With more than 1 million members, Catholics comprise the single largest religious denomination in Minnesota.
Their numbers, and their financial contributions, make them a powerful force in the debate over a constitutional amendment that would only allow marriage between men and women. If approved by voters this fall, the amendment would effectively write a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.
Minnesota law already prohibits gay marriage. But Catholic bishops have made passage of the amendment a top political priority this year, so much so that the Catholic Church is putting a lot of money and prayers into the effort to pass the marriage amendment.
“I make no apologies for the defense of marriage because it’s an important social institution,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the political arm of the Catholic Church.
Adkins leads the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund, a registered ballot lobbying group that reported $750,000 in contributions to the Campaign Finance Board at the end of January. That’s more than half of what the pro-amendment side raised. He said more contributions are coming.
“It takes money to speak in a democracy, and it takes a lot of it these days,” Adkins said. “It’s going to be an important debate, and the Catholic Church is very committed to getting that message out.”
The Duluth diocese has contributed $50,000 from the estate of a deceased priest. The New Ulm diocese has given $50,000 from the sale of real estate. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis donated $650,000 — the single largest contribution so far.
Archdiocese officials declined to comment, but said in a statement the money came from investment income and not “from parish assessments, the Catholic Service Appeal, or donations to parishes or to the Archdiocese.” It also noted that contributions to Catholic Charities and Parochial Schools remained constant or increased.
Still, some Catholics aren’t happy with the big spending on the marriage issue.
“None of us knew that there was that large amount of money available to be used for any purpose,” said Bob Beutel, a
St. Paul attorney who describes himself as a “cradle Catholic.“
The Archdiocese of
St. Paul and Minneapolis is putting more into the amendment battle than money.
As hundreds of Catholics gathered on a recent Sunday on the steps of the state Capitol for the annual May Day Family Rosary Procession, it was clear that this year the focus was on defending traditional marriage.
“How do we define marriage? One man and one woman!” the crowd chanted. “Amen! All right!”
Joan Davis drove down from Cambridge, Minn., with her daughter Maria Krienke, of Andover, and her three children. Davis said she prays the rosary daily to pass the marriage amendment.
“If we don’t protect that, marriage between one man and one woman, then we’re going to go down,” she said. “We need to stand up and protect this because this is the family.”
Her daughter said it is important “for families to have one man as the father and the woman as a mother. That’s the way God intended it.”
A block from the Cathedral, three men stood silently holding signs opposing the church’s stand on the amendment. One read, “I am embarrassed by my church.”
It’s unclear how widespread support for the amendment is among Minnesota’s more than
1 million Catholics. Adkins, of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said the group’s internal polling of Minnesotans shows the amendment with a strong lead.
“We get an enthusiastic response,” he said.
Adkins said Catholics are free to take their own position.
Beutel, of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, is among those who has. From looking at the financial disclosures of Minnesotans United for All Families, the largest group opposing the amendment, Buetel thinks other Catholics have as well.
“I recognize those names,” he said. “Those are people I go to church with. People that I know are Catholics. People that I know are heterosexuals — a very broad base of contributors.”