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i do, you don't
the catholic church strikes again
by michelle von euw

I overslept on Sunday.

If I hadn’t, if I’d actually set my alarm as I originally planned, I would have gone to church, and watched my priest decline to read a letter that every priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and Fall River, Mass. was asked to present to his congregation.

The letter is 16 paragraphs, and it does not address the issue of sexual abuse at the hands of so many clergy that has rocked our state for the past several months. It was written by the bishops of three of those four dioceses; the fourth, Boston, currently doesn’t have a bishop – he had to resign once it was revealed that he bought off abuse victims’ silence – but it’s signed by his replacement, the Apostolic Administrator. It talks of political legislation, but not of assisting or defending the poor of Massachusetts who are in a particularly perilous situation right now, on the verge of losing access to necessities like food, health care and education due to a devastating fiscal crisis.

The letter encourages me, as a Catholic, to write, call or e-mail my State Senator and State Representative. To ask them to preserve Medicare? To fund the parochial schools, or soup kitchens, or battered women’s shelters that the Archdiocese of Boston has in better financial times supported on its own? Nope.

The letter is about the “devastating consequences” that could occur unless a constitutional amendment is passed declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman. Period. The full text of this letter can be found on the Massachusetts Catholic Conference website.

It’s baffling to me that on the heels of a crisis that has embroiled and almost bankrupted the church in Boston, the bishops would believe that this is the issue to push. It’s almost ironic that they’ve chosen this matter to speak out against, when it’s come to light that so many of our priests have fondled, abused, and raped boys and teenage men.

Is there something I’m missing? Why is my church so concerned about the sanctity of marriage? And if they are, how about attacking the perpetrators of "The Bachelor" and "Married by America"? When marriage is treated as a sham, when divorce rates are sky high, when marriage licenses are easier to obtain than driver’s licenses, it is utterly preposterous that the bishops would focus on denying recognition to people who really want to be committed and stable, and not just throw on marriage like a new coat.

The letter insists that a constitional amendment is needed in Massachusetts because there is currently a case before our State Supreme Court, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, that challenges the legal definition of marriage. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Julie and Hillary Goodridge, a couple in their mid-40s with a seven-year-old daughter. Despite years of a committed relationship, these two women don’t share the same legal rights that Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell did after five minutes of knowing each other. The legal system in America follows an antiquated system that bestows all sorts of financial and medical rights and benefits -- but only to legal spouses. I look at the smiling faces on the Goodridge family portrait, read about their successful careers and their community service, and I have a tough time believing that my church is in the right here. How can the Catholic Church not want to protect this little girl, to make sure that both her moms are legally able to care for her in case of an emergency?

In stating its point, the letter quotes from a 1996 document issued by the US Catholic bishops affirming their support of the traditional definition of a marriage: “We therefore urge Catholics and all our fellow citizens to commit themselves both to upholding the human dignity of every person and to upholding the distinct and irreplaceable community of marriage.”

When will they realize that the two are mutually exclusive? You cannot respect a person on one hand while snatching away their legal rights with the other. This is worse than the "separate but equal" policies that used to be legal precedent. This is separate and unequal.

“The stakes are very high,” the letter reads. “Marriage as we know it will be irreparably harmed if we don’t respond quickly.”

I wonder what “marriage as we know it” means to a bunch of old white men who’ve never been in one. Never mind reality television -- do they watch the news? Do they see men like Scott Petersen accused on murdering his pregnant wife? Do they study the 2001 domestic violence statistics, including the almost 30,000 women and children in Massachusetts who required protection from their husbands and fathers?

Mere decades ago, it was illegal in some states for two people of different races to marry. Fortunately, the courts became more clear-headed and reversed generations of legal discrimination based on skin color. This is what the website Christian Answers has to say about interracial marriages: “Thankfully, God does not judge humans by mere external appearances. Though humans have a tendency to judge people by how they look…God…judges the heart.” It's interesting that these words can be applied exactly to the situation of same-sex marriages in 2003.

If our society continues to advance, perhaps in a few decades, Americans will look back in the same sort of amazement that a similar discrimination exists against gay and lesbian unions. Until then, some of us can’t for one minute fathom what is so wrong, so devastating about two loving, committed people wanting the same legal benefits that the rest of us are entitled to.

