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Phoenix diocese donates to anti-gay marriage effort, draws criticism

PHOENIX — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix donated $1,000 to a group leading efforts to pass a ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

The contribution to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund drew criticism from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a national group devoted to achieving equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

The HRC recorded about $30,000 from dioceses beyond Minnesota to the effort, along with $150,000 from dioceses within that state.

“Our report highlights a huge gulf between people in the pew and the leadership,” said Dan Rafter, the group’s online campaigns manager. “The Catholic church teaches dignity, compassion and love, so there’s a huge disconnect with mainstream churchgoers.”

Donations by churches don’t jeopardize their nonprofit status in this case because it’s a ballot measure, not political activity, Rafter said.

The Phoenix donation came from the bishop’s discretionary funds, according to Robert DeFrancesco, director of communications for the diocese. He said no other donations have been made to the three other states considering same-sex marriage measures next month.

Ron Johnson, executive director for the Arizona Catholic Conference, said the donation makes a statement supporting the church’s position on marriage being between a man and a woman.

“Nationally, the U.S. Catholic bishops have made marriage a top priority in recent years, given all the attacks on the traditional definition we’ve had for 2,000 years,” Johnson said. “Consistent with the worldwide priority on marriage, the diocese is helping out its sister dioceses in Minnesota because we know how important that is and have dealt with it in our state as well.”

Arizona voters approved a similar amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman in 2008.

After visiting St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix, Sally Rodriquez, a Catholic from Yuma, said she had no problem with reason for the donation.

“My position on the issue of gay marriage is that it’s wrong in the eyes of God; it’s wrong in the Catholic church’s teaching,” she said.

However, Rodriquez questioned sending money out of state to help a political campaign when there are needy people in this community.

“The Catholic church donating money to a political cause seems odd,” she said. “The money should be used to do the work of God.”

Supporting causes is a growing trend in conservative circles, said Karen Seat, director of the University of Arizona’s Religious Studies Program.

“I think more and more religious organizations are becoming politicized on issues like family, sexuality and so on,” Seat said. “Catholics have been very vocal this year about birth control, for instance.”

The HRC’s Rafter cited a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., that found 59 percent of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

“That’s why the hierarchy’s positions are so jarring,” Rafter said.

But Johnson, with the Arizona Catholic Conference, said polling during the 2008 Arizona campaign showed 80 percent of Catholics voted for traditional marriage.

“Marriage is a personal relationship with enormous public significance. That’s why the government and society, for the common good, should be concerned with preserving the traditional definition of marriage,” he said. “It’s what’s best for children, having a mom and a dad, ideally.”

James Richards, a Chandler resident attending Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica, said he approves of the diocese’s donation and supports traditional marriage but agrees that many people sitting in the pews support gay marriage.

“For my generation, as long as people are happy and there’s a healthy family environment, I think same-sex marriages can work,” he said.