I joined a media teleconference this morning that marked the official opening of Catholics for Equality , the stated purpose of which is "to mobilize the 62 percent of American Catholics who support freedoms for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Catholics for Equality and an affiliated foundation will channel that support into action for legislative, political and cultural change."
The founding of the organization seems to be rooted in the Catholic church's high profile support of state referendums — primarily in Maine and California — that denied marriage benefits to same sex couples. (Gathering money from 50 U.S. dioceses, the Portland, Maine, diocese contributed more than $550,000  to the campaign to reject Maine's law extending civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples.).
Board members and staff of Catholics for Equality said that American Catholics are among the strongest supporters of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people of any religious group in the United States (and they provided stats to demonstrate that.)
Yet, they said, the U.S. bishops "portrayed as representing the moral values of American Catholics" are ignoring this broad, grass-roots support and instead advocate for discrimination and oppose "basic freedoms for LGBT Americans."
In this morning's presentation and subsequent Q&A, two things struck me:
- They are smart in picking their fights
"We are not a church reform group," said Fr. Joseph Palacios, a founding board member and a sociologist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. "We are not going to handle doctrine. We can't change that. That is the church's thing. We don't even have the illusion that we as Catholics can do that. …
"What we are doing is public action and public education on public issues. We are helping the Catholic movable middle rethink their positions. They are a fair-minded people. They want to do the right thing from their American core values and the heritage of Catholic Social Justice values. We want to move the best of those Catholic values and American values toward voting for LGBT freedoms and we want to help them have a cultural voice in helping shift the American community to a more open, pluralistic society."
- They plan to build their success on relationships.
During the teleconference, the organizers talked about the all technology bells and whistles, one has come to expect in today's media/political environment: social media, blogs, Web sties, smart phone aps. But the whiz-bang technology has a very personal aspect, according to Phil Attey, the acting executive director. "We are finding creative ways to have dialogue in places where it is being suppressed."
Catholic love to gather for meals, Aniello Alioto, another founding board member, so Catholics for Equality is asking people to organize "Equality Sunday Brunches." "Having a parish brunch so that Catholics can meet after church and hear from community leaders, parish leaders and hear from pro-equality supporters about these issues," he said
"The brunches and people getting to know their neighbors are a critical aspect because, while we don’t the capacity to have the church hall, but we will have the capacity to have people's homes, restaurants and other public spaces," Palacios said. "One of the key findings in politics right now, is that LGBT rights and freedoms will only be done when people know someone is gay and lesbian and transsexual."
Attey said, "We have to trust that ordinary Catholics know love, commitment and family when they see it. They see lesbian and gay parishioners, bringing their kids to Mass and raising them in the Catholic church. They see their gay and lesbian family members forming families and raising them Catholic. They know love when they see it."
"So to counter the messages of the hierarchy is very easy," he said. "We just have to provide the truth of these relationships, and let Catholics make up their own minds."