(CNA) A Massachusetts Catholic parish has received threats of arson and other harassing messages after posting a sign with the Church's position on same-sex “marriage.”
“It went viral,” said Steven Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services at Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, recalling an “explosion” of responses to the message displayed on the sign in front of the church earlier this week. It read: “Two men are friends, not spouses.”
Guillotte posted the message on the morning of May 15, and responded within hours to an e-mail “saying that it was hateful.” Later that day, Guillotte's e-mail response ended up being posted to Facebook.
“Next thing you know, the nasty telephone calls started to come, and they were coming every few minutes,” said the pastoral director in a May 17 interview with CNA.
After local media took an interest, there were “some horrible e-mails overnight,” and a phone call from a woman “saying the church should be burned down.”
“We had a group of three young men and a woman who were upset. They were actually planning on going into the church,” he recounted. Guillotte steered them away, while trying to field an inquiry from a reporter.
“She witnessed one of the guys scream across the parking lot that he was going to burn the church down. We hear that, here and there.”
Guillotte said the sign was intended to clarify Catholic beliefs after President Obama's recent support for redefining marriage. After the president's announcement, he recalled, “there were a lot of Catholics out there misrepresenting, or even maligning, the Church's position on gay marriage.”
“So I came in on this past Tuesday morning and just decided to put up a sign expressing the Church's teaching in a very concise way … saying that the proper relationship between two men – or for that matter, two women – is friendship, and not marriage.”
Opponents of the message starting posting their own signs on or near the parish property. One of them contained an invitation to “spread LOVE, not hate,” while another used a sexual insult to describe the Virgin Mary. Others read “Jesus Freaks, come to your senses,” and “Pray for death.”
Many of the phone calls “were just f-words and people hanging up,” along with others “saying they were disgusted with the sign” and asking “how could we do it, because it was so 'hateful.'”
But Guillotte said the expressions of “hate” or “intolerance” seemed to be coming from the Church's critics in this case.
“If the Methodist church down the street put a sign up that said they were in favor of gay marriage,” he observed, “you wouldn't see me down their with a hammer and nails on their property.”
Another phone call came from a concerned Catholic, who worried that the sign would drive people away from the Church. Guillotte disagrees.
“We have a pastor who's taken a firm, orthodox stand on Church teaching, and our staff is the same way,” he said. “Unlike some parishes in the area, our census has actually gone up this last year.”
Although the Church sign has since been changed, Guillotte continues to stand by Tuesday's message as one that should be brought into the public square. He said Catholics should show patience and love in the debate over marriage, but also be “firm in our presentation of what the truth is.”
Otherwise, he warned, “next thing you know, you're agreeing with the other side, which is exactly what they're really striving for.”
He believes advocates for sexual radicalism “don't really want tolerance, in my opinion; they want us to agree with them.”
“When we do that,” he said, “we give up our Catholic faith, and I think we turn our back on Christ.”