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On Our Radar – Archbishop J. Peter Sartain And The Growing Catholic Mutiny

by Jean Ann Esselink on April 22, 2012

in Bigotry Watch,Jean Ann Esselink,Marriage,News,Politics,Religion

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The nuns are off the reservation. The Pope is steamed. And the Vatican has tapped Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, to make sure the Sisters (to borrow a term from Pope Benedict XVI’s Holy Thursday sermon) “embrace the radicalism of obedience.” This is a career opportunity for Sartain, but whether he gets to wear a pointy red hat and live in the Vatican may depend on whether Washington State overturns its new marriage equality law. Today, Archbishop Sartain, the Christian soldier charged with holding back the growing Catholic mutiny, is On Our Radar.

As The New Civil Rights Movement reported last week, the American nuns are in the papal doghouse. They have been sympathetic to LGBTQ youth questioning their sexuality. They are teaching the children of same-sex parents without criticism. They talk of married priests. Of women priests. Of gay priests! And as a last straw they undercut the “religious freedom” strategy of the bishops, by agreeing to the President’s compromise of having insurance companies pick up the contraception tab for employees of Catholic institutions. The Vatican issued an eight-page rant accusing the nuns of “serious doctrinal problems,” and charged American nuns with promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Even at the risk of sounding overtly “Talibany,” the Vatican has made it known these wild and crazy women have to be brought under control!

For the job of estrogen management, Pope Benedict appointed three bishops. It would have been redundant to write “male bishops” because there are no female Catholic bishops, but I want to make sure I clearly convey the gender makeup of the three all-powerful papal designates who, for the next five years, will be rewriting statutes, approving any speakers, reviewing all plans and programs, and checking up to make sure 50,000 female nuns are following the proper Catholic prayers and rituals. Talk about your war on women!

As fascinating as that match up is bound to be, what interests us today is the man appointed by the Pope to be head Inquisitioner, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. The reason Sartain came to the attention of the Vatican and was awarded this plum, nun-taming assignment, appears to be his high-profile resistance to marriage equality, although I am sure he would object to me using that term. When Sartain testified at a Senate committee hearing during the debate over the Washington State Marriage Equality bill, he insisted same-sex couples were inherently different from opposite sex couples, and therefore did not need to be treated equally.

Washington State passed their marriage equality bill in spite of the Archbishop’s testimony, and Governor Christine Gregoire signed it into law February 13. Without a challenge, it will become effective June 7. But almost as soon as the law was passed, the Preserve Marriage Washington referendum effort appeared, determined to send marriage equality to a state-wide vote in November. The opposition now has until June 6 to collect more than 120,000 verified signatures to get “Referendum 74” on the November ballot, and Archbishop Sartain is enthusiastically doing his part.

The Archbishop sent a letter (below) to all the parishes in his Archdiocese laying out the reasons they should join in collecting signatures for the recall. Make no mistake; it was an offer no church was expected to refuse. But there was unexpected resistance. At least six Catholic parishes have opted not to participate in collecting signatures. At Our Lady of the Lake, one of the Sunday Mass congregations met the news with a standing ovation. Yes, it’s a drop in the bucket, as there are over 100 parishes under Sartain’s thumb, but still a significant snub, especially when the eyes of the Vatican are on you. It will be interesting to see if the Archbishop retaliates against the dissenting churches through the Catholic Appeal, which divvies up donations among the parishes, or through some unexpected clergy transfers to some very cold places.

This is Sartain’s career making moment. The Vatican is looking for a bulldog with some bite, and success might very well mean a Cardinal Sartain sitting in a locked room voting on the next Pope. But he has to tame the nuns. He has to beat back the gays. And even while I root for him to fail, for the nuns to Foxtrot to their own internal melody, for Referendum 74 to fizzle; even as Archbishop Sartain fights a cultural sea change like the little Dutch boy, with both fists plunged deeply in the crumbling dyke praying he can hold back the ocean of modernity, I feel compelled to offer him some advice. As my civil engineer dad often noted, “Water always wins.”

June 6 is the deadline for signatures. We will know then whether marriage equality in the state of Washington will be put on hold pending the result of a statewide vote. I suspect the battle with the nuns will take longer for a clear winner to appear, but after eleven years of Catholic school with the Dominicans, (shudder) I wouldn’t bet against the girls.

However long it may take, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, and his struggle to contain a growing Catholic mutiny, will be On Our Radar.


Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle. Follow me on Twitter at @uncucumbered.

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CastleRockBear April 22, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Talk about a misrepresentation of the word! This man is going to single-handedly bastardize the preaching of the Gospel. I think Hell has a special place for people like him, hope he's ready!

Rsyk April 23, 2012 at 9:55 am

Is it possible for one of these segments to be printed without the article being loaded with hate? I mean really, comparing the Catholic church to the Taliban?

I understand that NCRM is an opinion-based news site, but some of the writers here have quite obviously let personal history and feelings color their reporting. Or rather, completely paint it over.

DarthEVaderCheney December 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm

It is indeed refreshing for the outside world to have a perfect title for the Roman Catholic hierarchy once and for all: The Roman Catholic Taliban!!! I am so disgusted I didn't think of that myself first or hear it until now. It's been a long time coming. Not hateful at all… it's merely FACT!… something most conservative Catholics have a very hard time accepting! All the best successes to the Catholic mutineers!!!

uncucumbered April 23, 2012 at 11:15 am

Three men given the job of running the lives of 50,000 women? How could the Taliban NOT leap to anyone's mind? But I didn't compare the Church to the Taliban, I said their eight page order to subdue the nuns risked sounding like the something theTaliban would say. Read it and see if it doesn't have the same theme – Submit.
On Our Radar is an opinion piece, not a news item, so by definition my feelings and personal history will color my column view. It's my raison d'etre.

Rsyk April 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Perhaps it did not leap to my mind because of the extreme lack of physical violence being directed at these women. I've yet to see the Catholic Church endorsing the public beating these women, or executing them for disobedience. While I agree with very little of the Catholic Church does, dissent is not a death sentence for it's members. There is a similarity in the two in that they are both patriarchal theocracies, but that's true of most religious organizations. The word "Talibany" could have easily been replaced by any number of non-violent religious groups who are just as strict, if not more so, than the Catholic church. It wouldn't have been as shocking a statement, but it would probably offend less people.
Comparisons made, even when they are not direct, are easily read into. By equating the tone of the actions taken by the Catholic Church to that of the Taliban, the message received by all parties is, "The Catholic Church is like the Taliban." That certainly seems to be the predominate view of the people I've shown this article to, whether they agree with you or not. Invoking an extreme organization such as the Taliban will create a reaction. Whether that was your intent or not, I don't know. So I apologize if I read into the statement, but it is something that is not uncommon. Even now, NCRM's homepage is running a story on how Huntsman said the GOP i"s like the communist party in China." What he actually said was that an action the party took, dis-inviting him from a fundraiser for his comments, is similar to what political parties in China do when members express dissenting opinions. (“This is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script.”) He never mentioned which party, (There are others in China.) and he was only talking about a single action, not the party itself. And yet, there's the headline.

If On Our Radar is not a news article, why is it frequently sorted under "News" and not "Opinion?"

NickParadis May 19, 2012 at 6:59 am

Jean, you have clearly misunderstood why Archbishop Sartain was chosen for this role. It was not for his opposition to same-sex marriage. This is a position shared by all Catholic bishops. He was chosen for this role because of his warm, friendly and pastoral style. I have met him several times and we are very blessed to him as our Archbishop here in Seattle. He is a great man and I am sure he will treat the leaders of LCWR with respect and dignity as Jesus would.

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