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Politics at the Pulpit 

Why Local Catholics are hearing more and more about marriage at Mass

click to enlarge While some Catholic leaders have come out in support of gay marriage, Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich remains opposed. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • While some Catholic leaders have come out in support of gay marriage, Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich remains opposed.

Inside the ornate Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes downtown, tucked between hymnals in the back of each long, wooden pew, are white envelopes with a desperate plea: “We need financial support to fight for marriage.”

As the clock ticks down to Election Day, the fight over same-sex marriage is heating up. The Washington State Legislature legalized marriage equality in February, but this fall’s Referendum 74 must pass to uphold it. Despite having raised only about $549,000 — less than 10 percent of the other side’s $7.3 million — the leading group against R-74, Preserve Marriage Washington, is pinning hopes on its faith-based outreach efforts.

“We have been partnered with faith communities across the state from the beginning,” says Chris Plante, the campaign’s deputy director. “It’s a logistical thing. It’s a common sense thing.”

Lately, however, the group’s efforts have come under scrutiny. Last month its website instructed churches to collect donations, while state law says only individuals can do so without creating a political committee. That prompted a review by the state Public Disclosure Commission, which found no evidence that churches had collected illegally, but, says PDC spokesperson Lori Anderson, the commission sent the Washington State Catholic Conference a warning letter on Aug. 30.

Preserve Marriage’s site now instructs churches to choose one individual to collect and send money back to the campaign. (Still, Anderson says she’d like to see further clarification that the individual should be appointed by the campaign, not the church.)

Preserve Marriage Washington added the “church tools” section to its website last month, Plante says, outlining legal dos and don’ts.

“It will make a huge impact,” Plante says of churches encouraging members to donate. “We’re confident we will have the funds to get our message out.”

The battle over same-sex marriage has energized Washington Catholics on both sides of the issue.

When challenges to the gay marriage law first emerged, a handful of Seattle area Catholic leaders kept petitions out of their churches, arguing that it was about civil rights. Today, the Seattle-based political group Catholics for Marriage Equality has raised about $22,000, according to the PDC. The group aims to spend $100,000 advocating for same-sex marriage across the state, according to its website.

In Spokane last month, Bishop Blase Cupich wrote a letter and a statement called “Reflections on R74” urging area Catholics to vote against the referendum for what he called the “common good.” He’s since signed onto a letter from the Washington State Catholic Conference and written a column called “Believing in Marriage” for the church’s monthly newsletter — all urging readers to reject same-sex marriage.

“As members of the community of Jesus’ disciples the decision before us is about much more than one’s politics, one’s partisan affiliation, the debates about rights or being sympathetic to trends in society,” Cupich wrote in his most recent column. “It is about what we believe God has been doing from the creation of the world.”

Not all of his flock is following.

Linda Kobe-Smith had faithfully attended Spokane’s St. Ann’s Parish since 1983, but quit earlier this year as the state Legislature debated marriage equality and the Catholic church came out against it. She says she was surprised that more members weren’t upset.

“What drew me to that community was that it had a voice and it used it … standing up for people who were vulnerable or on the margins,” Kobe-Smith says. “I can’t stay because the community is silent.”

Greg Jones and Anne Buckley Jones are still members of St. Ann’s and, while they aren’t leaving, they say they’re not happy with Cupich’s message either.

“I think it would be fair to say there are various teachings over the years about which the Catholic hierarchy can get a little excited, and they have not been things we can agree with,” Anne says. “Over time, the body of Catholic people have begun to realize that ... we don’t have to follow lockstep with every decision.”

Cupich has heard some of these complaints, but continues to write about the issue because “the people and the church don’t live in a cocoon,” he tells The Inlander.

“We live in society. Things that happen in society do have an impact on all of us,” Cupich says. “They form ideas in our families, in our children and in our neighborhoods.”

On a blue-skied Sunday, noon bells ring out from Our Lady of Lourdes as people stream down the church’s massive stairs. This morning’s service wasn’t explicitly focused on defeating R-74, though some over the past few weeks have been. Still, prayers for the nation’s problems included a mention of traditional marriage, and Preserve Marriage Washington fliers near the front door warn of the “dangerous consequences” of legalizing same-sex marriage.

At the base of the staircase, 58-year-old Don Craton, with a salt-and-pepper goatee, is quick to say he’s glad to hear talk of R-74 from the pulpit.

“This is far beyond politics. This is at the heart of our faith, the heart of our church,” he says. “If [priests] were quiet on the issue, we’d be in the wrong place.” 

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