In Minnesota, Catholics on Both Sides of Marriage Debate Gear Up

Catholic involvement in the struggle for marriage equality in Minnesota received a lot of press this week.  That state is facing a November ballot initiative to amend their constitution to prevent lesbian and gay couples from marrying.

The St. Cloud Times reports:

“The Diocese of St. Cloud has donated $50,000 to a fund supporting passage of Minnesota’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“The donation is among Central Minnesota’s largest contributions to the costly battle over whether the state constitution will be amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Voters will decide in November whether to adopt that amendment. . . .

“According to campaign finance reports, the St. Cloud diocese’s donation was made this month to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund. The Marriage Defense Fund has given $750,000 to Minnesota for Marriage since the start of 2011.

“Catholic diocese in Crookston and Winona also gave to the Marriage Defense Fund this year, and diocese in the Twin Cities, New Ulm and Duluth gave in 2011.

“The Diocese of St. Cloud’s donation came from parishioners’ contributions to special collections taken at Masses throughout the diocese, according to Christine Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the diocese. Those funds are separate from the general collections at each Mass, Codden said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that Catholics who support and Catholics who oppose the amendment are working hard for their cause:

“Catholics — numbering around 1.1 million — make up the largest single religious denomination in Minnesota, and they are gearing up for November when voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

“The Catholic church in Minnesota has been one of the most, if not the most, active religious groups in support of the constitutional amendment, which is in line with Catholic church teaching about marriage.

“At the same time, notable opposition to the law has come from inside the church, from groups of priests opposed to the amendment and from Catholics who have joined organizations opposed to the proposed statute. . . .

“In Minnesota, the Catholic church’s campaign in favor of the amendment includes the formation of parish marriage committees to educate parishioners on marriage and the consequences of a change in definition, according to the website of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the church in the state. . . .

“However, as was the case in other states, some Catholics have been vocal about their disagreement with the church’s campaign. . . .

“Also, three retired Catholic priests wrote a letter in May to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper (although it was not published) and held a press conference May 17 in Minneapolis, expressing their opposition to the Catholic church’s campaigning on the issue. Minnesota Public Radio took up the story and posted the letter online along with the story.

“Although the priests said they agree with the church’s position on sacramental marriage, they opposed a state constitutional amendment that would deny rights and privileges to same-sex unions. Asserting that ‘there is not just one way for Catholics to vote in November,’ they ask the letter reader to consider voting against the amendment.

” ‘We feel that our church is stronger when both sides of an issue are part of the public dialogue,’ the letter stated.”

Jim Smith

CNN’s Belief Blog spoke with Catholics in Minnesota who are working to oppose the amendment, including Jim Smith of DignityUSA, and Michelle LaFrance, a parishioner:

“Jim Smith is a former Roman Catholic priest who left his post with the church 10 years ago. He’s an ex-priest for several reasons, he says, but one of his main concerns was the church’s stance against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

“But Smith remains a Catholic – though he says being a Catholic who actively campaigns for legalized same-sex marriages can be difficult these days.

” “I’d much rather this wasn’t happening,’ Smith says of the division that the issue has created among Minnesota  Catholics. ‘But it does provide some real opportunities because it challenges us to talk to each other, Catholics talking to other Catholics.  .  .  .’

“A group he helped form,  Catholics for Marriage Equality-Minnesota, aims ‘to encourage Catholics to consider the profound sacredness of same-gender relationships and to defeat this marriage amendment,’ Smith says.

“Vatican edicts against same-sex marriage often give Catholic same-sex marriage supporters the impression they’re in the minority.

“But a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests 59% of American Catholics support rights allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. One reason behind that statistic – says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones – is because U.S. Catholics “overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed.” A PRRI poll bears that out – with 69% of Catholics nationwide saying a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.

“In the Midwest alone, Catholics are evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage -– with 46% in favor, 47% against.

“Like Jim Smith, Michelle LaFrance is a Catholic who has also taken the bold step against the church in support of marriage equality.

” ‘I remember thinking “wow, maybe I shouldn’t [remain a Catholic],” ” LaFrance said. Ultimately they’ve remained with the Catholic faith, citing its many positive aspects including going to church. It’s an important weekly ritual for LaFrance, her husband and their three kids.

” ‘The Catholic Church, despite the media [attention] it typically gets, does a lot of great things, a lot of great social justice,’ LaFrance said. She noted the church ‘feeds the poor, houses the homeless, takes care of the abused.’ ”

“The LaFrance family belongs to the Church of St. Margaret Mary in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley, a congregation which LaFrance describes as fairly progressive. She says the majority of her fellow parishioners agree with her stance on same-sex marriage.

“But when LaFrance hears the archdiocese telling people how they should think about it, she can’t help but sometimes feel like less of a Catholic.

