.- The Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, is defending his right to inform Catholics about the Church’s stance on issues of faith and morals after a watchdog group accused him and the diocese of electioneering in the weeks leading up to a vote on the state’s proposed same-sex marriage referendum.
According to a press release issued by the Diocese of Madison, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the Elections Board over the appropriateness of a brochure on the marriage debate, which the diocese created and distributed directly to its parishioners.
“To claim that I must pay a fee and report to the state about my teaching activities in Catholic venues blatantly violates the rights of myself and my sister and brother Catholics to the free exercise of religion,” said Bishop Robert Morlino in a statement.
“To have my teaching about marriage in Catholic venues called ‘electioneering’, so as to seek the imposition of penalties from the state, seems an attempt to intimidate the Catholic Church as we try to teach the truth in an admittedly volatile atmosphere,” he added.
The watchdog group asked the state Elections Board to take action against the diocese for failing to register its activities. According to state law, groups that spend more than $25 to influence a state referendum must register with the Elections Board. Those who spend more than $1,000 must disclose their fund-raising and spending.
However, in a statement, the diocese explained that these state requirements do not apply when a church communicates only with her members.
Therefore, an item included in a diocesan or parish mailing that goes only to Catholics would be exempt, as should materials that are distributed at Catholic activities in Catholic venues, the statement says.
The particular item in question in this case is a flier that was distributed outside a church in Madison. The flier says "a yes vote upholds the Catholic teaching that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
While the Church “does not play partisan politics … this does not mean that when important issues arise, the Church will remain quiet while the truths of the dignity of the human person and of Christ are being threatened,” the diocesan statement reads. “The Church and her members have a moral responsibility to engage the culture and political world in which we live.”
The bishop reiterated as much, adding: “As we move ahead in the future, I will do everything to support authentic human rights for all people. The right to redefine marriage is not one of those authentic human rights."
“Saint John the Baptist laid down his life to protect the marriage bond. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church the Popes, the successors of Saint Peter, have similarly defended the marriage bond specifically, even up to the present in the case of Pope Benedict XVI. It is my responsibility and obligation to maintain that communion,” Morlino said.