In an email to his flock, St. James Cathedral reverend Michael Ryan has announced that he won't circulate petitions inside his parish for the campaign to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law. Here's his full email:
Archbishop Sartain has written a letter in which he has expressed his support for Referendum 74 and for the collecting of signatures in parishes. Media reports regarding this are somewhat misleading. While the Archbishop has given his support to the effort, he has wisely left it up to each pastor to decide whether to allow the collection of signatures in his own parish.
After discussing the matter with the members of the Cathedral's pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will not participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish. Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.
First things first: Father Ryan deserves serious praise from Seattle's LGBT community. This is bold.
Second: In saying some media reports are misleading, Father Ryan is probably referring to articles like mine and the one in the Seattle Gay News, which says Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and his auxiliary bishop have "ordered churches in their jurisdiction to collect signatures." In his letter letter to parishioners last week, Sartain explained he had "approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months" and given priests "information regarding the signature drive." It seemed clear that the Archbishop had given petitioners permission to work the churches. And typically in the Catholic Church hierarchy, when the archbishop says he has allowed activity in his parishes, the activity isn't just allowed—the subordinates need to comply. For example, three months ago Sartain "asked" all his parishes to run anti-gay statements in their bulletins, and they complied, including St. James. Last week, I contacted the archbishop's office and his spokesman to ask if there was any option for priests to refuse to circulate the petitions or deny access to petitioners. They never replied. (I'll update my online article with a link back to this post.)
Anyhow, if priests can refuse—and they can call the archbishop's campaign "hurtful and seriously divisive"—that's great. But the Catholics I talked to didn't seem to think that was an option. "If priests spoke out, I think they would be silenced. They would lose their pulpits. That's a safe bet," Barbara Guzzo, who attends St. Mary's in the Central District, told me.
I hope Guzzo was wrong—that Father Ryan isn't silenced and that more follow his lead.