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BOSTON -- In the wake of a joint letter signed by the bishops of Massachusetts calling on Catholics to contact their state legislators in advance of the Nov. 9 constitutional convention, a religious coalition that supports same-sex marriage has launched a counter-effort.
The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry announced the release of a newspaper advertisement signed by a number of Catholics that will denounce Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley’s efforts supporting the ballot initiative that protects the traditional definition of marriage. The ad is expected to say that the cardinal does not speak for them when it comes to the issue of marriage.
Though the director of the coalition, Rabbi Devon A. Lerner, declined Oct. 31 to provide The Pilot with an advance copy of the advertisement she did agree to discuss its contents. The ad was set to run in several Boston newspapers Nov. 2.
Rabbi Lerner confirmed the ad targets Cardinal O’Malley’s advocacy of traditional marriage, that it will be signed by a group of Catholics and that the message will be that the cardinal does not speak for them when he defends traditional marriage.
For Father Robert W. Oliver, a theology professor who teaches the course on marriage at St. John’s Seminary, when bishops speak on the truths of our faith -- as the fact that marriage is the union between one man and one woman -- “they are not giving their own personal opinions.”
“They are fulfilling their role as authentic teachers of the Catholic faith, a role that Catholics believe they receive from Jesus Christ,” he said.
Father Oliver, who is also the liaison of the bishops of Massachusetts to Catholic Citizenship, a group of lay Catholics that promotes the involvement of Catholics in public policy issues, said that when the bishop teaches the faith, he is giving us something he has himself received.
“The bishop stands under the Word of God, not over it. As Catholics we also stand under this Word and so we submit our own judgments to God’s Word and to the faith which we have received,” he said.
“We do not hold the Church’s teaching on marriage to be true solely on the strength of a bishop’s authority,” he said.
“We hold it to be true because the Lord Jesus teaches us it as true through the ministry of the bishop. And we have great and many confirmations for our belief in this truth, including the fact that bishops have been teaching this doctrine, in union with the pope, for over 2,000 years,” Father Oliver continued.
Charles Martel, a Catholic psychotherapist who is a member of the board of the Coalition for the Freedom to Marry told The Pilot that many gays and lesbians struggle with the Church’s teaching on marriage. They compare their own “life experiences” with the teachings of the Church, he said.
“The Church is saying one thing but the experience of my life is telling me something else,” he said.
Father Oliver said that while he is aware that some Catholics are struggling with the Church’s teachings on marriage and that some doctrinal teachings can be hard for some, “it is not our difficulties that determine whether a teaching is true or not,” he said.
“It is true because of God, not us, not the bishop. Because the teaching comes from divine revelation, and not mere human wisdom, we know we must wrestle with our difficulties,” he said.
“It is only for this reason that the Church holds that each one of us has a serious responsibility, the responsibility to work to the utmost at understanding our doctrine and at embracing it with his or her whole will,” he added.
According to Rabbi Lerner, the ad will focus on the cardinal, “because he is the spokesperson for the archdiocese. He is the leader of the Roman Catholics in this area. It is not against him personally but against the policies he advocates,” she said.
“What we struggle with is the political aspect of the campaign, of using parishes to promote a political agenda, but behind it is a religious agenda,” she added.
Daniel Avila, of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference expressed his disagreement with the argument that the cardinal’s defense of traditional marriage is grounded on sectarian religious beliefs.
“The argument for traditional marriage is grounded on principles and assertions that are fully ascertainable by anyone regardless of one’s religious beliefs or lack thereof.”
“The appeals that are being made in defense of traditional marriage -- whether it be by religious organizations or non-religious organizations which would include members of the civil rights community and other groups -- say marriage has a foundational normative importance that transcends one’s own religious perspective and has an impact on the social stability of the family and of society.”
“The data for determining the truth or the falsity of that kind of claim is ascertainable through means other than religious beliefs,” he said.
Rabbi Lerner also argued that Cardinal O’Malley’s advocacy attempts to impose his religious beliefs on others, including the religious organizations and individuals supporting the coalition.
Father Oliver disregarded that assertion saying “It is specious to claim that we are forcing our religious beliefs on others. All people in this debate are acting out of their beliefs -- and seeking to apply these beliefs to how our society should be shaped.”
According to Avila it is the supporters of traditional marriage who have redefinition of marriage imposed upon them that will inevitably lead to religious persecution. What was once a social question becomes a civil rights question.
“For those of us who defend traditional marriage, once same-sex marriage becomes the law and treated as a civil right, those who oppose it are the ones who will face religious persecution,” he said.
The joint letter from the four Massachusetts bishop’s was distributed to all parishioners attending Mass during the weekend of Oct. 28 and 29. It warned Catholics that “opponents of the Marriage Amendment are urging legislators to boycott the Con-Con to deny the needed vote.” It called on Catholics “to contact their legislators, urging their state senator and state representative to show up and vote to move the amendment forward on Nov. 9 or before the year’s end.”
The bishops’ letter also asked Catholics to pray for the success of that vote and to “Come to the Statehouse in Boston on Nov. 9 and show your support for traditional marriage and the people’s right to vote at the 2008 ballot.”