Dissent Among The Parishes As Seattle Archbishop Seeks To Roll Back Marriage Equality

SartainSeattle's Archbishop J. Peter Sartain is one of the worthies who spoke out against the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington state. It didn't matter: Governor Christine Gregoire signed marriage equality into law earlier this year. (Incidentally, Gregoire is a Catholic.) Now the Archbishop is circulating petitions through the state's parishes to get the issue on a November ballot. From Reuters:

A bulletin from Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who testified against the gay marriage bill, and the Washington State Catholic Conference has asked parishes to participate in the signature-gathering effort and "do everything you can to uphold the traditional definition of marriage in our state."

"We bishops have already made known our strong opposition to the redefinition of marriage, and we will continue to do so," the letter said. "Because we believe that this issue is critically important, we … have approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months."

As things currently stand, same-sex couples will be able to marry in Washington this summer. But if equality's opponents collect 120,577 signatures before a June 6th deadline, those marriages will be delayed until after the November elections. If Washingtonians should vote to roll back equality, the state will continue to offer civil unions, though full marriage will be delayed indefinitely.

But Archbishop Sartain may not get as much help as he hoped from his signature drive, as several Catholic parishes have refused to circulate his petition.

From Reuters:

Reverend Michael Ryan of St. James Cathedral, which opted not to take part in the petition drive, told church members in an email: "Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community."

Using similar language, the pastoral life coordinator at St. Mary's Church, Tricia Wittmann-Todd, said collecting signatures would be "hurtful and divisive" to her parish.

"I am particularly concerned about our youth who may be questioning their own sexual identity and need our support at this time in their lives," she said in a statement.

The dissenting parishes have received considerable moral support from pro-equality members of the laiety. Among them is Barbara Guzzo, a 62-year-old woman who co-founded Catholics For Marriage Equality In Washington:

"There are Catholics who clearly aren't going to move off the position of marriage as only between one man and one woman, but this is about civil marriage," she said, adding that some Catholics dislike the idea of circulating legislative petitions in church, which has not been done since the late 1980s.

Seven Catholic parishes have so far refused to participate in the signature drive. There are 300 Catholic parishes in Washington altogether.


  1. Terry says

    Once again…why isn’t the tax exempt status of the Catholic Church been taken away? Petition drives regarding secular issues is blatantly political.

  2. Steven says

    This is a blatant example of the right wing’s creep(y)ing, crawling, stealth campaign to create the theocratic states of america. This example should forwarn everyone opposed to such tactics. This is politics, not religion. I’m completely in favor of removing ALL churches’ tax exempt status, they should have to register as a PAC, and also remove the right of pastor’s to legalize marriage as is in Europe. The marriage is a state contract not a religious one.

  3. greggo says

    Just as in the Mormon church’s all-out megabucks stealth campaign on Prop 8 in California, this is a religious institution’s end-run around the conditions of their tax exempt status. High time that it was re-examined!

  4. It's enough says

    This church is truly CURSED. If Jesus could come back from the dead, He’d slap the holy sh*t out of Archbishop Sartain and order him never to pray to Him again.

  5. says

    The monumental moral corruption of the Catholic Church as evidenced by the many sexual abuse scandals is particularly galling when one contemplates the vast (and covert) wealth of that particular enterprise.

    It’s a racket, and it costs taxpayers even more money to monitor, uncover and fight the abuse it invites – none of which would be necessary if such unenforceable loopholes in our tax code never existed. They take great advantage of their tax-free status, all while espousing doctrines of intolerance and hatred, filter funds to foreign enemies, and cause far more harm than good in their communities. They are nevertheless entirely tax-exempt, their finances never scrutinized, because they qualify as “religious organizations.” Tax-exempt status is a privilege – not a right – and churches should be held to the same standards as other non-profits – if not higher standards.

