Monsignor Fay Responds...

CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter

May 21, 2004


Dear Friend,

It looks like last week's e-letter on the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA)
has stirred up some controversy. You'll remember that I told you
about a recent meeting convened by Sen. Sam Brownback to discuss the
FMA where -- our sources tell us -- Monsignor William Fay, General
Secretary of the USCCB, seemed to imply that the USCCB was backing
away from the issue.

Well, a couple days ago, I received a letter from Monsignor Fay. He
took strong exception to the claim that he was in any way "hedging"
on the FMA at the meeting. Here's his letter printed in full -- I
think you'll find it interesting...


"Dear Mr. Hudson,

"I write regarding an e-mail that Crisis Magazine sent out on Friday
evening, May 14th, entitled, "Are the Bishops Folding On Gay
Marriage?"  In that e-mail, based on comments you have heard
concerning Senator Brownback's May 5th meeting on the Federal
Marriage Amendment (FMA), you suggest that the current move to pass a
federal amendment "might be encountering resistance" from the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  To make the point, you string
together, based on second-hand reports from "others present," a
number of things I am reported to have said; and so your e-mail
concludes that remarks I made at that meeting involved "hedging" or
offering "a tepid response to the FMA."

"Your characterization of my remarks is a complete distortion of
what I said.  In addition, a number of other remarks made by me were
not reported. Because the Catholic Bishops of the United States have
expressed publicly their full and unequivocal commitment to a Federal
Marriage Amendment, your reporting will no doubt create a baseless
suspicion about the Bishops' position.  I cannot take greater
exception to what you have written.

"For the record, I spoke twice at the meeting, both times during the
discussion period.  On one occasion, after having been recognized by
Senator Brownback, I said three things.

"1.  I thanked Senator Brownback and those senators present with him
for convening the group.  I stated that I thought what they were
doing was extremely important, because the courts had hijacked the
question of marriage.  I emphasized that the question of the nature
of marriage was one that had to be addressed and resolved by the
people, not the courts.  I stated that I fully supported Mr.
Brownback's effort to seek passage of a Federal Marriage Amendment.

"2.  I stated that the passage of a Federal Marriage Amendment was a
matter that was too important to become mired in politics and too big
to be reduced to a partisan issue.  In the end, passage of an
amendment will need the approval of two-thirds of the Congress and
two-thirds of the States, something that no political party can
realize solely with its own constituency.  I stated that people of
all political persuasions have to work together on this, because the
nature of marriage is a vital societal issue that affects all

"3.  I said that the effort before us should be kept focused on
marriage and that the simpler the amendment the better.  Efforts at
joining other things to this amendment, like the rights of other
groups, should be avoided and addressed in another forum.  This
movement towards protecting marriage should address the issue of
marriage as between a man and a woman, period.

"On another occasion, when asked directly whether the Bishops
support a marriage amendment, I answered unequivocally, "Yes, they
do; they are on record as having supported it."  I also made it clear
that the language of any such amendment had to state that marriage
was between a man and a woman, and I noted that the Bishops could
support nothing in the amendment that violated the doctrine of the
Catholic Church.  I also mentioned that the Bishops had been actively
engaged in the matter of protecting marriage on the state level since
1995 and that with other religious groups we had been successful in
having legislation that protected marriage passed in 37 states.  (For
your information, we began this effort in Hawaii in 1995 and had our
most recent success in Ohio earlier this year.  I coordinated the
Conference effort personally at the staff level as Associate General
Secretary from 1995 until 2001, when I became the General

"Following the meeting, I spoke at some length with Mr. Bill
Wichterman, the chief policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist, and told him that the Bishops were solidly behind the movement
for a federal amendment.  I further told him, on at least two
occasions, that the Bishops were prepared to marshal as much energy
towards the success of a federal amendment as was necessary,
including getting our Catholic faithful more active in advocating
such an amendment.

"That, Mr. Hudson, is what happened and what I said.  Archbishop
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap, who was present at the meeting, has
graciously reviewed the above summary of my public remarks and found
that it accords fully with his own recollection.  I would hope that
the Catholic sense of justice that we are all called to hold and to
live will move you to set the record straight by publishing this
letter in its entirety in your next e-mail.

"Sincerely yours in Christ,

"Rev. Msgr. William P. Fay, Ph.D.
General Secretary
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops"


I'm certainly pleased that Monsignor Fay wrote to offer his
perspective. I can't help but note, though, that the three meeting
attendees we spoke to last week each gave an account that matched
what I wrote in the e-letter.

Furthermore, when I phoned him last week to get his side of the
story, Monsignor Fay never called back. Instead, we received a call
from Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, Secretary for Communications at
the USCCB, who said that Fay had insisted that the bishops didn't
want the FMA to become a partisan issue. But as I wrote last week,
the amendment already has bipartisan support. In fact, the only group
that opposes it are liberal, partisan democrats.

So why raise the objection at all?

In the end, there are two ways to view Monsignor Fay's response. He
may very well have meant to convey the support of the bishops for the
FMA at the meeting, as he says in his letter. The fact that at least
three people in attendance didn't get that impression, however,
should signal to Fay and others at the bishops' conference that they
need to be very careful to make sure they drive this point home.
People are watching them closely on this matter, and it's crucial
that they not allow themselves to be misunderstood.

Of course, it's also possible that Fay was indeed communicating the
USCCB's weakening support on the issue, but that Catholics' strong
reaction to this waffling prompted the bishops to snap back in line.

Either way, faithful Catholics have a clear statement from the
bishops conference that they will continue to actively support the
Federal Marriage Amendment.

And that's good news indeed.

Have a great weekend,




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