Those wondering why Francis Cardinal George suddenly announced his condemnation of New Ways Ministry on February 5 should take note of a meeting held a few days earlier in Washington, D.C. During the last weekend of January, a group of Catholics, lay and religious, met in Washington to launch “Catholics for Equality” (CFE).
New Ways Ministry, a homosexuality advocacy group, had long been considered controversial even before Cardinal George — president of the USCCB — publicly stated, “It has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church, and they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”
One of the founders of Catholics for Equality, Father Tony Adams, regarded Cardinal George’s statement as “retaliation” for the creation of an organization dedicated to changing Church teaching on homosexuality and marriage.
Father Tony goes on to describe the founders of CFE as an “A List of Catholic thorns in the sides of American Bishops,” including two people associated with New Ways Ministries, Frank DeBernardo and Matthew Myers. Not all the names at the meeting were disclosed, for “political and practical reasons,” but among those mentioned were members of the Human Rights Campaign, People for the American Way, the Georgetown LGCTQ Resource Center, Dignity USA, and the newly formed Catholics for Marriage Equality groups in Massachusetts and Maine.
Another attendee, not mentioned by Father Tony, was Rev. Geoffrey Farrow, a priest from Fresno, California. Father Farrow made headlines in October 2008 when he told his congregation at the local Newman Center about his opposition to Proposition 8 and revealed his own homosexuality. He was promptly removed from his ministry by Bishop John T. Steinbock for making a public statement contradicting the teaching of the Catholic Church and, interestingly, “using the Internet as a means of continuing your conflict with the Church’s teaching.”
Father Farrow described the Church’s support for Proposition 8 as “bigotry,” but thought that even more “egregious” was the directive of Bishop Richard T. Malone in Maine that his priests preach a series of sermons on how Catholics should vote on a same-sex marriage referendum.
On his personal blog, Father Farrow wrote of his recent visit to D.C. to attend “meetings with representatives of various Catholic organizations and theologians who are organizing into a voice for the laity, clergy, and religious of our Church.” Father Tony portrays the meetings in more colorful terms: Those who came together that snowy weekend were
a cordial group of folks who are sorely discontent with the aggressive, inappropriate and hateful actions of the Catholic bishops regarding the LGBT community. We aren’t here to discuss just gay marriage, folks, although our losses on those state battlefields have awakened us to the need for a united voice that will help all Catholics guide their clueless bishops back onto the path of goodness and grace. Those bishops, the supposed shepherds of the flock, have lost their way, and it is up to the sheep to repair the damage they have done.
What’s particularly interesting about reading these blogs is the refrain that the bishops don’t represent the majority view of the Catholic laity. Both Father Farrow — “a public voice to the vast members of our Church” — and Father Tony — “the bishops no longer speak for the Catholic Church” — believe they are the spearheads of an inevitable Catholic uprising.
I’m unaware of any polling that shows that the majority of active Catholics no longer regard homosexual acts as sinful, or that same-sex marriage should be legalized. But even if such data could be produced, it would only prove the need for the Church to be more forthright in arguing its position on those issues. Catholic doctrine is not defined by polling — not yet, anyway.