches also conducted special collections at Sunday Masses to raise funds.

Karger pointed out its rare a religious organization creates a PAC to support a political cause.

"It's usually a business or labor union. I think it's disgraceful to many people," he said. "It's legal, but it does hurt their religion if it creates dissension and unhappiness."

"There are so many progressive Catholics and so many that happen to have a gay family member, relative or co-worker," Karger continued. "They are uncomfortable with their leadership taking such an active role."

One national LGBT Catholic activist agreed.

"Obviously, it is distressing, disturbing and very painful to see the leadership of our church using funds that should be used for ministry into institutionalizing state-sponsored discrimination," Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a Boston-based organization with 3,500 members across the nation, told EDGE in a phone interview.

Duddy-Burke spoke with Catholics across Maine while she phone-banked against the referendum.

She said many parishioners struggled about whether to go to church during the final months of the campaign, feared that they would see the bishop's video, what they would hear from the pulpit and whether they would be asked to contribute to the second collection.

"They didn't feel safe going to church and didn't know how to respond to that," Duddy-Burke reported. "Could they get up and walk out? It was clear that they were not going to contribute to a second collection. I think it did create a lot of pain and I don't think the bishops look at the pastoral side by being so much in the forefront of the anti-marriage campaign."

The National Religious Leaders Roundtable, which represents many LGBT groups, met in Portland in October. The group met with the leaders of the Religious Coalition of Freedom to Marry in Maine, and Duddy-Burke said many of its members were concerned about division in their congregations the issue has created.

She added she worries more Catholics--and not just LGBT parishioners--will leave the church.

"It's parents, friends and colleagues who also find the hypocrisy and anti-gospel message totally unbearable," she said.

In a phone interview, Anne Underwood, co-director of Catholics for Marriage Equality, a Maine group created to oppose Question 1, criticized the church for diverting funds from food pantries, affordable housing, immigration reform, universal access to health care and other social justice programs.The Maine bishops argue money given to support the referendum "comes from different funds."

"But money is fungible," Underwood said. "You pull it from one account and it still has to be replaced with money from another account."

She further pointed out she feels Catholics have adhered to the "pray, pay and obey" mantra in the past. Underwood stressed, however, she feels in the "21st century, educated Catholics are not going to do that anymore."

They will continue to pray, but they're going to discern and they're going to speak," she said. They may not speak with their mouths but they will with their pocketbooks."

Underwood asserted she remains optimistic LGBTs and their allies will remain in the church despite their feelings about its leadership because many parishes in the state welcome them. She added those parishioners "are able to say the leadership is hurting me, but the community around is supporting me."

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is pcassels@edgepublications.com.


Comments

  • RevBobJ, 2009-11-10 13:37:37

    The Roman Catholic Church has violated their Tax Free status and it should be revoked immediatly in every doicese that has interfered with public policy and political issues openly from the pulpet. which is against Tax Free status.


  • , 2009-11-11 15:32:56

    Churches have a right, in fact an obligation to teach moral principles. In a country where we decided on the good of the people through the electoral process, they have the right to speak out. No violation of Tax Free Status...


  • The Hammer, 2009-11-18 18:09:58

    Churches do have a right to to teach their moral principles....to their flock. They should not be imposing their rules on a free people.


  • , 2009-11-29 13:47:57

    I’m going to take a serious look at my contributions to my (Catholic) Church.


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