Prominent Catholic dissenters have created an organization to promote homosexual political causes and to change Catholic opinion through coordination with other activists. Organized explicitly to oppose the U.S. bishops, the group’s website asks for reports of “anti-equality activity” in Catholic parishes.
The group Catholics for Equality’s website, which is still under construction, reports that the organization is dedicated to “support, educate, and mobilize equality-supporting Catholics to advance LGBT equality at federal, state, and local levels.”
The group claims the “official voice of the hierarchy” favors discrimination and opposes “just” efforts to secure “legal equality for LGBT Americans.” This “anti-equality voice” is “far too often” portrayed as representative of American Catholics, according to the website.
One page on the site, titled “Report anti-equality activity!” contains an incomplete template for a submission form. It asks informers to describe the purported anti-equality activity and to categorize whether it took place in the parish, diocese or community “so that pro-equality Catholics can respond.”
The information generates an e-mail sent to the organization and also “an entry into private ‘report’ database,” the website says.
Mark Matson, president of the dissenting Catholic group DignityUSA, reported in a March 2010 newsletter on the group's website that an organizational meeting for Catholics for Equality took place on January 30 and 31 in Washington, D.C.
He said the meeting was convened to address the “increasing role” of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and state bishops’ conference in opposing “LGBT” political causes. Another purpose of the meeting was to “coordinate efforts to shift Catholic public opinion and voter behaviors.”
Matson said he attended in lieu of executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke because the meeting was held on short notice. He added that other DignityUSA attendees included its board members Mark Clark and Tom Yates, both from Dignity/Washington (District of Columbia), and Ray Panas, president of Dignity/Washington.
According to Matson, Catholics for Equality will “focus on influencing legislation and the behavior of Catholic voters in a way that DignityUSA cannot” because of its tax designation. It will also develop an outreach strategy to include “influential theologians.”
In his words, the new group “complements” DignityUSA’s mission and will be a counterpart to the homosexual advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He and Duddy-Burke will hold two seats on the group’s board of advisors.
Also in attendance at the organizing meeting were Frank DeBernardo and Matthew Myers of New Ways Ministry. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the group and present co-director of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), also attended.
In a recent interview with a Dallas-based homosexual paper, Sr. Gramick claimed that there was a disconnect between the Catholic hierarchy and the laity on homosexual issues. She also estimated that about half of Catholic priests were homosexual.
In its interview with the religious sister, the Dallas Voice reported that New Ways Ministry is experimenting with a new program to target legislators as well as Catholic grassroots voters in Maryland.
According to Matson, Catholics for Equality’s organizational meeting was convened by Washington attorney Phil Attey and Rev. Dr. Joe Palacios, described as a Jesuit priest from Los Angeles who is currently on the Georgetown University faculty.
Last year Attey created a website to “aggregate reports on every gay priest” in the Archdiocese of Washington to help them “stand up to the church hierarchy” on homosexual issues. According to a WhoIs lookup, the website shares the same 12th Street NW D.C. mailing address as Catholics for Equality.
In the 1990s Attey served as HRC’s electronic media manager. According to the gay publication Metro Weekly, he also co-chaired the Obama Pride Metro D.C. group to support the current U.S. president’s election bid.
For his part, Palaicos is a board member of Catholics for Equality and also political co-chair of the HRC’s D.C. Steering Community. According to his biography at the Georgetown University website, in 2009 he was appointed by the White House to serve on the board of visitors supervising what is commonly known as the School of the Americas, a U.S. training facility for Latin American military officers which has been criticized for its alumni’s alleged participation in human rights violations.
Issues listed on the Catholics for Equality website include “marriage equality.” Claiming that same-sex “marriage” does not coerce any religious faith, it invokes the “separation of Church and State” and says, “we affirm civil marriage for same-sex couples throughout the United States.”
The group criticizes the U.S. bishops’ opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and advocates opening military service to open homosexuals.
“Catholics in the United States live in this social context that allows the free exercise of conscience rather than enforced scriptural fundamentalism or bishops’ and pastors’ exhortations in making decisions regarding homosexuality and gay rights -- as is often exercised in Protestant fundamentalist and evangelical denominations and now by increasingly doctrinaire Catholic bishops,” the website argues.
It also claims that Catholic priests rarely mention homosexuality or homosexual issues in sermons “except when forced to by the bishops,” saying this coercion happened during the campaign to pass California’s Proposition 8 and Maine’s Proposition 1. Both successful ballot measures restored the definition of marriage to be a union of a man and a woman.
Other attendees at the Catholics for Equality organizing meeting included Joanna Blotner, coordinator of the HRC’s Religion and Faith Program; Sharon Groves, deputy director for the HRC’s Religion and Faith Program; Chuck Colbert, a journalist and contributor to the National Catholic Reporter; Shiva Subbaraman of the Georgetown LGBTQ Resource Center; and Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way who facilitated the discussion.
The homosexual blogger Anthony Adams, who was ordained as a Catholic priest, attended the meeting, as did Anne Underwood of Catholics for Marriage Equality in Maine and Charles Martel of Catholics for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts.
Exiled Fresno priest Fr. Geoffrey Farrow also attended. After his suspension from ministry in the Fresno diocese, Fr. Farrow became a full-time gay rights advocate. On Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008, Fr. Farrow stunned parishioners at St. Paul Newman Center in Fresno by recommending they vote no on Proposition 8 and telling a local television news program he is a homosexual. He removed his belongings from his office at the Newman Center and from his residence at the rectory before the Mass, the diocese said in a statement. Five days later, Fresno Bishop John Steinbock removed Fr. Farrow as Newman Center pastor, took away his diocesan salary and health benefits, and told him not to return to the Newman Center or any other parish in the diocese.
According to DignityUSA’s Matson, Cathy Renna, media relations director of Renna Communications, advised attendees on communications strategy. She praised Duddy-Burke’s lobbying related to the sexual abuse scandal.
While Catholics for Equality is a 501(c)(4) non-profit which can lobby on political issues, it has also planned a parallel non-political foundation to engage in campus outreach and to reach out to “prominent pro-equality Catholics in the entertainment, civic, business and sports areas, providing them a national platform as leading American Catholics to voice their support for LGBT equality.”