    “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” -James Madison

  6. ryan says

    How extraordinary: kindness and compassion in response to a religious fatwa. I’m so delighted to read this. It doesn’t happen nearly enough.

  7. Daniel Berry, NYC says

    sounds like their archbishop’s gonna be mighty busy keeping an awful lot of people away from communion. Man oh man. You’d think somebody in the Roman church’s upper-management would have enough sense to know they CAN’T WIN on this – that promoting hate isn’t just bad business for the Roman church: it’s BAD BUSINESS.

  8. ratbastard says

    Do they have designer robes and vestments? Wonder if any gays design church vestments. Is there like a show+catwalk or something every Sept.? They’re really quite colorful. And the hats. Don’t get me started. When I was an alter boy I use to sit during church service and dwell on stuff like this. Took a lot of will power not to burst out laughing. Funerals were the worse.

  9. David Hearn says

    This happens because we put up with it. We have access to the Catholic Churches. We have access to Catholic people. Did anyone stand up in church and call the Bishop out on this? Is there even a bumper sticker in opposition?

    I’ll bet some Gay church group is having a prayer vigil or something. How adorable. Well at least they are doing something besides posting on bulletin boards, I guess.

    Why are there criminals in the ghetto? Because the ghetto puts up with it. Why are there bigots in the pulpit? Because the ghetto puts up with it. Each Catholic parish is a ghetto and each Bishop is a gang leader. You can lock your doors, or you can go out and reclaim your street. It doesn’t matter which ghetto you are in.

  10. Mary says

    David, I’m not sure that most Catholics would appreciate your analogy between gang leaders in the ghetto and Bishops. But even if they would, isn’t it well known that crime is out of control in the ghettos because of the disintegration of the family (and this could be an argument FOR gay marriage, by the way)? From what I understand, people in the ghetto are overwhelmed by crime. The drug dealers threaten to murder anyone who goes to the cops to report them. Vigilante groups might be able to overwhelm a lot of thugs, but then if they have the power to do this aren’t they at risk of becoming thugs themselves? Not trying to provoke a fight here, just genuinely curious about how you think citizens in any locale can eliminate crime.

  11. Mary says

    Also, David you’re forgetting that unlike Protestant churches, the Catholic Church is not democratically run, and not SUPPOSED to be democratically run. Bishops and Cardinals have the ultimate power (after the Pope of course) and are considered to be representatives of God. This doesn’t mean that they can’t make mistakes, but that the mistakes can only be corrected by other clergy. Catholic theology can’t change just because most Catholics might want it to.

  12. Seattle Mike says

    Add Assumption Parish in Seattle to the list of churches where the head priest has refused to allow signature-gathering for these hateful petitions. He announced it from the pulpit this morning. Father Oliver said that the church should be about bringing people together, not dividing them. Good for him.

    And remember, churches are allowed to participate in political ISSUES such as civil rights. (Remember Rev. Martin Luther King?) They just are not allowed to endorse candidates.

  13. john patrick says

    Ratbastard – rent and watch Fellini’s “Roma.” He has a wonderful fashion show scene of vestments ending with the appearance of a pope. It gets more and more outlandish and if you wondered about things like this as an altar boy, you will laugh for days about this scene.

  14. jack says

    All religion is myth. The myths were written by men. The priesthoods are largely populated by men It is the oldest of the all boys clubs. Rid yourselves of these ancient and primitive myths. Live as free 21st century people.

  15. David Hearn says

    JOhn Patrick;

    Thank you ! I watched that movie ages ago when I was sick with a high fever. I was starting to think that I had imagined it. I still couldn’t tell you what it was about, but I remember the fashion show. Strange movie.

    – David Hearne

  16. jack says

    If you want to know how crazy religion is look at that pic of Sartain posted above. Do you realize that he is pretending to have just changed that cup of wine into the real blood of jesus christ. Its called transubstantion. The Catholic cuurch actually teaches that after the priest says the words of consecration over the bread and wine, it becomes “the body and blood, soul and divinity of jesus christ”. Thats right the creator of the billion gallaxy universe is on that altar. And you thought the sacred underware of the Mormons was goofy.

