Louisville Archbishop Kurtz takes lead role in Catholic fight against same-sex marriage
On one of the most contentious social debates of the era, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz is putting his name, his words, and the Archdiocese of Louisville’s money on the line. Kurtz has served as the national point man for Roman Catholic bishops in efforts to support couples in traditional marriages, while also opposing efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. He spoke for the bishops nationally in statements applauding voters in California last year and Maine last month for rejecting same-sex marriage.
In addition, Kurtz arranged for the Archdiocese of Louisville to contribute ,000 toward the Maine referendum that repealed legislative approval of same-sex marriage. Kurtz contributed another 0 personally.
Such actions reflect the Catholic Church’s “effort to be a good citizen, to attempt to help participate in the ongoing formation of culture,” Kurtz said in an interview.
While the church opposes “any unjust discrimination against persons who experience same-sex attraction,” its teaching that marriage can only be between one man and one woman is “a received truth” from God, he said.
But a member of a local outreach to gay Catholics disagreed.
“My question a would be, ‘When did you decide that you would stand in line with the Catholic Church stating that the Catholic Church knows more than God does about who should love each other?’” said Ernest Flores of Louisville, who participates in the group Compassion, which offers pastoral care to gay Catholics at the Cathedral of the Assumption.
As for the Maine contribution, Flores said, “I don’t think it was money well spent.”
Kurtz is currently leading two related efforts on marriage on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
One is a program designed to strengthen marriages and promote Catholic teaching on marriage through printed materials, videos and on-line resources Those efforts include a 60-page pastoral letter approved by bishops in November that expounds Catholic teaching on marriage.At the same time, Kurtz has been leading the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage. Kurtz regularly gives written and video statements urging opposition to same-sex marriage and supporting non-Catholic allies in such efforts The Rev. Thomas Smith, pastor of Holy Spirit Church and president of the Priests’ Council, a group that advises the archbishop, sees Kurtz’s national work “as a gift” to the local and national church.
“Anything that will support our married couples to continue in that vocation is greatly appreciated,” he said. “Even though we cannot support same-sex marriage, we certainly support ministry to those of the gay persuasion. They are children of God like everyone else. But there are certain lines that cannot be crossed.”
Sue Brodfehrer, director of the archdiocese’s Family Ministries office, said Kurtz “has a lot of passion around marriage issues” and has organized efforts to spread the teachings about the archdiocese’s new marriage pastoral letter and to mark such events as World Marriage Day on Feb. 14 with special Masses.
“It’s just not the teachings of the church but how can we take the teachings so (for) ordinary people it makes a difference in our lives and marriages,” she said.
Kurtz said he took on the ad hoc committee’s chairmanship last year at the request of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the bishops’ conference.
“There is a certain humility in trying to serve as a point person, because it’s not (only) my agenda,” Kurtz said. “I’m truly attempting to serve the body of bishops.”
“The twin responsibility of the ad hoc committee would be both to find ways in which we can promote legitimate rights of people but not do so on the back of the definition of marriage,” he said.
Toward that goal, the archdiocese contributed ,000 at the request of Portland, Maine, Bishop Richard Malone. Fifty Roman Catholic dioceses contributed to that effort, according to Maine election finance records.
The archdiocese said in a statement that the contribution was made for public-policy advocacy, not to any candidate or “partisan political activity.”The archdiocese’s contribution a” as a nominal part of its multi-million-dollar budget a” probably complied with federal tax laws, said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, a national organization specializing in free-expression laws.Internal Revenue Service laws allow churches and other non-profit groups to “lobby to influence legislation as long such efforts do not constitute a ‘substantial amount’ of their total activities,” Haynes said in an e-mail.
An April 2009 national survey found Catholics opposed same-sex marriage by a 45-39 percent margin but supported same-sex unions by more than 2-1, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Kentucky voters banned both arrangements in a 2004 constitutional amendment.
Kurtz, 63 a” who has served more than two years as archbishop of Louisville since arriving from an eight-year tenure as bishop of Knoxville, Tenn. a” is treasurer and executive committee member of the bishops’ conference and also serves on the national boards of Catholic relief and home-mission agencies.
But Kurtz declined to entertain any speculation about whether he’s in line for a larger archdiocese or a higher office in the bishops’ conference.
“I really do believe that God’s calling me to be the archbishop here,” he said. “a There’s enough for today.”
In recent weeks, Kurtz has been connected to two prominent documents that, among other things, decry same-sex marriage.
He signed a “Manhattan Declaration” with nearly 200 other Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders, including presidents Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and Timothy Tennent of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.
It declared opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion and vowed to defy any government attempt to force religious institutions to act against such beliefs, such as providing adoption services or employee benefits to same-sex couples.
And Kurtz oversaw the creation and approval of a 60-page pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” summarizing Catholic bishops’ views on marriage. It applauds those living in faithful marriages and laments such trends as same-sex marriage, co-habitation outside of marriage, divorce and the use of artificial birth control.