Maine bishop had 'no alternative' but to leave state ecumenical group

Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Portland.
Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Portland.

.- After the Maine Council of Churches changed its decision-making process earlier this year, the Bishop of Portland was forced to withdraw from the group, the Portland Press-Herald reported Tuesday.

The council had previously required unanimous agreement before advocating on a public policy issue, but in February adopted a simple majority vote. This meant that continued membership in the group could have forced the Diocese of Portland to be represented by views at odds with Catholic teaching.

Bishop Robert Deeley wrote to Bonny Rodden, president of the Maine Council of Churches, to announce the withdrawal of the Portland diocese, Gillian Graham wrote in the Portland Press-Herald May 29.

“As the Bishop of the Diocese I find this unfortunate, but I see no alternative. Our continuing participation could result in me advocating for two different, and even contradictory, positions,” Bishop Deeley wrote, according to the Press-Herald.

“What I advocate for cannot be simply determined by a majority vote. It is expected that my advocacy is grounded in the teachings of the Church. Any other position would be contrary to my responsibility as the bishop of Portland.”

The bishop added that “As we do with the many activities of our parish communities and, of course, the tremendous good done by Catholic Charities, we will be working to serve the needs of the poor, the disadvantaged and the migrants among us, and keep before the people of our state the need to serve the common good through our care for one another.”

The members of the Maine Council of Churches, found in 1938, “act as one voice to advocate for the disenfranchised, the downtrodden and the protection of God’s creation,” according to the organization's website.

The Maine Council of Churches currently says it has seven member denominations: Episcopal, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Quakers.

The Diocese of Portland had joined the council in 1982. The Press-Herald reported that its membership will officially end June 30.

Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, told the Portland Press-Herald that the decision to change the council's decision-making process came amid disagreements over LBGTQ issues. Field is a minister at a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

During debates over same-sex marriage, the council would not take a stand, “in order to keep everyone at the table,” she said. “When it came to certain areas, in particular issues affecting the LGBTQ community, they would invoke this practice (of staying silent)”.

In a March 14 letter to the editor in the Portland Press-Herald, Field wrote, in her capacity as executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, that “Sexual orientation and gender identity are a gift from God – not a condition that needs treatment, not a choice that needs conversion, not something broken that needs repair.”

Field said there is a “deep sadness” over the Portland diocese's decision to leave the council, “but at the same time, I feel the council still has a vital role to play in the state. I believe we will find ourselves side by side with the diocese on certain issues like hunger and human trafficking.”

The Catholic Church is the largest religious institution in the state. In 2010, the Diocese of Portland included 203,000 persons, while there were nearly 94,000 mainline Protestants in Maine.

Tags: Maine Council of Churches, Bishop Robert Deeley, Diocese of Portland