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BOSTON —Numerous pastors and parishioners in the Archdiocese of Boston have worked diligently over the past six weeks gathering signatures for VoteOnMarriage.org, the petition drive that if successful, will allow Massachusetts citizens to vote to define marriage on the 2008 ballot.
As of the end of October, over 24,000 signatures had been gathered in the archdiocese alone according to Catholic Citizenship, a non-partisan organization that is coordinating the signature gathering effort in the state’s Catholic dioceses.
An additional 16,000 signatures have been collected in the state’s other three dioceses. A total of 90,000 signatures have been collected by VoteOnMarriage so far. Although the petition drive only requires 65,825 certified signatures to succeed, the goal has been increased to 150,000 unverified signatures in order to ensure that the requirement will be met.
Many pastors have done “tremendous”jobs and spoken from the pulpit about the importance of supporting traditional marriage, said Larry Cirignano, executive director of Catholic Citizenship, a non-partisan organization that promotes public policy education and lay Catholic involvement in the political process.
However, two-thirds of the parishes in the archdiocese have not turned in any signatures with less than three weeks left until the Nov. 23 deadline, Cirignano added.
“We have some great churches who’ve done great jobs, and then we have some that haven’t participated at all. All that’s necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing,”he said.
Individual parishes have collected anywhere from a dozen to almost 1,000 signatures, according to VoteOnMarriage’s tabulations. Of those that have responded, 10 parishes account for over one-quarter of the total number of signatures collected.
The pastor of one of those parishes, Msgr. Francis Strahan of St. Bridget Parish in Framingham, said the petition drive went “very well.”
“There was a good response to it and a good feel to it, especially the fact that we’re encouraging this so that the people can vote,”Msgr. Strahan said.
Although the overall process went well, there were “one or two negative comments,”he added.
Msgr. Strahan emphasized the importance of the petition drive and participation by all Catholics.
“I think it’s about time that we took a more aggressive role in all of this and make sure that our voice is heard. We have every right to have our voice heard,”he said.
Msgr. Cornelius McRae, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in Norwood, which collected well over 500 signatures, also supported having signature gatherers at churches, saying that same-sex marriage is an issue that needs to be addressed by the Catholic Church.
“The issue is one that has a lot of religious and moral connotations,”he said.
While Catholics must support traditional marriage, Msgr. McRae is also concerned for those struggling with “homosexual inclinations”and does not want to offend them, he said.
“I don’t want to in any way to hurt good, good people who are already struggling with that,”he said, adding that Catholics must “speak the truth in love.”
Rita Covelle, who is the coordinator of the petition drive for eastern Middlesex County, said that overall the petition drive is going well with good cooperation from pastors and hard-working volunteer signature collectors.
Although the petition drive has collected thousands of signatures, Covelle said she wants to see more Catholics stand up for “the truth.”
“Whatever we can get is good. I wish it were more. I wish if you had a church that you knew had 3,000 parishioners, you got at least 1,000 that would sign,”she said. “If we all believe in the precepts of our religion, then we should get 1,000 together.”
Catholic Citizenship’s Cirignano said some parishioners have been denied the opportunity of signing the petition because their pastors did not participate, he said.
“Our goal should be 100 percent of all Catholics signing it [the petition] and being educated on the issue,”said Cirignano. “There’s a moral obligation to participate in the public policy process, and too many people are not participating.”
The petition needs the support of 65,825 voters in order to be successful, but this number is just a minimum, he said.
“That’s the raw number. That’s before we go through certification, and we know that we’re going to lose 20 to 30 percent of those signatures”because of signatories not being registered voters, marks on the petition forms or illegible signatures, said Cirignano.
Cirignano added that continuing to work at the signature gathering effort will help increase awareness and educate Catholics about the marriage issue before the proposed amendment appears on the ballot in 2008.
“There’s no doubt that over the next two years we’ve got a lot of educating we need to do,”he said. “We really need cooperation to get this stuff out.”
“We’ve got to get much bolder,”he added. “There’s nothing wrong with doing public policy issues in church whether it’s fighting abortion, gay marriage or the death penalty. We’ve got to get much more serious about speaking out and being forceful on the issues if we’re going to be successful. It’s really not acceptable to be at the minimum. We have huge potential and it’s a sin to waste it.”