The Roman Catholic Hierarchy’s Devotion to Fighting Marriage Equality

Human Rights Campaign

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and a new study by the Public Religion Research Institute, the Roman Catholic Church and its affiliate, the Knights of Columbus, played a leading role in funding anti-LGBT equality efforts in the four states where marriage equality was on the ballot this fall.

The Church hierarchy invested nearly $2 million in the failed attempts to write discrimination into the Minnesota constitution and stem marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Dioceses from across the country supported these efforts financially, thought it’s doubtful that the parishioners fueling these contributions had any idea that their money was being used to fund discrimination.

According to Public Religion Research Institute, nearly 60 percent of Catholics support marriage equality. And an astounding 83 percent of Catholics in the United States say they don’t feel compelled to vote in accordance with the political preaching of bishops. These numbers from the laity represent people who, whether they know it or not, are living out their faith daily – Catholic social teaching promotes treating everyone with love, dignity, and respect.

But despite the values of the laity, the Catholic Church hierarchy is pouring immense resources into preventing loving, committed same-sex couples from marrying. . In fact, in the wake of last week’s historic victories for equality, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops doubled down and vowed to continue funding efforts to discriminate against LGBT people. The Roman Catholic Church will make these investments at the same time and with the same dollars that would otherwise go to support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and domestic violence programs.

Following the Money

Taking up where the Mormons left off in 2008, the Catholic Church – and its affiliate, the Knights of Columbus – have made considerable investments in the marriage fights in Minnesota, Maryland, Washington State, and Maine this election cycle – spending nearly $2 million. In addition, a close ally of the Church and past co-conspirator, the National Organization for Marriage, spent more than $5.2 million this cycle. Final campaign figures for Maryland and Maine will be available by the end of the month.

Marriage equality opponents across the four states raised $11.3 million. The Catholic Church’s contributions make up 17 percent of that total figure. When you add in the contributions of Church ally NOM, the reality of the coordinated effort becomes clear: the Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus and NOM are responsible for funding nearly 65 percent of all anti-equality efforts in Minnesota, Maryland, Washington State, and Maine.

The partnership between the Catholic Church, the Knights, and NOM goes back several years. In 2008, the Knights’ $500,000 donation to NOM was the largest known donation on record for the anti-LGBT group. In 2009, the Knights donated $1.4 million to the organization – enough to fund most of NOM’s successful $1.8 million push in Maine to repeal the state’s marriage equality law.

The Knights invested heavily in California’s Prop 8 battle – contributing $1 million and calling it vital to a “healthy society” that same-sex couples be prohibited from marrying and starting families.

Given this history, it’s no surprise that the Catholic Church is once again dumping a stunning amount of money into efforts that prevent loving, committed same-sex couples from marrying.  Dr. Sharon Groves directs the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion & Faith program. Dr. Groves says that the Church hierarchy’s heavy investments in anti-equality measures shouldn’t be seen as reflecting the values of lay Catholics.

“The majority of Catholics support equality for their LGBT sisters and brothers, and they do so precisely because their faith compels them to extend the same love and dignity to others with which they themselves wish to be treated. That is the Golden Rule that guides not just those in the Catholic faith, but so many people across religions. The Church hierarchy should be reflecting the values that the laity holds – instead they are supporting a discriminatory agenda that does not speak to the fundamental underpinnings of the Catholic faith.”

Here’s what we know about the Catholic Church’s donations to the fight against marriage in the four ballot states, based on public filings:

Minnesota (via Minnesota Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure Board)

In Minnesota, the Catholic Church has funded nearly 25 percent of the efforts to write discrimination against LGBT people into the state constitution.

Of the $5.6 million that anti-equality advocates have raised, nearly $1.3 million came from the Church and the Knights. That includes a sizable contribution from the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund (MCCMDF). Dioceses from across the country, as well as the national Knights of Columbus and a number of local Minnesota Knights chapters, were major contributors to the MCCMDF. These contributions included:

  • $100,000 from the national Knights of Columbus
  • Nearly $15,000 from the Minnesota Knights of Columbus State Council
  • Nearly $20,000 from local Knights of Columbus chapters across Minnesota
  • More than $180,000 from dioceses across the nation:
    • $1,000 – Archdiocese of Anchorage
    • $1,500 – Archdiocese of Boston
    • $2,000 – Archdiocese of Denver
    • $5,000 – Archdiocese of Kansas City
    • $1,000 – Archdiocese of Mobile
    • $1,000 – Archdiocese of Oklahoma City
    • $1,000 – Archdiocese of Portland
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Albany
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Arlington
    • $500 – Diocese of Austin
    • $3,000 – Diocese of Baton Rogue
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Bismarck
    • $50,000 – Diocese of Crookston, MN
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Des Moines
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Gary
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Green Bay
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Harrisburg
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Lake Charles
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Madison
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Pittsburgh
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Phoenix
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Providence
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Rapid City
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Rockford
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Rockville Centre
    • $2,000 – Diocese of Saint Augustine
    • $150 – Diocese of San Angelo
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
    • $62,602.77 – Diocese of St. Cloud, MN
    • $50,000 – Diocese of St. Cloud, MN
    • $1,000 – Diocese of Superior
    • $50,000 – Diocese of Winona, MN
    • $60,000 – Diocese of Winona, MN

In addition to the contributions from MCCMDF, anti-equality advocates have raised more than $8,200 from other Catholic affiliates as well:

  • $4,818 – Church of St. Anne
  • $118 – Church of St. Pius X
  • $300 – Church of St. Raphael
  • $204 – Church of the Sacred Heart
  • $300 – Knights of Columbus
  • $1,084 – Knights of Columbus #4381
  • $500 – Knights of Columbus #5318
  • $250 – Parish in Ortonville
  • $631 – St. Thomas University Catholic Students Club

On top of these figures, NOM spent more than $2.2 million, while the Minnesota Family Council, another co-conspirator, poured in an additional $250,000.

