.- Prominent Catholic dissenters have created an organization to promote homosexual political causes and to change Catholic opinion through coordination with other activists. Organized explicitly to oppose the U.S. bishops, the groupâs website asks for reports of âanti-equality activityâ in Catholic parishes.
The group Catholics for Equalityâs website, which is still under construction, reports that the organization is dedicated to âsupport, educate, and mobilize equality-supporting Catholics to advance LGBT equality at federal, state, and local levels.â
The group claims the âofficial voice of the hierarchyâ favors discrimination and opposes âjustâ efforts to secure âlegal equality for LGBT Americans.â This âanti-equality voiceâ is âfar too oftenâ portrayed as representative of American Catholics, according to the website.
One page on the site, titled âReport anti-equality activity!â contains an incomplete template for a submission form. It asks informers to describe the purported anti-equality activity and to categorize whether it took place in the parish, diocese or community âso that pro-equality Catholics can respond.â
The information generates an e-mail sent to the organization and also âan entry into private âreportâ database,â the website says.
Mark Matson, president of the dissenting Catholic group DignityUSA, reported in a March 2010 newsletter on the group's website that an organizational meeting for Catholics for Equality took place on January 30 and 31 in Washington, D.C.
He said the meeting was convened to address the âincreasing roleâ of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and state bishopsâ conference in opposing âLGBTâ political causes. Another purpose of the meeting was to âcoordinate efforts to shift Catholic public opinion and voter behaviors.â
Matson said he attended in lieu of executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke because the meeting was held on short notice. He added that other DignityUSA attendees included its board members Mark Clark and Tom Yates, both from Dignity/Washington (District of Columbia), and Ray Panas, president of Dignity/Washington.
According to Matson, Catholics for Equality will âfocus on influencing legislation and the behavior of Catholic voters in a way that DignityUSA cannotâ because of its tax designation. It will also develop an outreach strategy to include âinfluential theologians.â In his words, the new group âcomplementsâ DignityUSAâs mission and will be a counterpart to the homosexual advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He and Duddy-Burke will hold two seats on the groupâs board of advisors.
Also in attendance at the organizing meeting were Frank DeBernardo and Matthew Myers of New Ways Ministry. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the group and present co-director of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), also attended.
In a recent interview with a Dallas-based homosexual paper, Sr. Gramick claimed that there was a disconnect between the Catholic hierarchy and the laity on homosexual issues. She also estimated that about half of Catholic priests were homosexual.
In its interview with the religious sister, the Dallas Voice reported that New Ways Ministry is experimenting with a new program to target legislators as well as Catholic grassroots voters in Maryland.
According to Matson, Catholics for Equalityâs organizational meeting was convened by Washington attorney Phil Attey and Rev. Dr. Joe Palacios, described as a Jesuit priest from Los Angeles who is currently on the Georgetown University faculty.
Last year Attey created a website to âaggregate reports on every gay priestâ in the Archdiocese of Washington to help them âstand up to the church hierarchyâ on homosexual issues. According to a WhoIs lookup, the website shares the same 12th Street, NW D.C. mailing address as Catholics for Equality.
In the 1990s Attey served as HRCâs electronic media manager. According to the gay publication Metro Weekly, he also co-chaired the Obama Pride Metro D.C. group to support the current U.S. presidentâs election bid.
For his part, Palaicos is a board member of Catholics for Equality and also political co-chair of the HRCâs D.C. Steering Community. According to his biography at the Georgetown University website, in 2009 he was appointed by the White House to serve on the board of visitors supervising what is commonly known as the School of the Americas, a U.S. training facility for Latin American military officers which has been criticized for its alumniâs alleged participation in human rights violations.
Issues listed on the Catholics for Equality website include âmarriage equality.â Claiming that same-sex âmarriageâ does not coerce any religious faith, it invokes the âseparation of Church and Stateâ and says âwe affirm civil marriage for same-sex couples throughout the United States.â
The group criticizes the U.S. bishopsâ opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and advocates opening military service to open homosexuals.
âCatholics in the United States live in this social context that allows the free exercise of conscience rather than enforced scriptural fundamentalism or bishopsâ and pastorsâ exhortations in making decisions regarding homosexuality and gay rightsâ as is often exercised in Protestant fundamentalist and evangelical denominations and now by increasingly doctrinaire Catholic bishops,â the website argues.
It also claims that Catholic priests rarely mention homosexuality or homosexual issues in sermons âexcept when forced to by the bishops,â saying this coercion happened during the campaign to pass Californiaâs Proposition 8 and Maineâs Proposition 1. Both successful ballot measures restored the definition of marriage to be a union of a man and a woman.
Other attendees at the Catholics for Equality organizing meeting included Joanna Blotner, coordinator of the HRCâs Religion and Faith Program; Sharon Groves, deputy director for the HRCâs Religion and Faith Program; Chuck Colbert, a journalist and contributor to the National Catholic Reporter; Shiva Subbaraman of the Georgetown LGBTQ Resource Center; and Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way who facilitated the discussion.
The homosexual blogger Anthony Adams, who was ordained as a Catholic priest, attended the meeting as did Anne Underwood of Catholics for Marriage Equality in Maine and Charles Martel of Catholics for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts. California priest Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, who was disciplined by his bishop for opposing Proposition 8, also attended.
According to DignityUSAâs Matson, Cathy Renna, media relations director of Renna Communications, advised attendees on communications strategy. She praised Duddy-Burkeâs lobbying related to the sexual abuse scandal.
While Catholics for Equality is a 501(c)(4) non-profit which can lobby on political issues, it has also planned a parallel non-political foundation to engage in campus outreach and to reach out to âprominent pro-equality Catholics in the entertainment, civic, business and sports areas, providing them a national platform as leading American Catholics to voice their support for LGBT equality.â