There are a lot of Biblical quotes taken out of context by those who insist they have proof that God is on their side in issues of same-sex marriages. (I can play that game, too: In Deuteronomy, we’re told that a man can capture a comely woman from his enemy’s tribe as his wife – but only if she shaves her head first – Dt 22, 11-14.) But irrelevant quotes and 2,000-year-old parables aren't what shapes my life as a Catholic in this society.

In 29 years of a thorough and solid Catholic experience, including a marriage in the church, the most important thing I’ve learned is this. Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” That simple phrase is pretty much the basis of my religion, and I can't understand why so many have lost sight of it.

It’s time for the Catholic Church in Boston and elsewhere to stop preaching words and start living words. Instead of pushing for exclusion and separation, what the church should do is embrace those who are in most need of compassion and understanding.

The letter concludes, “let the people decide!” I’m praying that the people of Massachusetts are compassionate and reasonable enough to realize that gender-based discrimination is just silly, and defending the institution of marriage against something that's not even a threat is useless.

I’ve overslept long enough. The letter urges us all to write, call or email our State Senators and State Representatives, and that's exactly what I intend to do. And perhaps I should thank my Apostolic Administrator – if he hadn’t penned that helpful missive, I never would have realized how important the issue is.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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juli mccarthy
6.4.03 @ 12:19a

Spectacular column, Michelle. I'm speechless.

robert melos
6.4.03 @ 12:33a

Wonderful column. The marriage issue is coming up in NJ also, with 7 couples suing for the right to marry. I do believe the option for marriage should be there for anyone who wishes to enter into its bonds, but I know I would never willingly enter into it even if it were an option.

The sad part of this is that same-sex couples have to fight for the legal rights associated with marriage. After all, if you are committed to another person in your heart, mind and soul, the religious aspect of loving one another, being faithful, and honest with each other is a given. Legal is all that's left.

And a civil union won't do because civil unions do not give exactly the same legal rights as marriage.

This was a great column. Brava.

russ carr
6.4.03 @ 12:43a

Brilliant, exceptional piece. More proof that religion is what's wrong with Christianity. The Catholic Church -- and very publicly, the Catholic Church within Boston's Archdiocese -- has been demonstrating a regression to the corrupt Holy Roman Empire of centuries past, more interested in playing power games and manipulating its congregations than in tending their spiritual needs and providing outreach and evangelism to the poor, lost and hungry. I realize this is throwing a rather large blanket accusation over some within the RCC who are still motivated by the Gospel, but when those of the high clergy -- those in the public eye -- act in such an irresponsible manner, it's difficult for us to see the roses among the thorns. Fortunately, God has no such dilemma.
The RCC has become another multinational corporation; it has been for years. The spiritual equivalent of Enron. Only here, the shareholders are parishoners, and their "stock" is their faith, built on the words their priests and bishops and cardinals share. Undermine that, and those people aren't losing their retirement accounts... they're losing their hope of eternity.

matt morin
6.4.03 @ 2:56a

Yet another reason I have no use for organized religion.

The sad thing is, gender-based discrimination isn't relegated to the church. Look at Augusta National or the recent flap over Annika Sorenstam. The women in military combat debate wasn't that long ago either.

And when you get into sexual preference-based discrimination...hell, that list could fill 10 of columns.

I'm still waiting for someone to use the separation of church and state argument to sue states for marriage rights. It doesn't seem like the church should have any say in something that is essentially a tax, healthcare and legal issue.

michelle von euw
6.4.03 @ 9:20a

Matt, I think the church's role, especially in this case, is one of a lobbyist, so the church/state separation isn't an issue.

And I do have use for organized religion -- which is why I'm so angry about this. I'm proud of the priests around Boston who didn't read this letter like they were instructed, and it stresses, yet again, the differences there are between the people/parishes and the guys in the funny hats who run the show around here.

sarah ficke
6.4.03 @ 9:52a

I see the letter as a means of distraction. It is an issue that 1)won't cost the church money to pursue, 2)they feel they have a good Biblical stance on, and 3)allows them to shift attention from their own moral misdeeds onto another group.

Great column, Michelle. You gave me goosebumps.

jael mchenry
6.4.03 @ 11:01a

Quoting from the Old Testament rarely holds water with me. In addition to Michelle's quote about the head-shaving enemy women, there are also prohibitions about women wearing pants, and of course lots of punishment by stoning.

