BOSTON (AP) – Leaders of the Catholic church in Massachusetts are catching flak because they have asked pastors to remind parishioners this weekend that the church opposes same-sex marriages.

Gay and lesbian activists, who support same-sex marriage, question whether the church, which is grappling with a sexual abuse scandal, should be advising its flock on such matters.

“I think it’s really appalling,” said Gary Daffin, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, who is also Catholic. “The leadership of the church right now has no moral authority to be beating up on gay people, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

The four bishops of Massachusetts are calling for action on same-sex marriage at a moment when the issue is pending in both the state’s highest court and the Legislature.

The Supreme Judicial Court is considering whether the state Constitution allows same-sex marriage, while the Legislature is expected to consider this year a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.

David Breen, a Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus board member and a Catholic, said, “For four decades the church was promoting and protecting priests who abused children. The bishops have as much credibility to speak out on marriage as Jack Kevorkian has to speak out on elder care. It makes no sense.”

Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, an organization of gay and lesbian Catholics, said, “For church leaders to be taking a stand on that in the name of an entire church is an absolute perversion of everything our church should be about.”

Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of the Springfield diocese, told The Republican of Springfield that the statement in support of marriage between a man and a woman wasn’t anti-gay. He said the statement also contained a passage that urges respect for all people.

“This is not directed at gays. We must respect all people and everyone’s civil rights and that includes homosexual people. We must treat them with respect and love,” said Dupre.

Dupre said bishops were not trying “to shove anything down people’s throats.”

Activists said some people may walk out of services Sunday if priests speak out against same-sex marriage. Another activist group has called for parishioners to boycott church collections and put a note in the plate instead, expressing their support for same-sex marriage. A gay youth group is also planning a demonstration at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, The Boston Globe reported.

AP-ES-05-31-03 1630EDT

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