Newark archbishop urges voters to defend marriage, life
He also said in the statement, a copy of which was provided to The Record before its release, that Catholics who disagree with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on marriage should “refrain from receiving Holy Communion.” He said he issued the statement because of what he described as a lack of clarity on the subject by other bishops.
“It’s not 100 percent for either party,” Myers said in an interview Monday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. “The basic point is that we must defend what we believe to be the truth. That includes voting, speaking out, contacting officials.”
The statement is being issued amid a politically charged atmosphere at a time when some other Catholic leaders have been criticized for talking politics from the pulpit. President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in May. His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, opposes it.
Myers said he had been thinking about issuing a statement on the subject for about a year. He acknowledged that portions would be considered controversial and said he expected a “heated discussion” about the statement, which will be published online today. Parishioners in churches across the archdiocese, which covers Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union counties, will be handed letters at church this weekend telling them about the statement and directing them to where it can be read.
Officials with a Catholic social justice group and an advocacy group for the separation of church and state said other Roman Catholic Church leaders have made recent statements that appear designed to influence the presidential election. Federal law allows non-profits receiving tax exemptions to advocate for issues, but not for candidates.
In Washington State, regulators recently warned a bishop against holding a fundraiser to oppose a same-sex marriage proposal on the November ballot. A Peoria, Ill., bishop recently compared Obama to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Last month, a Manhattan parish priest published a letter supporting Romney, citing his opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and to elements of the national health insurance law that require coverage for contraceptives. The priest has since apologized.
Myers’ statement did not cross the line into political advocacy, experts and politicians said, because he doesn’t mention any candidates.
“It appears that the archbishop is treading awfully close to the line,” said Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the Democratic state committee chairman. “I’m sure he is not crossing the line. I just think it’s an unfortunate coincidence in timing. … You’d have to ask the archbishop why the letter doesn’t come out in March or December.”
Myers said he intended to release the statement in March but it was delayed as he recovered from surgery for a detached retina.
He said he doesn’t believe polls that show a majority of Catholics support same-sex marriage. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of American Catholics favor same-sex marriage, and the number rises to 72 percent among those between the ages of 18 and 34. But Myers acknowledged that a large number of Catholics seem to be at odds with church teaching, and that he wanted to reach out to them with his statement.
“No one has said things clearly to them for years,” he said.
Myers, 71, said modern culture and the media have led to the social acceptance of same-sex marriage. Homosexual acts are a sin, he said, but homosexuality is not. He wrote that it is possible for gay people to be married to members of the opposite sex and live “good, faithful and even joyous married lives. It is a lie to say that they are living, or have lived, a lie.”
An erosion of the traditional family, caused by the prevalence of divorce and contraception, is to blame for the social acceptance of same-sex marriage, Myers said. Procreation is an essential part of marriage, he said, but he said that men and women who cannot have children are not the same as gay couples because they are “not intentionally excluding children.”
The statement appeared to compare gay marriage to incest. “Even those who propose radically altering the definition of marriage would not advocate allowing two brothers or sisters or an uncle and his nephew to marry (say, for the tax benefits, or for hospital visiting privileges),” he wrote.
Marriage between a man and woman is based on natural laws that cannot be redefined by government, he wrote. He called on Catholics and “other men and women of good will” to defend traditional marriage.
“We must exercise our right to vote in defense of marriage and life,” he wrote.
Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest gay-rights group, said he would let Myers’ statement “speak for itself.” “When people on the other side of the issue shoot themselves in the foot, one doesn’t need to pile on,” he said. “It is not the job of government to reflect the values of one particular faith or another.”
Chris Pumpelly, a spokesman for Catholics United, a non-partisan social justice advocacy group, said it used to be unusual for Catholic leaders to make political statements. Now, he said, it has become the norm. And he said Myers’ call for Catholics who disagree with the church about same-sex marriage to refrain from Communion will alienate members of the faith.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “This is another example of the church hierarchy making it a more partisan and political church. They have a unified political message.”
A Seton Hall ethics professor, the Rev. Jerome Bracken, said it is important for Catholic leaders to clarify their teachings, adding that it is not the same as telling people how to vote.
“You need information to help you vote your conscience,” he said.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Myers did not appear to have crossed the line into political advocacy. Four years ago, his group asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of the Paterson Diocese for a statement about abortion that compared Obama, without using his name, to King Herod, who had St. John the Baptist beheaded.
The Paterson Diocese attorney, Ken Mullaney, said the IRS never investigated and that Serratelli had “learned his lesson” after Lynn made an issue of the statement. He said Serratelli has no plans to follow Myers with his own statement about same-sex marriage.
Myers said Monday that government has already encroached on religious freedom, citing the new health care plan’s requirement for contraception coverage and the prosecution of church leaders in Canada for speaking out against homosexuality. The health care plan, after a compromise, no longer requires full contraception coverage at religiously affiliated institutions, but it does require insurance companies to offer free birth control coverage.
Near the end of his statement, Myers expresses fear that gay marriage will lead to a further erosion of religious freedom.
“How long would the state permit churches, schools or parents to teach their children that homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law if homosexual marriage were a civil right?” he wrote.