Catholic Bishops Ramp Up Same-Sex Marriage Fight

When the archbishop of Newark, N.J., said that people who support same-sex marriage should refrain from communion, he was just one of several bishops taking aim at such unions. His comments came on the heels of the Bishops' campaign about contraception and they have led some see to see it as a political move.

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Some Catholic bishops are ramping up their fight against gay marriage just weeks before the November elections. One archbishop says Catholics who support gay marriage should not take Communion.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty has that story.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: Archbishop John Myers, of Newark, New Jersey, has been worrying about same-sex marriage for years. Finally, this week, he wrote a pastoral letter to his million-person flock and drew a line in the sand.

REVEREND JOHN MYERS: Let's be honest about it, either you are with us on the important things or you're not.

HAGERTY: Myers says same-sex unions undermine traditional marriage and conflict with both Catholic teaching and natural law. He says if a Catholic rejects a core teaching there should be consequences.

MYERS: Those who support same-sex marriage are really removing themselves from fuller communion with the church. So it's not something that we do to them. It's some decision that they make for themselves.

JOHN GEHRING: This is taking the church's opposition to same-sex marriage to a whole new level.

HAGERTY: John Gehring works for Faith in Public Life, a liberal religious advocacy group.

GEHRING: When you're telling Catholics who may have sons or daughters, or family members who are gay, you know, how to think about this issue, that's really scary.

HAGERTY: For his part, Archbishop Myers says it's his duty to teach people the truth as the Catholic Church sees it.

MYERS: I'm not controlling thought. I'm just asking them if they have the faith, which is in tuning with the church, to acknowledge the consequences of that faith or the lack thereof.

HAGERTY: Gehring, who is a church-going Catholic, says Myers is not alone. The bishops are pouring money and resources into the fight against same-sex marriage.

GEHRING: In several states they've ramped up the political pressure, the lobbying, the fundraising. Over 400,000 Catholic families in Minnesota are being asked to contribute money to political ads on this issue. So if that's not political, I'm not sure what is.

HAGERTY: The new Archbishop of San Francisco wants to deny communion to any Catholic who is in an active gay relationship. The Archbishop of Baltimore co-hosted a fundraiser last night to fight gay marriage in Maryland. Bishops in Nebraska are encouraging priests to preach against Omaha's new law that bans discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Father Thomas Reese, at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, says it's not new for the Catholic hierarchy to become politically involved in opposing same-sex marriage.

FATHER THOMAS REESE: I think what's different this year is that the bishops are united in getting involved in pushing these issues; whereas, in the past, it tended to be individual bishops who would speak out.

HAGERTY: Indeed, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is leading the fight. And it comes on the heels of the bishops' Fortnight for Freedom Campaign, in which they say that the Obama administration's birth control mandate threatens religious freedom.

Reese says religious freedom and same-sex marriage are important issues. But he says they're getting all the attention. The bishops seem almost silent on issues such as unemployment and poverty and war.

REESE: Those issues are way on the back burners for the bishops today. And that makes them sound very Republican and makes it look like they're endorsing the Republican Party.

HAGERTY: Archbishop Myers says there's nothing political about his statement about same-sex marriage.

MYERS: I did not write it with a view to wanting to enter the voting machine and push the button for people. I don't tell people how to vote.

HAGERTY: Although he does say he doesn't mind that the November elections give his statement a little more horsepower.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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