“‘ I don’t think anybody – whatever their religious denomination – whole-heartedly follows every single rule down to the letter.’  . . .

“For ex-priest Jim Smith, grappling with the issue has been difficult – a personal struggle that extends to the heart of his faith.

“The inner conflict between what Smith believes is right and his love for the church has pushed him to consider leaving the Catholic religion altogether.

“In the end, Smith vows he will stay. ‘It’s in my bones.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    For years, Roman Catholic officials have misled Catholic churchgoer Michelle LaFrance into thinking that Catholics officials and Catholic laity fund programs for anti-poverty, anti-homelessness, and the abused. In fact, the U.S. federal government pays for most of those programs. Holy Mother Church only operates them, and takes virtually all the credit for itself.

    On the other hand, opposing social justice is big, Catholic-funded business. Not to mention a mortal sin per official Catholic teaching.

  2. Michael Bayly
    Michael Bayly says:

    Hi Frank,

    Great article! Thanks for highlighting the situation in Minnesota. There’s just one thing that needs correcting: the link you provide to Catholics for Marriage Equality MN does not actually go to this group’s website. The correct URL is



    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      Thanks for letting me know, Michael. I’ll correct it in a few hours when I’m at a computer. (I’m traveling at the moment.) I copied the link from the original article, but I had not checked for corrrectness. Thanks to you and all the great folks in Minnesota for your work and inspiration!

  3. Gerald
    Gerald says:

    Dear Ned:
    I have been sitting here looking at your post, trying to give you ‘the benefit of the doubt’..
    You state that Holy Mother Church has misled church-goers. . . .and that “opposing social justice is big, Catholic-funded business”. For the moment, let’s leave mortal sin out of this:. Wagging the pointed finger doesn’t make for fair discussion.
    I think you are saying the Marriage Equality Act is a major social justice issue, when all is said and done. I agree with you on this. To oppose Marriage Equality, especially via a Constitutional Amendment, is a grave major violation of social justice principles. Furthermore I agree with you……at least I think you are saying this. . . The Dioceses in Minnesota have spent a huge amount of money fighting Marriage Equality.

    Are you suggesting. . .implying. . . stating that this violation of Catholic Social Justice principles constitutes mortal sin? That the official Church in the Dioceses of Minnesota are “in the state of mortal sin”? Let us recall the basic truths we learned in Baltimore Catechism I, II and III: For an action to be considered a mortal sin three conditions must be present at the same time. (1) The action must be seriously,gravely wrong. (2) I must know that this action, here and now to be done, is seriously, gravely wrong/evil. And (3) Knowing this I must freely choose to do/commit this wrong action. Lacking any one of these conditions there is no “state of mortal sin”. Keep in mind the many things affecting moral freedom.

    Furthermore, we remember the teaching of the Catholic Church that conscience is the ultimate/final norm for judgment on actions. Recall: conscience is a judgment of the practical intellect about whether an action to be done, in the here and now, is right or wrong. Even if my conscience is in error I am morally bound to follow my conscience because it is the only conscience I have. . . .[ Pretty hard to commit a mortal sin, wouldn’t you say? It has been said that to commit a mortal sin one must be a moral theologian and have a degree in canon law. LOL ],

    I like this word from the Prophet Micah. “What does the Lord God ask of you? Only this: Act justly. Love tenderly. Walk humbly with your God.” Jesus repeated this over and over. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

    Respectfully yours,

    • Rita
      Rita says:

      As the mother of a wonderful gay transgendered son who literally saved my life, I struggle with this question every day. My conscience tells me that there is nothing wrong with same sex relationships but my ingrained Catholic upbringing, intensified by an abusive childhood where I was NOT allowed to have my own opinions or to think for myself (and this has carried over into my relationship with God and the Church) has terrorized me into thinking that no matter what my conscience tells me, the Church must always be right and that I will go to Hell if I stand against it on any issue. How does one overcome such a formidable obstacle?

      • Michael J. Brembs
        Michael J. Brembs says:

        Rita; First, you love “your wonderful gay transgendered son”; Second, you pray and attend Mass and receive the Eucharist – who is Jesus, love Incarnate. Third, no matter how you may feel or struggle with the faith, it is a struggle that will bring you eternal life as since you are worried about going to “hell”, your definitely not going. My prayers are with you in your struggle of faith. Keep up the fight for the faith and for your son. You are a wonderful and awesome mother – thank you.

      • newwaysministryblog
        newwaysministryblog says:

        Rita, Keep doing what you are doing to support your son. If you find that your earlier spiritual and personal challenges are worrisome to you, you might consider finding a spiritual director whom you can trust who will help you sort through these issues. If you don’t know where to look for one, please call or email New Ways Ministry, (301) 277-5674, [email protected], and someone can try to recommend a person near you.

        Francis DeBernardo


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