by Kyla Cullinane
The Los Angeles Times reported that Father Geoffrey Farrow, the priest at a parish that primarily serves Cal State Fresno, was suspended from his job. But the Times story neglects to ask some important questions about the dismissal of Farrow, who also told reporters that he is gay and who used his pulpit to speak out again Proposition 8, a measure that would outlaw gay marriage in California if it passes in November.
According to the article in the Times, it was Farrow's opposition to Prop 8, which would amend the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, that cost the priest his job. And he's not the only Roman Catholic cleric in California who wants gays to be able to marry. Father Steve Niskanen, who leads a church with an activist bent, according to a 2004 LA Times article, offered the same criticism of Prop 8 on the same day as Father Farrow. Niskanen, however, did not receive the same degree of attention from the media.
Maybe that's because the Farrow story was about more than just Prop 8. Just before his Mass, Farrow gave a TV interview during which he admitted he was gay. Is that why he was suspended? Or because he used the pulpit to express his pro-gay views and his opposition to Prop 8? And is he celibate or sexually active? None of this is clear in the LA Times article.
Instead the reporters let Farrow frame the issue in his own words: “”How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives? I am morally compelled to vote no on Proposition 8.” The reporters never offer details about Prop 8. Instead, they leave unchallenged Farrow's claims that both Prop 8 and the Church are antigay, which is what numerous gay media outlets, including As Good As You and the Advocate, would also have us believe.
The LA Times reporters speculate as to why Farrow was suspended, although they are unclear what his official status is now. They quote Farrow's letter from his boss, Bishop Steinbock, which says, “Your statement contradicted the teaching of the Catholic Church and has brought scandal to your parish community as well as the whole Church.” Steinbock also admonished Farrow, who has used his blog to challenge the Church's teaching on homosexuality, against “using the Internet as a means of continuing [his] conflict with the Church's teaching.”
But we're left to wonder: Which teaching of the Catholic Church did Father Farrow contradict? What, exactly, is the source of the conflict? And what is the position of the Church on gay priests anyway? The reporters need to be clear.
When it comes to the basic issue of the Church's position on Prop 8, we can turn to the California Catholic Conference website, which gives the official public policy statement of the state's Catholic Bishops, who unanimously support Proposition 8. The LA Times article also neglected to mention that point.
And to what degree are Catholic parishes across the state engaged in this debate? That could be an interesting story in itself. The reporters do mention that Farrow's parish is divided on the issue. But what's the nature of the division, and how many parishioners are opposed to the official position of the Church?
One parishioner says, “We are going through changes right now in society and the Church needs to recognize that.” What changes? How should the Church respond to those changes? We desperately need some follow up here.
The reporters for the Times might take a look at a recent survey from the non-profit group Faith in Public Life which shows that about half of all young Catholics support same sex marriage. Maybe that shift is what we're seeing play out in Farrow's parish. We'll never know until some sharper reporting is done.
Kyla Cullinane is an Annenberg Fellow in the Master of Specialized Journalism program at USC. Previously, she worked as a prime-time television news anchor in Texas.