Ritchie talk at Catholic church is put off amid furor

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2012 - 11:20 PM

Media attention to secretary of state's role in marriage amendment controversy was cited as factor.

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Mark Ritchie

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Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's speech at a Minneapolis Catholic church has been postponed in the wake of his efforts to change the wording of proposed constitutional amendments, according to church officials.

Ritchie had been scheduled to speak before mass at St. Joan of Arc Church on Aug. 12, but an official of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that the invitation had been rescinded. The archdiocese is a major backer of the constitutional amendment that would effectively ban gay marriage.

Leaders at St. Joan of Arc initially said Wednesday morning their invitation to hear Ritchie had not been rescinded. But later in the day, a church spokesman confirmed that Ritchie's talk, titled "A Spiritual Path for Democracy," would likely be rescheduled sometime after the Nov. 6 election.

St. Joan spokesman Dennis Heaney said Ritchie's talk had attracted "such media attention we figured out of courtesy to our community and Mr. Ritchie it's best to postpone at this time."

"It really has generated ... such a furor, we thought we just have to back off from this. It was really meant to be ... kind of a learning opportunity for our parishioners. We just have to back away from this now and let things kind of quiet down before we even think about rescheduling it," Heaney said.

Decision 'made by parish'

Archdiocesan spokesman Jim Accurso maintained Wednesday morning the invitation to Ritchie was in the process of being rescinded. He later issued a statement that the decision to postpone Ritchie's talk "was made by the parish [St. Joan's]" and referred additional questions to Heaney.

Minnesota's Catholic bishops are urging the state's nearly 1.1 million Catholics to vote for the marriage amendment. Already this year, the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund has contributed some $400,000 to Minnesota for Marriage, the main group pushing to pass the amendment.

Ritchie, a DFLer, rewrote titles for the marriage and photo ID amendments, citing a 1919 state law that gives him that authority. Supporters of the amendments sued, arguing the changes are politically motivated, misleading and could hinder chances for passage.

The Republican-controlled Legislature originally titled the marriage amendment question: "Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman." Ritchie's title is: "Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples."

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday. Heaney said Ritchie was not expected to address constitutional amendments in his talk at the church. He also said St. Joan's was not pressured by the archdiocese to postpone Ritchie's talk.

Ritchie OK with delay

Ritchie, a member of First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, issued a statement Wednesday thanking St. Joan's for the opportunity "to speak about my personal faith and how it has guided my public service. I certainly respect their decision to postpone my visit with their congregation and look forward to joining them at a later date."

Considered one of the more liberal Minneapolis Catholic parishes, St. Joan's has tangled with the archdiocese before over speakers and other issues.

The archdiocese told St. Joan's it could not hold a gay pride prayer service in its sanctuary in conjunction with the annual Twin Cities Gay Pride festival and ordered the parish to remove gay pride material from its website.

The archdiocese also directed the church to stop allowing those not ordained to speak at mass. Discussion topics have included scripture, missionary work and homosexuality.

Marsha Brintnall, a parishioner at St. Joan's, said she thinks Ritchie should be able to speak as planned, noting a number of government officials have addressed the church about health care, reducing poverty and other "social justice" issues.

"St. Joan of Arc is more open to diversity, uniqueness, the wide variety of human nature, than the larger church ... the establishment. That's why I'm there," she said. "There are often speakers there I disagree with and that's OK. You never know who's going to show up."

Parishioner Maurice Failer said he attended a meeting Wednesday morning at which St. Joan's pastor and church administrator discussed media reports that Ritchie's invitation to speak had been rescinded. At the time, St. Joan's church leaders said that was not the case, and Failer said the pastor had planned to speak with the archbishop about the matter this week.

The marriage amendment, Failer said, is "obviously a very contentious issue. It's a contentious issue among Catholics as well as other religions. So the archdiocese is doing what it thinks it should be doing. The solution will be in November."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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