There is also a side to religion that's redemptive, all-encompassing, forgiving, and warm. That's why we have the New Testament. Oh, and that Jesus guy.

jeff miller
6.4.03 @ 11:36a

Sarah's comment is dead-on. This is the same thiing all big businesses do when they get caught witht heir pants down - diversionary tactics with no bottom-line impact. It will probably work.
This is a great column - and I'm sad that you've been so dissapointed - but I'm not surprised by any of this. Boston communities have incredible skills in the "let's pretend this isn't happenning" department.

tracey kelley
6.4.03 @ 12:07p

'Way to get up on the pulpit, Michelle. Marvelous.

This myopic interpretation of "God's word" is something that has bothered me about organized religion for a long time. Never doubt the strong arm tactics of a cluster of people who consider themselves powerful.

Even if they are clergy.

I've been to my mother-in-law's church, and witnessed the pastor there bilking old ladies for their pension money in order to "build a better church."

It doesn't matter if you meet in a parking lot, sitting on lawn chairs. Fellowship can happen anywhere. This pastor is a snake-oil salesman, but the old women follow him because "it's tradition."

There's tradition, and then there's loss of sense (and cents).


matt morin
6.4.03 @ 12:22p

Tracey, you're right. You don't need a church to be a Christian (or any other religion).

The church is becoming less and less about worshiping God and community service, and more and more about simply forcing people to believe as they do.

juli mccarthy
6.4.03 @ 12:38p

I've always subscribed to Robert Heinlein's views on organized religion - that it's a social custom that has more to do with being part of a community than it does with anything like "worship."

That said, it saddens and sickens me to see the leaders of that community abuse the faith of their followers in this way.

matt morin
6.4.03 @ 1:07p

I realize that people have their own uses for religion - some use it for the community, some use it for the comfort in believing there's a life after this one, some people use it as a foundation to live their life on, some people enjoy the ceremony of it all.

I've just always found those things elsewhere and never needed organized religion for it.

jason siciliano
6.4.03 @ 2:08p

Absolutely fantastic column.

juli mccarthy
6.4.03 @ 3:47p

The more I look at this, the more I think the title should be "I Do, You Can't."

d b
6.4.03 @ 5:52p

No offense meant, but I don't think Shel wrote this to give everybody carte blanche to beat up on organized religion. The church has played an important and meaningful role in her life - her frustration is rooted in the failures of its leadership. (Kind of like how a lot of us love our country, but are thoroughly frustrated with our government.) Notice her words of praise are reserved for the parish priests who chose not to read this letter. They and the caring and active members of their congregations are the ones who will preserve the church - not the guys in the funny hats.

juli mccarthy
6.4.03 @ 6:12p

It's not a matter of getting everyone to "beat up" on organized religion - but it obviously touched a chord with some of us who do have issues with that. What stands out to me in this column is that Michelle is recognizing the uncaring, callous and self-serving actions of a church that taught her to be none of those things.

robert melos
6.4.03 @ 10:42p

Jael, that Jesus guy was doing my lawn for a short time, but he disappeared around Easter and I haven't seen him since. Now a guy named Kurt does my lawn. It's just not the same.

I became Pagan exactly 10 years ago, mostly because the religion in which I was raise (Methodist) at that time was less tolerant toward homosexuals. They didn't advocate stoning, but I was promised an eternity of burning in Hell for my abominable sins. Now I don't believe in Hell, so I guess there will be no burning for me. I'm still working on getting the sins just right. Practice makes perfect.

I don't really blame the Priests who did read the letter, because not all of them probably believe in what it said, as much as they were doing what they were told. It may have been wrong of them to do so, but the order to read the letter came from much higher up than the local level. I even understand why the church would want to distract the everyday media from the on-going child molestation frenzy that usually makes headlines. As it's been stated here, it's good business practive to distract people from the faults of your own company.

Having said all of this, I want to know, how does one go about getting someone Sainthood? I'm planning on pitching Martha Stewart for Sainthood.

john chase
10.9.03 @ 9:22a

Okay, so I'm four months late, and you, Michelle, will probably be the only one to ever read this, and in the great scheme of the temporal, it probably makes no difference, but something in me after reading all of the comments has compelled me to add my own, which simply is...

...welcome to the Matrix.

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