Growing Catholic Resistance to Bishops’ Crusades

While the Catholic bishops are ramping up their political campaign to portray marriage equality and requirements that insurance coverage include contraception (among other topics) as dire threats to religious liberty, some priests and parishes are beginning to resist publicly.

In Pittsburgh, four priests met with Bishop David Zubik to tell him that his rhetoric—Zubik accused the Obama administration of telling Catholics “To Hell with you!”—was angering parishioners. Fr. Neil McCaulley spoke with National Catholic Reporter:

McCaulley, who is retired after serving 46 years as a parish priest in the Pittsburgh area, said the idea for the meeting with Zubik first came as members of his group talked with others and decided “we owed it to the people… of the church to let the bishop know that not everybody out there agrees with the bishops.”

Pointing to a number of studies that show that about 90 percent of Catholics don’t follow the church’s official teaching on birth control, McCaulley said the group thought that since the bishop is “always willing to meet with priests,” they could raise the issue with Zubik and ask him to meet with laypeople, as “we didn’t feel competent to speak on women’s issues.”

In Washington State, meanwhile, “A growing number of Seattle’s Catholic parishes are saying ‘no’ to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain’s offer that churches become signature gathering points for Referendum 74, the ballot measure to roll back Washington’s recently passed same-sex marriage law.” Notably, among the parishes declining to participate are St. James Cathedral, the seat of the archdiocese, and Christ Our Hope, a new and growing parish in downtown Seattle. According to the Post-Intelligencer:

The spreading dissent—although couched in respectful terms—comes at a time when the Catholic hierarchy is asserting its authority. Pope Benedict XVI, in a Holy Thursday sermon, took to task clergy who are advocating married priests and ordination of women, and called on priests to embrace the “radicalism of obedience.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a proclamation this Thursday, called on priests, laypersons and parishes to join in a “great national campaign” to defend religious liberty, claiming it is “under attack, both at home and abroad.” “Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date… for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty,” the bishops wrote. They charged:

“In an unprecedented way, the federal government will force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty.”

In Seattle, it would appear, parishes are asserting liberty from instructions (or at least strong suggestions) by the hierarchy, and in a season when the Seattle Archdiocese is asking for support in its Annual Catholic Appeal fundraising drive.