Maryland (via Maryland Board of Elections)

In Maryland, the opponents of marriage equality had a war chest of nearly $1.7 million. Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus, and NOM are all major donors:

  • The Knights of Columbus donated $250,000 to the Maryland Marriage Alliance.
  • NOM has contributed an additional $400,000.
  • The Maryland Catholic Conference has spent nearly $12,000 on staffing resources, travel, and sponsorship of various events.

In addition to these donations, other Catholic-affiliated groups have chipped in dollars as well:

  • St. Ignatius-Hickory has contributed $525.
  • The Catholic group Our One Nation Under God, Inc., which refers to homosexuality as an “abomination,” has contributed $500.
  • Focus on the Family has contributed nearly $4,500.

The cash donations of the Knights of Columbus and NOM together total $1 million – or more than 60 percent of the Maryland Marriage Alliance’s total war chest.

Final Maryland campaign figures will be available by the end of the month.

Washington State (via Washington Public Disclosure Commission)

In Washington State, the opponents of marriage equality have raised more than $2.6 million.  Of that total, the Church and its ally NOM poured nearly 55 percent of the funding.

The Catholic Church donated $307,000 – the majority of which came from the Knights of Columbus. NOM, meanwhile, gave just over $1.1 million to the fight against marriage equality.

Maine (via Maine Ethics Commission)

To date, the Catholic Church and its ally NOM contributed nearly 85 percent of funding for efforts in Maine to repeal marriage equality.

Opponents of marriage equality raised nearly $1.4 million this cycle, according to the Maine Ethics Commission. NOM poured in over $1 million; while the Knights of Columbus donated over $100,000.

In 2009, the Diocese of Portland spent more than $750,000 on the campaign to repeal marriage equality.

The Numbers: A Growing Gap Between Catholic Laity and Church Hierarchy

Perhaps the most frustrating component of the Church hierarchy’s immense financial investment in fighting LGBT equality is that the majority of Catholics actually support equality – and they do so because they feel compelled by their Catholic faith to treat all people with dignity, love, and respect.

Marianne Duddy-Burke is a lay Catholic who serves as the Executive Director of DignityUSA and a leader with the Equally Blessed coalition.  Duddy-Burke reiterates that, despite the activity of the hierarchy, the majority of those sitting in the pews every week support equality:

“Our Catholic social teaching calls for us to work for a more loving, compassionate, and justice-oriented world for all. It does not call on us to discriminate against anyone. Unfortunately, the anti-LGBT activities of the Church hierarchy stand in direct opposition to the values of the majority of Catholics.”

A recent HRC poll found that nearly 90 percent of Christians specifically cite the teachings of their faith as the primary reason they rejected discrimination against LGBT people. A March poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly 60 percent of Catholics support marriage equality.

The numbers also indicated that Catholics simply don’t like it when the hierarchy tries to force political issues on their faith. The same Belden Russonello poll that found that 83 percent of Catholics don’t feel obligated to vote in line with their bishop also shows that only 16 percent of Catholics see marriage equality as a pressing issue. When so many Catholics support marriage equality, it’s unsurprising that many don’t view the issue as controversial.

Despite the solid data pointing to support for equality within the Catholic Church, the hierarchy continues to pour millions of dollars into discriminating against LGBT people. According to HRC’s Dr. Sharon Groves, that represents a fundamental break from Catholic social teaching:

“The Catholic Church’s social teaching, when put in action, is one of the most inclusive theological teachings on the planet. The Church hierarchy is instead redirecting this teaching in the name of discrimination, and in the process they are tarnishing the very values that so many Catholics hold dear.”

The Church’s True Priorities

The Church’s increasingly commonplace practice of funneling large amounts of money to anti-equality causes is not the only way in which the hierarchy is leading the charge against LGBT people. The Church also is appointing increasingly outspoken anti-LGBT voices into leadership positions in some of the largest faith communities across the country.

In San Francisco, newly installed Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was one of the chief architects in the campaign to pass Prop 8. Cordileone played a central role in founding and executing the Protect Marriage campaign, and under his influence, Catholic organizations in California led the charge in financing the Prop 8 campaign. His partners included NOM and Focus on the Family. In fact, it was Cordileone who personally phoned NOM co-founder Maggie Gallagher and asked her to get NOM involved in the Prop 8 fight. Most recently, Cordileone re-iterated the Church’s commitment to funding discrimination, claiming that most people just “don’t understand” marriage.

In Newark, NJ, Archbishop John J. Myers has called on those who support marriage equality to abstain from receiving Communion, saying to do so while diverging from such a core Church policy would be “objectively dishonest.” And in the Twin Cities, parishioners walked out of services when a letter from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt was read in Mass. In the letter, Archbishop Nienstedt said the Church needed to promote the “truth” about marriage.

The Church’s anti-LGBT agenda is clear, both from its giving history and the actions of American Church leaders. The gulf between the hierarchy and laity is increasingly jarring on this issue. And at a time when so many programs core to the Catholic Church’s mission – from soup kitchens to schools – are pinching pennies, the Church owes its members an explanation as to why it is spending so much money on funding discrimination.

Source: Human Rights Campaign