Last week Bishop David Laurin Ricken became the latest member of the Catholic hierarchy to enter the political arena when he informed the 300,000-plus members of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., that voting for candidates whose positions contradict any so-called "non-negotiables" of Catholic teaching "could put [one's] soul in jeopardy."
Bishop Ricken's admonition came in the form of a letter posted on the diocesan website and emailed to the offices of every parish. The diocese is also ordering churches to include the letter in their bulletins.
Catholics are taught to believe that their bishops have the authority and duty to shepherd and teach them, and Bishop Ricken takes his flock to school. He writes:
I would like to review some of the principles to keep in mind as you approach the voting booth to complete your ballot. The first is the set of non-negotiables. These are areas that are "intrinsically evil" and cannot be supported by anyone who is a believer in God or the common good or the dignity of the human person.
These are intrinsically evil. "A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program that contradicts fundamental contents of faith and morals." Intrinsically evil actions are those which have an evil object. In other words, an act is evil by its very nature and to choose an action of this type puts one in grave moral danger. [Emphases added.]
- embryonic stem cell research
- human cloning
- homosexual "marriage"
Translation (just in case the bishop's repeated use of the phrase "intrinsically evil" didn't make things sufficiently clear): According to Bishop Ricken, marriages like mine are thoroughly evil "by [their] very nature," and anyone who either marries a person of the same gender or supports their fellow citizens' right to do so is ipso facto a very bad person.
And in order to make it as obvious as possible which party he wants you to support next month -- without actually saying its name, of course -- Bishop Ricken continues:
But what does this have to do with the election? Some candidates and one party have even chosen some of these as their party's or their personal political platform. To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally "complicit" with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.
Hmm, I wonder whether Bishop Ricken wants the Catholics of northeastern Wisconsin to vote Democratic or Republican? (Hint: Three of the items on the bishop's list -- reproductive choice, stem cell research and marriage equality -- can be found in the official 2012 Democratic Party Platform.)
Bishop Ricken's aggressively political, unabashedly anti-gay comments very closely mirror those made by several of his brother bishops. For example, in a video message released last month, Springfield, Ill., Bishop Thomas Paprocki pointed out the Democratic Party's official support for marriage equality and reproductive choice, then called both positions "intrinsically evil and gravely sinful" and said that voting for candidates who support them places one's "eternal salvation" in "serious jeopardy." Also last month John Myers, Archbishop of Newark, N.J., issued a pastoral statement in which he told Catholics not to vote for any candidate who does not endorse what he called "proper" marriage. He further declared that pro-equality Catholics, who account for nearly three out of four Catholics in America, should refrain from receiving Communion. (Click here for an exhaustive list of anti-gay activities from leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church.)
This story hits close to home for me, as I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wis., and used to be very active in the Green Bay Catholic Diocese. I come from a family of liturgical musicians and was even a previous bishop's favorite cantor (until I was unceremoniously dismissed for my "scandalous" marriage to another man). My parents, both fixtures of Green Bay's Catholic community, are outspoken in their support of LGBT equality, as are many of their friends. According to all the reports I've heard so far from them and others, Bishop Ricken's letter has outraged and divided local Catholics. There are even rumors that some parishes, inspired by Catholic communities in the state of Washington, might defy Bishop Ricken's order and refuse to distribute his letter. For the sake of the Catholic LGBT youth in northeastern Wisconsin, many of whom grow up falsely believing, like I did, that they're "intrinsically evil," I hope as many churches as possible do exactly that.
Read Bishop Ricken's letter in full below: