A new report from gay-rights campaigners attacks Catholic leaders for funneling "unprecedented" sums of money into Minnesota's marriage amendment battle and claims the clergy are doing so against the will of the laity. Church leaders countered, saying the charges were "shameful attempts to mislead Catholics."
“The Catholic Church hierarchy has positioned itself as the leading religious organization funding discrimination against LGBT people,” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin said in a written statement publicizing the report.
Catholic dioceses and Knights of Columbus chapters from around the country have contributed over half of the $1.2 million raised by groups trying to pass the amendment, which would write a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution, reflecting current state law.
The HRC report cites a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute that found 52 percent of American Catholics support legalizing same-sex marriage, and 64 percent support same-sex civil unions, to argue that Catholic leaders are going against the wishes of their flocks in supporting ballot measures across the country that ban same-sex marriage.
That same poll, though, found that only 37 percent of Catholics who attend church regularly think Catholic doctrine is too conservative on the issue of homosexuality. The survey quizzed 3,000 Americans ages 18 and over both landlines and cell phones, and had a margin of error of plus or minus two percent.
Church leaders' anti-gay stance has rubbed many Southwest Minneapolis Catholics raw—some say they have left their parishes over the issue, and several parishoners in one church staged a walk-out when a letter from St. Paul's Archbishop John Nienstedt explaining his opposition to same-sex marriage was read out.
According to Catholic officials, though, the Church's donations are hardly a secret effort by a tiny cabal.
A spokesperson for the commitee set up by Minnesota's Catholic bishops to push the marriage amendment blasted the HRC report in an interview with the Star-Tribune, saying its money was collected seperately from normal church fundraising efforts, and donors were aware their cash was going to the marriage amendment fight.
The effort is part of "shameful attempts to mislead Catholics and the public about the source of the Church’s contributions to defense of marriage campaigns cheapens our political discourse and represents nothing more than a desperate political tactic," said Jason Adkins, executive director of Minnesota Catholic Conference and treasurer for its political-action organization.
Church leaders have also appealed directly to Minnesota Catholics to fund television ads in support of their cause.
The HRC report also charged that Catholic contributions to ballot initiatives in Minnesota and three other states were "unprecedented" in their size compared to past fights seeking to ban same-sex marriage through the ballot box. For example, in 2009, the Church spent around $550,000 in money from local parishes and from dioceses from around the country in a successful effort to override the state legislature's legalization of same-sex marriage.
Massive spending by religious groups in ballot initiatives like Minnesotas is not new, though. The Mormon Church officially spent only $190,000 in pushing California's Proposition 8, but individual Mormons contributed around $40 million to pass the measure at leaders' urging. Church leaders also organized massive numbers of volunteers whose donated time fueled the passage of Prop 8.
According to Patch's analysis of campaign finance documents, religious groups and institutions have donated around $0.40 in every $1 collected by groups trying to pass Minnesota's marriage amendment, with Catholics making up the lion's share of those funds.
By contrast, while many religious leaders have been very vocal in their opposition to the marriage amendment, religious groups and institutions have only contributed $0.01 of every dollar collected by pro-gay groups. Still, anti-amendment groups raked in significant contributions from some religious groups. The umbrella group representing all Congregational churches in Minnesota gave around $20,000, putting the group on the same level as Minnesota's major dioceses. Southwest Minneapolis' First Universalist Church gave just over $7,000, the second-largest contribution to the by any single church on either side.