  17. jack says

    To Curt and Terry et al: All religions play politics. The biggest and most blatant offender is the African American Church. Politicians, mostly democrats, actually go to their churches and give political speeches to the congregations. Many of the African American elected leaders and politicians were or are acting ministers. Separation of church and state does not exist in African American society.

  18. says

    actual evidence points out that Separation of Church and State doesn’t exist in a “Republican society”. nor a “white one”.

    please cite with specifics why and HOW the “african american church” (?) is the most blatant offender. specifics, please. with citations.

    Prop 8 was begun and mostly funded by the LDS. in case you didn’t notice, they be crackers.

  19. jack says

    I live in Phila and over the decades have seen democratic candidates for Mayor, Governor, District Attorney, and even President appear at services in African American churches asking for their support. I usually, actually always, voted for these candidates myself. But to pretend that the African American Church is not up to its eyeballs in politics would be a lie. Just because I am a proud leftist doesn’t mean that I wear blinders and refuse to criticise other leftists.

  20. says

    I asked for specific citations to back up your specific statements.

    citations, please.

    and what, specifically, is the “African American Church”?

    if you want to convince people to your point of view it would be helpful to avoid knee-jerk reactionary Sound-Bites and actually provide factual evidence, via citations.

    Is it your belief that Conservative politicians don’t go to churches, and don’t use religion as a tool for their attaining of votes?

    Are you aware of the demographic make up of America, when it comes to ethnicity? I’m not sure where you’re basing this idea that “the blacks” are to blame for the blurring of the separation of church and state. go to any GOP rally – you’ll see a lot of Bible-thumpers; not too many blacks.

    I’m white. I’ll call Mormons crackers. I’ll also call them brainwashed nutbags and, on occasion, Magic-underpants-wearing-Ninnies.

  21. jack says

    Kiwi: just because you are white doesn’t give you any special right to call Mormons, crackers. I am gay and that doesn’t give me the right to call you a “faggot”.

  22. John says

    I’m guessing that there seven pastors who are not on the bishop’s short list for “Monsignor” honors.

  23. jamal49 says

    I guess Archie The Bishop didn’t get that Jeffersonian memo about the “wall of separation” between church and state.

    Um, Archie, honey, the whole issue is about CIVIL (I repeat) CIVIL marriage, not religious ceremony marriage. Ya see, Arch, you can keep gays and lesbians from marrying in your, um, religious institution. Yep. That’s your right and goddess bless you for it.

    But, Arch, you forget that unless you receive a marriage license, from the state, any marriage done in your church ain’t legal anyways. See, the state has a civil structure to recognize the unions that consenting, informed adults enter into for, we hope, lifetime commitments.

    The civil part does not impede upon the religious part, except that your religious ceremony is just that–a ceremony, with no legal validity in the eyes of the state at all.

    So, have your exclusive religious ceremonies with wine and wafers and whatever, Arch, but, um, keep your butt out of the civil side, which is the most important and in a civil society should have room for committed, informed, consenting, same-sex couples.

    Otherwise, watch out, Arch. I might just decide it’s time to tax your church for interfering in civil affairs, which is, in the end, what the marriage debate is all about.

  24. David Hearn says

    Jack – I disagree. I think that is exactly what a gay person would call Kiwi.

    Kiwi – I am not aware of a black denomination in the US which corresponds to a sophisticated and open minded (albeit insufferable in their own way) group like the Episcopalians, modern Quakers, Unitarians, or the MCC. You asked what the “(black) Church” is and the answer would be almost any black church. There is very little in the way of integration in the black churches from the very respectable AME all the way down to the Screaming and Dancing Holy MF’ing Revival Union Baptist Church; or any attempt to make it so. Many a white denomination has black clergy or officers and even an outreach to black people. The same simply cannot be said of black churches.

