A Campaign of Intimidation


St. Louis Catholics heading into the Cathedral Basilica for Mass last Sunday got a taste of what their counterparts in California experienced last fall: protests intended to shame churchgoers for their church's opposition to gay marriage.

Archbishop Robert Carlson

Like the gay-rights activists who heckled and chanted outside Catholic, evangelical and Mormon houses of worship after California voters approved Proposition 8, those who demonstrated outside the Cathedral last weekend were incensed about the role that religious leaders played in defeating another state's push for same-sex marriage.

The target of activist ire in this case was St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, who joined 44 other U.S. Catholic bishops in contributing diocesan funds to the campaign to defend traditional marriage in Maine. Despite a massive influx of political contributions from gay-marriage supporters and Maine's socially liberal leanings, defenders of traditional marriage won handily there last month: 53 percent of voters opted to reject same-sex marriage, making Maine the 31st state to do so through popular vote.

Carlson's $10,000 donation from an Archdiocesan discretionary fund has infuriated critics who say the bishop should have spent that money on the poor or a cause closer to home. Those critics have expressed no such outrage at the exorbitant sums routinely pumped into campaigns across America by same-sex marriage advocates. In their unsuccessful California campaign, proponents of same-sex marriage outspent opponents by more than $3.6 million. In Maine, their funding advantage was nearly $2 million.

The real issue for Carlson's critics isn't the money. It isn't even his personal opposition to gay marriage -- at least, not entirely. The bishop shares that position with President Barack Obama and the majority of the American people, and gay-rights activists know they cannot win converts to their cause by attacking everyone who opposes gay marriage all at once.

But they can score a few points by bashing a Catholic bishop for meddling in politics and neglecting the poor. That line of attack conforms neatly to anti-Catholic stereotypes of Roman interference in American elections and affluent shepherds indifferent to their starving flocks.

The facts undercut these attacks. Carlson's contribution conformed entirely to IRS guidelines, which allow religious organizations to advocate on issues and ballot initiatives like the Maine marriage referendum. As for serving the poor, the Catholic Church, through its Catholic Charities network, is the largest private provider of social services in Missouri and second to none in its care for the needy.

It is precisely the gay-marriage movement that has threatened this good work in several cities. After the Massachusetts Supreme Court mandated the legalization of same-sex marriage and adoption agencies were required by law to place children with same-sex couples, Catholic Charities of Boston was driven to discontinue its adoption services for hard-to-place children because of its opposition to gay adoptions. In Washington, D.C., a new gay-marriage law may force Catholic Charities to extend employee benefits to gay and lesbian couples and process gay adoptions or forfeit city social service contracts. In both cases, gay-marriage advocates have argued forcefully against a religious exemption that would allow the church to continue its service to the poor without violating Catholic doctrine.

Despite their dishonesty, the students had a high view of their own ethics.

The real issue driving the angry protests outside the Cathedral -- which activists have promised to repeat every Sunday in Advent, a sacred season for Catholics -- is religious liberty. Should religious leaders defending morally conservative positions be free to influence the political process in conformity with current IRS guidelines, as Carlson did in the gay-marriage debate and Archbishop Raymond Burke did in the debate over embryo-destructive research? Or should they be shushed and shooed out of the public square, forced to choose between faithful adherence to their convictions and full participation in American public life?

The signs on display in Sunday's Cathedral protest were a stark reminder of where most gay-marriage activists come down on that question: "Honk for separation of church and hate," "tax the church" and "repent, the end of tax exemption is near." Theirs is a campaign of intimidation with an ominous message for religious leaders like Carlson and, ultimately, all religious Americans who oppose same-sex marriage: Shut up or prepare to pay.




Colleen Carroll Campbell. "A Campaign of Intimidation." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (December 3, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.


Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network.  Her website is here.

Copyright © 2009 Colleen Carroll Campbell

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