Well, the Massachusetts bishops – or at least their clerks – seem to understand their obedience vows. All three have issued their letters to priests in their sees. All three have nearly identical content with only minor formatting differences.
Perhaps that's a miracle or coincidence.
Archbishop Sean O'Malley, on the other hand, was positively creative in contrast. He gets to start with a hope that July and August brought rest and renewal.
Note: Clicking on a letter link at the above link brings up a PDF page.
It should not be surprising that they were in lockstep. This is a powerful exercise of political clout. The letters are apparently written with lawyers. They advise that priests can allow signature gathering on October 2nd, in an effort to rescind same-sex marriage here.
Interestingly and questionably, however, they advise priests that they can also designate a parishioner to lead the signature gathering. That seems to push up against the legal limits.
They also cite Catholic Citizenship and VoteOnMarriage.org. Then they say that the Church's lobbying arm will forward the parish contacts to Catholic Citizenship, which will train and coordinate this nominal grassroots effort.
It is fascinating that the letters seem to take the position of skirting the law and seeing how much you can get away with as a church. Letter-writing and petition tables are certainly not unique to Roman Catholic churches. This time though, they know they are on the edge.
With Massachusetts' large Catholic population and nubmer of churches, it should make quite an impact to use clerical and peer pressure at Sunday Mass. How well that plays with straight as well as gay parishioners remains to be seen.
Badgering your parishioners may be riskier than teasing the state that give you tax exemption. For example in a similar political vein, endorsing candidats, most church goers oppose the practice and policy. In a major 2002 study, the Pew Reserach Center and Few Forum on Religion and Public Life found agreement across a spectrum of Christians in its Americans Struggle with Religion's Role at Home and Abroad survey. For white Catholics specifically, it found that 21% felt a church should endorse a candidate and 73% felt it should not.
In Newsweekly found one gay advocate immediately with a negative response. Sean Cahill, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task force's Policy institute found a flier calling for signatures in his Beverly church's bulletin. "I am very sad," he said. "It fees like a particular violation. I always felt safe and loved there."