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Bishops assail SJC same-sex marriage ruling

In mostly low-key ways yesterday, Roman Catholic churches across Massachusetts disseminated a strongly-worded letter from the state's four bishops, calling on parishioners to mobilize against the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision allowing same-sex marriage.


The letter -- written by Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley and the bishops of the dioceses of Worcester, Fall River, and Springfield -- called the same-sex marriage ruling a "national tragedy" and declared the 180-day time frame for its implementation "a sure formula for chaos."

According to The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, the statement "was to be read at all Masses celebrated in the four dioceses" over the weekend, but it appeared yesterday that many parishes were taking pains not to overemphasize the missive, which advocates of same-sex marriage have condemned.

In some churches, the letter from O'Malley and the bishops was simply read from the pulpit without further comment, while in a few, copies were simply left at the back of the church for parishioners to pick up if they chose.

During yesterday's 11 a.m. service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Monsignor William H. Roche read the bishops' six-paragraph letter as one of three announcements. The two others were about recent rule changes -- when parishioners should kneel and bow during Mass and about a sale of olivewood carvings to benefit Christians in the Holy Land. Roche then gave a four-minute homily about the meaning of Advent, the religious season that leads to Christmas.

At Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton, the Rev. Walter Cuenin did not read the statement during Mass yesterday, but copies of the archdiocesan newspaper including the statement were handed out as parishioners left Mass.

"This is a family Mass, so it's difficult," Cuenin said in an interview after the service.

He said the parish probably will hold an evening adult service in the coming weeks to discuss the issue. In the meantime, copies of the statement will be printed and made available at doors of all parishes.

Cuenin said the court's decision allowing same-sex unions and the diocese's call for action against the decision present parishes with a difficult challenge.

"We have a gay and lesbian support group," Cuenin said, his violet robes fluttering in an icy wind as he greeted parishioners leaving Mass. "We want to support the church and at the same time make everyone feel welcome."

One priest at another archdiocesan parish where the letter was left out rather than read yesterday called the timing of the letter "hard to fathom" given the church's attempts to rebuild trust with Catholics following the clergy sexual-abuse scandal.

"The task now is to rebuild trust and confidence," said the priest, who asked not to be identified. "This timing is poor because it divides the community. We need to be brought together; we don't need to be divided more."

Reaction of parishioners also varied yesterday.

James Claiborne, a South End resident who attended Mass at the cathedral, said he would "definitely" call his representatives on Beacon Hill and press them to find a way to delay instituting the same-sex marriage ruling, as O'Malley and the bishops urged in the letter.

Claiborne said the ruling "is an abomination against God." Mary Sagers, a 35-year-old Waltham resident who attended Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians, said she believes the church should support gays and lesbians who want to tie the knot.

"I'm all for it," she said. Sagers smiled, and added in hushed tones that the Newton parish is "a little more progressive" than other Boston-area parishes.

Some parishioners leaving the service yesterday said they had not heard about the archdiocese's call for action, while others said it was something they just were not prepared to talk about yet.

"It's just a bewildering issue," said one woman who declined to give her name and left.

Ross Ozer and his partner, Scott Gortikov Ross Ozer (left) and his partner, Scott Gortikov, took their 18-month-old son, Sam Ozer-Gortikov, to a celebration of the court ruling at the Old South Meeting House. Gortikov proposed marriage to Ozer after hearing of the decision. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
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Gay population
The 2000 Census estimated there were about 19,000 gay couples in Mass., and about 659,000 nationwide, or less than 1 percent of households. Provincetown is the community in Mass. with the highest rate of gay partners, about 15 percent of households.
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