LEWISTON — Pastors at St. Philips Church in Auburn and Holy Family Church in Lewiston focused their sermons on marriage in coordination with a request by Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to take a special collection in support of repealing Maine's new law allowing same-sex marriage.
Many parishioners at St. Philips and Holy Family chose not to participate, while others placed small donations of mostly between $1 and $5 into the second collection baskets. Both the Rev. Richard McLaughlin of St. Philips and the Rev. Joseph Daniels of Holy Family gave clear instructions to donors that their money would be given directly to the Stand for Marriage Maine political action committee, which is seeking to repeal the law, and that it would not be tax deductible.
But the pastors' sermons, while both addressing the issue of marriage, were decidedly different in tone and church-goers had varying reactions.
"Both sides in this debate feel deep in their heart that words matter," said McLaughlin during a 9:15 a.m. mass.
McLaughlin said all he is asking parishioners to do is "take a second look" and to "think a bit about what's happening here."
"It is clear that human beings bring offspring into the world through the intimate action of a man and a woman; this is so fundamental to societies that even the most primitive that have been studied take a special interest in this relationship," he said.
McLaughlin asked members to "make thoughtful decisions based on Christian values and what is best for humanity."
"My closest friend is in a committed relationship, they are a very loving couple; they are very dear people and they are close to my heart and I would want what is best for them," he said. "No wonder people are infuriated by anyone who refuses to give respect and honor and dignity to their loved ones. Words matter."
One parishioner, a Lewiston woman who declined to give her name, said the pastor "walked a very fine line" and did a "decent job of not offending anyone."
Another, a man who also declined to give his name, said he "gave a little money" to the second collection and plans to vote in favor of the repeal.
Gerald and Mariette Timberlake of Auburn, who have been attending St. Philips for more than 25 years, said they prefer this church because it is open-minded and friendly.
"I appreciated that he didn't dictate a specific position," Gerald said.
In Lewiston, during the 11 a.m. service at Holy Family Church, the Rev. Joseph Daniels spoke of the importance of natural law in society.
"Natural law, forming the basis of both our civil law and our church law, guides all law toward fundamental orientation and purpose to respect the common good of all people," he said. "Put quite simply, the common good of all society is vitally dependent on marriage as we know it and as it has always been known from the beginning."
Daniels told church-goers that some European nations have seen a "precipitous decline" in the population of young people and are struggling to preserve national retirement benefits for health care programs as a result.
"Now look around you, Maine is an aging state. Could we be headed in the same direction?" he asked. "Could various health care programs, necessary government and public services, the reward for a decent and deserved retirement, be jeopardized in part because the laws of society do not properly recognize the importance of marriage?"
Daniels closed his sermon by asking for parishioners to pray the debate remain dignified and truth-filled and that they "assist us in taking on the positions of leadership" and "vote yes when the question is presented in November."
One woman leaving Holy Family after the service said it was "wonderful, I'm Catholic all the way."
Joe of Lewiston, who declined to give his last name, said he didn't feel that Daniels was telling him what to do.
"I've got friends and family who are gay, but I don't support that lifestyle and I still believe marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman," he said.
A group called Catholics for Marriage Equality announced Friday afternoon they were asking Catholics who support the same-sex marriage law to place notes of opposition to the repeal effort in the second collection basket, but none were spotted at either church by a Sun Journal reporter. A petition expressing support of the law was seen circulating at St. Philips, but not at Holy Family.
The law grants civil marriage rights to same-sex couples and states no religious institutions will be compelled to perform or recognize any marriages they don't want to. Mainers will have an opportunity to vote to repeal or uphold the law on Nov. 3.