PORTLAND – A social service agency’s support for same-sex marriage has cost it local and national funding from the Catholic Church’s anti-poverty program.
Preble Street’s Homeless Voices for Justice program has lost $17,400 this year and will lose $33,000 that it expected for its next fiscal year.
Officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Washington-based Catholic Campaign for Human Development say that Preble Street violated its grant agreement by supporting Maine’s "No on 1" campaign last fall.
No on 1 opposed a ballot proposal to overturn the new state law legalizing gay marriage. Voters approved Question 1 on Nov. 3.
Homeless Voices for Justice, a statewide advocacy group, is led by people who have been homeless. It works on issues that affect the homeless, such as supporting affordable housing and preventing violence against the homeless.
Portland-based Preble Street, which runs a dozen programs to provide housing and other services for the poor and the homeless, provides staff support for Homeless Voices for Justice.
Catholics for Marriage Equality has begun an effort to replace the lost funding by raising $17,400 for Homeless Voices for Justice. Anne Underwood, a co-founder of the group that advocates for same-sex marriage, said Bishop Richard Malone is punishing the homeless because of politics.
"This is petty vindictiveness," she said. "After the election is over, suddenly the money is revoked from poor people because of a political opinion held by the bishop."
Underwood said that many Catholics in Maine will now think twice before donating money to the church to help fight poverty. "People who are homeless should not be used in political games," she said.
Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese, said the diocese requires agencies that receive funding to conform to the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church. She said Preble Street agreed to that requirement when it applied for the money.
She provided the Portland Press Herald with a copy of Preble Street’s application, signed by Mark Swann, the agency’s executive director.
In the application, filled out on Jan. 7, 2009, Swann wrote "no" when asked if his organization promotes or advocates same-sex marriage.
During the campaign leading up to the referendum in November, Preble Street was listed as a coalition partner on the "No on 1/Protect Maine Equality" Web site.
In December, Catholic Charities Maine, which is led by Malone, sent a letter to Preble Street asking it to return $2,400 that the diocese had granted for the Homeless Voices for Justice program.
"We regret the collaboration must end at this time," wrote Sandra Thompson of Catholic Charities Maine, who coordinated the distribution of the church’s local anti-poverty funds. "Accountability to the Catholic community requires this."
The local money for the grants is raised every year through special collections in churches around the state. Bernard said the $2,400 will be given to a different group that helps the poor. The award has not yet been announced.
In his letter returning the money, Swann urged Malone to reconsider the decision. He said that Homeless Voices for Justice operates under an independent board, which did not take a position on Question 1.
Punishing the program by "demanding the return of much-needed funds because of Preble Street’s advocacy around issues of social justice is deeply troubling," Swann wrote.
He said Preble Street decided to join the coalition that opposed Question 1 because issues of sexual orientation are the single greatest cause of homelessness among youths.
He did not comment further on Tuesday, saying his letter could speak for itself.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the national group, awarded $30,000 to Homeless Voices for Justice. It had already given half of the grant when it said in January that it would not provide the rest and asked for a refund of any unspent money. All of the money had been spent.
The group runs the Catholic Church’s domestic anti-poverty program. It had been funding Homeless Voices for Justice for 13 years.
Randy Keesler, a grants specialist for the group, said he was surprised that Preble Street took a position on Question 1 without informing him or anyone else on his staff.
He said his staff learned about it when critics began to use Preble Street’s position on gay marriage as an example of how the Catholic Campaign for Human Development was taking political positions contradicting the church’s theological teachings.
"We liked Homeless Voices a great deal. I felt badly for having to cancel the grant," he said. "This was very difficult for us to do."
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org