A Catholic diocese will withdraw from a state ecumenical coalition at the end of this month, in part because of LGBT issues and a disagreement about the coalition’s response to the 2016 massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando.
The Diocese of Portland will withdraw from the Maine Council of Churches after the coalition made a procedural shift from having all eight member churches’ approval on issues of public advocacy to seeking only majority approval. More specifically, the seven Protestant members want to become public advocates for LGBT equality given their own communities’ expanding inclusiveness while the diocese remains more limited. The National Catholic Reporter quoted from Bishop Robert Deeley’s open letter explaining his decision:
“‘Our continuing participation could result in me advocating for two different, and even contradictory, positions,’ writes Portland Bishop Robert Deeley in an open letter published by the Portland 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.'”
Tensions began in 2016 after the massacre at Pulse Nightclub when the Council delayed issuing a statement. America Magazine explained the delay:
“[S]ome members of the Maine Council of Churches wanted to issue a statement expressing support for the victims and calling for an end to homophobia. . .Eventually, the group did release a statement, but in it they tried to ‘walk the line’ between signaling support for L.G.B.T. rights and condemning violence against the community, the group’s leader, the Rev. Jane Field, told America, upsetting some members who resented needing to be so cautious in their language at a time when the L.G.B.T. community was grieving. . .’That felt like a tipping point for me personally, where a number of our representatives said, “This can’t go on like this anymore.”‘”
The Diocese of Portland encompasses the entire state of Maine.
More recently, there was contention over a bill in the Maine legislature to ban “ex-gay” therapy. While the Council testified in support of the ban, the Diocese opposed it and was not listed on the Council’s testimony. Field said this disagreement was not the reason the Diocese is withdrawing.
America Magazine provided context that Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, recently withdrew from that state’s Council of Churches. The Diocese of Raleigh and Charlotte similarly exited the North Carolina Council of Churches in 2013. Overall, few Catholic dioceses participate in such coalitions.
Ecumenical networks are important faith advocates on a number of social justice issues, and the Catholic Church, for many reason,s should become a more active participant. But once again, a Catholic bishop has disrupted good works of charity and justice because withholding support for LGBT people was deemed to be more important. Bishop Deeley and other bishops who make such choices cast a wide net in causing harm, including against not only LGBT people, but the cause of Christian unity and the most vulnerable people in their communities.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 8, 2018