Hurrah (sort of) for brave liberal priest

rainbow altar 02Your GetReligionistas have been jumping all over the Los Angeles Times, in recent months, because of its cheerleader reporting on issues linked to gay rights and gay rites. This is not another post like that.

But I thought that it was going to be one of those posts. And here is why, at the top of a recent story by Duke Helfand and Catherine Saillant:

... Father Geoffrey Farrow stood before his Roman Catholic parishioners in Fresno and delivered a sermon that placed him squarely at odds with his church over gay marriage.

With Proposition 8 on the November ballot, and his own bishop urging Central Valley priests to support its definition of traditional marriage, Farrow told congregants he felt obligated to break "a numbing silence" about church prejudice against homosexuals.

"How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives?" he asked parishioners of the St. Paul Newman Center. "I am morally compelled to vote no on Proposition 8."

Then Farrow -- who had revealed that he was gay during a television interview immediately before Mass -- added a coda to his sermon. "I know these words of truth will cost me dearly," he said. "But to withhold them ... I would become an accomplice to a moral evil that strips gay and lesbian people not only of their civil rights but of their human dignity as well."

Now, you knew that Fresno Bishop John T. Steinbock could see this coming because Farrow was the leader of the St. Paul Newman Center -- at Cal State Fresno University. Rare indeed is the American Catholic parish with a name ending in "center" or "community" that backs the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

And that is what this story gets right. While it has elements of the "brave priest stands up for reason against the horrid forces of the past" template, it also makes it very clear that this fight is about doctrine, not just politics. The story here is about a division INSIDE this Catholic parish and, as it turns out, there are two sides.

The larger story -- still to be reported -- is the degree to which this doctrinal division inside Catholicism is affecting this major political story all over the state of California.

Oh and, yes, this state story is part of the national news story about the fighting within Catholicism about Sen. Barack Obama and his stand in favor of a strong, national level commitment to end any and all restrictions on abortion rights, while changing the language with which the Democratic Party talks about life issues. But that is a doctrinal story, too. Not just a political story.

Parish leaders concluded two morning Masses on Sunday with an apology to parishioners. Farrow's statements, they said, were not in accord with church teachings. Also, the priest did not inform church elders about his plans before delivering his sermon, said Deacon John Supino, who read a letter from Steinbock reaffirming the Catholic Church's support for Proposition 8.

Quoting Steinbock, Supino said the church teaches that sex is a gift from God to be acted on only by a man and a woman within marriage. But Proposition 8, he insisted, does not represent a condemnation of gays or lesbians.

"The teachings of the church on these matters did not arise with Proposition 8 but have been in place for over 2,000 years," Supino said.

Several parishioners inside the church applauded when Supino finished Steinbock's statement. A few rose and left as he was reading it.

There you have it. Some people see this as a political fight, because it is hard to come right out and openly say that you oppose the teachings of the Catholic faith. But that is what happened here and the priest was brave enough and candid enough to say that.

This time, the Los Angeles Times was also journalistic enough to print those facts. Thus, readers were able to know what is going on in that parish. Bravo.

PHOTO: This is not the St. Paul Center, but you get the idea.

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