    Also- the Mormons are not Crackers. The Mormons are Yankee white trash.

  25. David Hearn says

    Knights of Columbus is still a hate group.


    The Knights of Columbus of Maryland and the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) have joined forces with the Maryland Marriage Alliance (MMA). This is to make sure we coordinate our efforts to get this law defeated at the ballot box. The language has now been approved for the petition that we will use to bring this law to a referendum so the voters get to decide. The MMA is printing up the petition signature sheets.

  26. says

    I suggest the locals begin signature collecting to get a referendum on the ballot to outlaw the catholic church using their pulpit for any political movement ! Beat them at their own game !!!

  27. Bob says

    @David Hearn == EXACTLY!!!!!!
    Everyone please read what he wrote.
    Bitching about the tax exemption is a silly waste of energy, as it will NEVER change, whereas rights can change quickly if Gay folks talk to the middle ground people.

  28. Fr. Raymond Burgoon-Clqrk says

    I was born an Anglican Catholic; I will die an Anglican Catholic. The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, has NOTHING to do with these tawdry scandals of men … the Church is both human and divine … the human part has been corrupted ever since St. Paul make it “marketable,” and Constantine imposed it as the state religion of the Empire. But the CORE, the ESSENTIALS still shines as brightly as the Sun.

  29. Siberian says

    The separation of Church and State is a principle whose purpose is to keep Federal, State, and Local governments from interfering with every citizen’s right under the First Amendment to freely give expression to one’s religion. This is why Churches are tax exempt. Nearly every person who has posted on this topic believes this principle means that the Church has no business concerning itself with politics – but this is a misunderstanding of this principle. Further, even though I personally do not agree with the petitions being circulated, Archbishop Sartain does have the right just as you and I to petition and to lobby for a political issue based upon his religious beliefs. You will notice he did not order any of his pastors to participate in this petition drive – so you do not have to agree with Archbishop Sartain’s request for petitions to be circulated, but you all do need to get your facts straight on what his rights are under the U.S. Constitution – he is as much a citizen as you and I are. As for the comment made concerning “transubstantion” – it is called transubstantiation. The ancient Jews who followed Jesus during the first century understood that “remembrance” meant that by re-enacting a past event it was made present; therefore, these ancient Christians believed that they encountered the risen Lord whenever they celebrated the Eucharist, following Jesus’ instruction “Do This in Memory of Me”; that belief has continued throughout Church history, and the term “transubstantiation” is a theological term attempting to explain this in an attempt to ground oneself with that mystery; Archbishop Sartain is not pretending at all. Religious beliefs and theology and doctrines ground people in exploring mysteries which cannot be understood or readily grasped – the unknown, and rituals help people to give expression of this, and to encounter mystery in their lives. You may have no need for this, but for many others it is the only thing that grounds them when their world falls apart – it is often the only thing that provides people with a sense of life purpose and meaning and hope in the face of loss and death. I know when I lost my parents if I did not have my religious faith I would not have been able to navigate through that most difficult time because in our society after a week has passed after a loved one has died employers and nearly everyone else expects you to pull yourself up by our own bootstraps. It is an extremely disrespectful thing to make snide comments about Mormon underwear or any other person’s religious beliefs – and is just as wrong as making a racial slur. I have read extremely hate laden comments posted on this website by quite a few people that appears to be powered by rage. But what is needed here is love. If you feel Archbishop Sartain is hurting people, or if you feel he is breeding hatred, don’t fire back with more hatred — pray for him. Forgive him in your heart. Stop bashing people – it only breeds more darkness and the world has enough of that already. Be respectful, address the issue, refrain from attacking the person. Remember – you cannot hate someone and pray for them at the same time. It’s impossible. Try it – and be good to yourself. Because when you hate those whom you disagree with, the person you are hurting the most is you.