Holding Back the Catholic Mutiny

The nuns are off the reservation. The pope is steamed. And the Vatican has tapped Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, to make sure the sisters (to borrow a term from Pope Benedict XVI’s Holy Thursday sermon) “embrace the radicalism of obedience”. This is a career opportunity for Sartain, but whether he gets to wear a pointy red hat and live in the Vatican may depend on whether Washington State overturns its new marriage equality law. Today, Archbishop Sartain, the Christian soldier charged with holding back the growing Catholic mutiny, is On Our Radar.

As The New Civil Rights Movement reported last week, The American nuns are in the papal doghouse. They have been sympathetic to LGBTQ Youth questioning their sexuality. They are teaching the children of same-sex parents without criticism. They talk of married priests. Of women priests. Of gay priests! And as a last straw they undercut the “Religious Freedom” strategy of the bishops, by agreeing to the President’s compromise of having insurance companies pick up the contraception tab for employees of Catholic institutions. The Vatican issued an eight-page rant accusing the nuns of “serious doctrinal problems,” and charged American nuns with promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Even at the risk of sounding overtly “Talibany”, the Vatican has made it known these wild and crazy women have to be brought under control!

For the job of estrogen management, Pope Benedict appointed three bishops. It would have been redundant to write “male bishops” because there are no female Catholic bishops, but I want to make sure I clearly convey the gender makeup of the three all-powerful papal designates who, for the next five years, will be rewriting statutes, approving any speakers, reviewing all plans and programs, and checking up to make sure 50,000 female nuns are following the proper Catholic prayers and rituals. Talk about your war on women!

As fascinating as that match up is bound to be, what interests us today is the man appointed by the pope to be head Inquisitioner, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. The reason Sartain came to the attention of the Vatican and was awarded this plum, nun-taming assignment, appears to be his high-profile resistance to marriage equality, although I am sure he would object to me using that term. When Sartain testified at a Senate committee hearing during the debate over the Washington State Marriage Equality bill, he insisted same-sex couples were inherently different from opposite sex couples, and therefore did not need to be treated equally.

Washington State  passed their marriage equality bill in spite of the Archbishop’s testimony, and Governor Christine Gregoire signed it into law February 13th. Without a challenge, it will become effective June 7th. But almost as soon as the law was passed, the Preserve Marriage Washington referendum effort appeared, determined to send marriage equality to a state-wide vote in November. The opposition now has until June 6th to collect more than 120,000 verified signatures to get “Referendum 74” on the November ballot, and Archbishop Sartain is enthusiastically doing his part.

The Archbishop sent a letter ( http://www.seattlearchdiocese.org/Assets/ARCH/2539_referendumEng.pdf ) to all the parishes in his Archdiocese laying out the reasons they should join in collecting signatures for the recall. Make no mistake; it was an offer no church was expected to refuse. But there was unexpected resistance. At least six Catholic parishes have opted not to participate in collecting signatures. At Our Lady of the Lake, one of the Sunday Mass congregations met the news with a standing ovation. Yes, it’s a drop in the bucket, as there are over 100 parishes under Sartain’s thumb, but still a significant snub, especially when the eyes of the Vatican are on you. It will be interesting to see if the Archbishop retaliates against the dissenting churches through the Catholic Appeal, which divvies up donations among the parishes, or through some unexpected clergy transfers to some very cold places.

This is Sartain’s career making moment. The Vatican is looking for a bulldog with some bite, and success might very well mean a Cardinal Sartain sitting in a locked room voting on the next pope. But he has to tame the nuns. He has to beat back the gays. And even while I root for him to fail, for the nuns to Foxtrot to their own internal melody, for Referendum 74 to fizzle; even as Archbishop Sartain fights a cultural sea change like the little Dutch boy, with both fists plunged deeply in the crumbling dyke praying he can hold back the ocean of modernity, I feel compelled to offer him some advice. As my civil engineer dad often noted, “Water always wins”.

June 6th is the deadline for signatures. We will know then whether marriage equality in the state of Washington will be put on hold pending the result of a statewide vote. I suspect the battle with the nuns will take longer for a clear winner to appear, but after eleven years of Catholic school with the Dominicans, (shudder) I wouldn’t bet against the girls.

However long it may take, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, and his struggle to contain a growing Catholic mutiny, will be On Our Radar.

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