The Catholic bishop of Yakima (Joseph Tyson) has delivered the most fiery denunciation yet of Referendum 74, claiming legalization of gay marriage “jeopardizes freedom rather than expands it,” and “endangers our religious liberty and the right of conscience.”

“Once marriage is redefined as a genderless contract, it will become legally discriminatory for public and private institutions such as schools to promote the unique meaning of marriage . . . This law will challenge our right to educate about the unique value of children being raised by his or her own mother and father in a stable home.”

The bishop did not say HOW that right would be challenged. A pro-Referendum 74 group, Catholics for Marriage Equality, delivered a sharp rejoinder to Tyson and his fellow bishops in the Archdiocese of Seattle and the Diocese of Spokane, who have issued letters and videos opposing marriage equality.

“We are shocked when we read the language and examples used by our bishops to incite fear in our Catholic brothers and sisters if Referendum 74 passes: The message of Jesus is love and compassion, not fear,” said Kirby Brown with Catholics for Marriage Equality Washington.


In late September, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., upped the ante in the hierarchy's culture war against LGBT civil rights by declaring that those who support marriage equality should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. With somewhere between 52 percent and 72 percent of Catholics in this country supporting same-sex marriage, a lot of people are going to be turned away hungry from the altar.

Since multiple studies and surveys have confirmed that more Catholics agree with marriage equality, I've often wondered whether there is a connection behind the Catholic theological tradition and this particular issue. I don't think this phenomenon is evidence of increased secularization among Catholics. Nor do I think it is simply the result of Catholics having been raised in a justice-oriented tradition. The answer to why so many Catholics support marriage equality lies, I believe, in understanding the Catholic imagination.

Catholics believe the finite is capable of the infinite. Objects, events and persons all have the capability to reveal God's grace to us. That grace can come in our experiences of love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, sacrifice, but also in the midst of suffering, brokenness and desolation. It is the Catholic imagination that gave Dorothy Day the vision to see a prostitute with advanced syphilis as Jesus Christ on her doorstep. It's Catholic sacramental view of the world that allowed Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to see that "Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe." It is the Catholic theological tradition that made Thomas Merton see, in the middle of a Louisville, Ky., shopping center, that he was so in love with all of the people buzzing around him that he longed to tell them that "they are all walking around shining like the sun."

Those with a sacramental view of the world find it challenging to separate the sacred from the profane in this world. The Catholic imagination sees God everywhere, believes that God reveals Godself in all things and understands God can work through any human being or human relationship. By insisting that genital complementarity is an absolute requirement for marriage, the hierarchy places limits on God's power to work within all of the relationships of all God's beloved children.

Those who possess a sacramental view of the world often realize that any human person or relationship that brings love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, generosity or faithfulness into the world is a sign of God's grace. Perhaps this is the reason so many Catholics defend marriage equality: They have recognized these graces can come forth as much through same-sex couples as heterosexual couples. Those who have a Catholic imagination recognize that a couple's ability to enter into a marriage commitment is not contingent on their anatomies, but on the depth, strength and fruitfulness of their bond.


Hans Küng is appealing to priests and churchgoers to confront the Catholic hierarchy, which he says is corrupt, lacking credibility and apathetic to the real concerns of the church's members.

"The unconditional obedience demanded of bishops who swear their allegiance to the pope when they make their holy oath is almost as extreme as that of the German generals who were forced to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler," he said.

The Vatican made a point of crushing any form of clerical dissent, he added. "The rules for choosing bishops are so rigid that as soon as candidates emerge who, say, stand up for the pill, or for the ordination of women, they are struck off the list." The result was a church of "yes men", almost all of whom unquestioningly toed the line.

"The only way for reform is from the bottom up," said Küng, 84, who is a priest. "The priests and others in positions of responsibility need to stop being so subservient, to organise themselves and say that there are certain things that they simply will not put up with anymore."

Imagine a Conservative (Republican) party in which over half of its membership were in favour of universal, free welfare provision, high taxation of the rich and the unionisation of the workforce. In essence the Roman Catholic Church at this time is the real-life, ecclesiological equivalent of this imagined, political institution.

Ironically, it is the Vatican's insistence on absolute obedience from the church's membership that may well end up drastically weakening the authority of the hierarchy. If people ignore your authority then you have no authority.

The times they are a'changin'. But I disagree with Hans Kung on one point. It's the Roman Catholic laity who are pushing for change, not the priests who, on the whole, are as scared of upsetting their paymasters as most clerics in most denominations. It's the laity who will cause reform of their church or allow it to continue indefinitely as the most schizophrenic institution the world has ever seen. The choice is theirs. My worry is that they have got so used to completely ignoring the bishops, cardinals and popes that they won't see any point in campaigning to change things officially.