PORTLAND, Maine, March 9, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Following the release of a pastoral letter some interpreted as backing away from Maine’s upcoming marriage fight, the office of Bishop Richard Malone of Portland has said that they plan to “promote the cause of defending marriage” regarding a ballot initiative this Fall. However, unlike in a similar 2009 battle, the diocese said it won’t take an active role in or contribute funds to the political effort to stop the redefinition of marriage.

Homosexual activists last month gathered enough signatures to place a redefinition of marriage on the 2012 general election ballot. The question will first be put to the Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor, who are expected to reject it, bringing the question before Maine voters.

Maine Today reports that gay rights advocates spent $5.8 million on the fight for marriage redefinition in 2009.

Malone elicited conflicting headlines in the media over the weekend when he issued a letter that emphasized the Catholic Church’s stance on marriage while announcing that the diocese would take a different approach to the push to redefine marriage than it did in 2009.

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“I feel compelled to teach and speak about marriage in the fullness of truth and in all charity,” wrote Malone, who called the ballot initiative “another attempt underway in Maine to redefine marriage” away from its true nature. The letter emphasized his “primary responsibility is that of teacher” as bishop, and the Church’s public function as a “prophet of the law,” noting, “The Church’s effort to promote and protect marriage in the public square is not a matter of forcing faith on anyone.” 

But media took notice this weekend when Bishop Malone said in a press conference that the diocese wouldn’t take special collections or otherwise join the political campaign to defend marriage, unlike in 2009, when the diocese played a significant role in a successful bid to reverse a new same-sex “marriage” law by voter referendum. Many called the new tack a softening of the diocese’s stance against marriage, a charge Malone’s office denies.

When asked about the change by CNN, Malone said that the diocese would still be “very involved” in the marriage fight but that the focus would be on education.

Suzanne Lafreniere, executive assistant for the diocese’s marriage office, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that the diocese simply decided that active involvement “wouldn’t be the most effective use of the Catholic Church’s influence” in 2012. Asked why, she responded, “there’s no crystal ball, but in 2012 I don’t think it will be the exact same discourse.”

Brian Souchet, director of the Diocese of Portland’s Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, told LSN that the letter was not a response to the referendum, and would have been issued even without the political battle. “I think the Church always needs to speak out strongly for the truth [in terms of] entering dialogue,” he said, emphasizing that “nothing’s changed” in terms of Maine voters’ feelings on the marriage issue.

Souchet said the diocese’s 2009 involvement, which included soliciting donations from other dioceses and taking up a second collection for the cause, was “absolutely not” a mistake but that it would not take place again, citing the diocese’s recent financial struggles. Asked why collections wouldn’t be taken, he said, “I don’t think [Bishop Malone] believes we need to be doing that.”

Other sources pointed to the extreme political blowback from the Diocese of Portland’s 2009 involvement as possibly contributing to the new direction this year.

When an effort to overturn the state’s redefintion of marriage was placed on the ballot three years ago, gay rights activists portrayed its opposition as merely an arm of the Portland diocese, pointing to the extent of its financial contributions as well as the role of Marc Mutty, the diocese’s Director of Public Affairs who served as chair of the Yes on 1 campaign.

Mutty was later to turn on his own campaign, telling makers of a documentary last year that he “hate[d]” the work and regretted his role aiding the marriage initiative. “I’m not particularly fond of being remembered as the star bigot in Maine — the one who led the charge to deny gays and lesbians their fundamental rights — which is how it’ll be painted, I fear,” said Mutty, who remains with the diocese.

The diocese nonetheless maintains a strong relationship with marriage defenders in the state, and promised to work with the new ballot committee to offer assistance where needed.

Carroll Conley Jr., executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, told LSN that his group maintains a “close personal friendship” with Bishop Malone. The Christian Civic League is behind the nascent ballot committee to defend the defintion of marriage in November.

“We would prefer they’d be involved in a formal relationship ... but we know how strongly [Bishop Malone] feels about this issue, and we know that he’ll engage Catholics effectively,” Conley said.