The following appeared in the online version of the National Catholic Reporter on July 31.
If last week’s elevation of Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., to archbishop of San Francisco proves anything, it’s that attacking marriage equality puts a man on the fast-track to promotion in the Roman Catholic Church. A quick survey of the hierarchy’s most recent, high-profile appointments reveals a common denominator.
The trend became apparent in March, when Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., was given his papal orders to take over the reins in the historic Archdiocese of Baltimore. Lori, the longtime chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, no doubt earned his reward as chair of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.
Although the religious freedom battle has been widely associated with contraception, the bishops have always included same-sex marriage as a clear threat to their First Amendment rights. Of the committee’s six signs of attack on religious freedom, two relate to marriage equality: the Department of Justice’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and the “narrow religious exemption” in New York State’s same-sex marriage bill. Lori, still seething from the successful passage of the marriage equality bill in Connecticut in 2008, was no doubt delighted to take up the cause.
Just weeks after Lori’s promotion, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle made national news for exhorting pastors in his diocese to use their parishes to collect signatures in support of a repeal of Washington state’s newly passed marriage equality law. Only 10 days after this headline, Sartain practically became a household name when he was tapped to head the “reform” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Given the backlash the LCWR crackdown created, it might be a dubious honor, but it is nevertheless a powerful and high-profile position.
Before their respective appointments, each of these men publicly declared himself a culture warrior ready to do battle with lesbian and gay couples who seek to formally honor their commitments and protect themselves legally.
There almost seems to be an element of retribution in these promotions. Lori’s anti-LGBT zeal was unleashed on a state in which the Catholic governor, Martin O’Malley, was instrumental in passing Maryland’s marriage equality. Sartain was charged with leading the hostile takeover of women religious who were in trouble for (among only a few other reasons) not pushing the church’s agenda against same-sex marriage.
It is possible to interpret the elevations of Lori and Sartain as payback by the Vatican. But the Cordileone appointment is downright combative. For years, Cordileone has quietly made his mark as the USCCB’s fiercest opponent of same-sex marriage. Last year, his labor earned him the role of chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. And now he has been tapped to be the chief shepherd of a city known for its prominent LGBT population and its historic role in the LGBT liberation movement.
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