By Kathleen Gilbert

SACRAMENTO, California, July 27, 2010 ( – In light of a poll showing more California Catholics supporting same-sex “marriage” than opposing it, one California bishop has faulted a political climate that suppresses support for true marriage in the state, and a lack of fervor among nominal Catholics.

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento also said that there is a need for the Catholic Church to correct the pervasive “confusion about sexuality in general” in order to rekindle an appreciation of true marriage as a positive message for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

A Public Religion Research Institute Poll conducted in June found that, among 3,000 Californians, 37% of white Catholics and 44% of Latino Catholics supported same-sex “marriage,” while only 22% and 23% respectively supported same-sex couples having no legal recognition. Forty-one percent of white Catholics, and 28% of Latino Catholics, supported homosexual civil unions.

In contrast, only 17% of white Evangelical Protestants supported same-sex “marriage,” as did 18% of Latino Protestants.

Bishop Jaime Soto of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento responded to the news by pointing out that many who self-identify as Catholics “are more affected by the trends or the mentality of the prevailing culture than they are by Catholic culture.” The survey did not distinguish between Catholics who attend Sunday Mass and those who do not.

Soto also speculated that many respondents may not have answered with their true feelings on the issue – a phenomenon that has been shown to occur frequently in polling questions regarding same-sex “marriage.” 

“Many people are going to, how should I say, simply lie about what their true thinking is on [marriage] because they don't want to be labeled as a bigot or intolerant,” said Soto in a telephone interview with (LSN) Tuesday.

“Particularly in the environment that we're in right now, the proponents of same-sex marriage have been vociferous in terms of labeling anyone who supports traditional marriage as a bigot or as intolerant, or as unreasonable,” he noted. He added that “many people are quite frankly intimidated by the anger that has come out after a majority of California voters supported traditional marriage.”

Soto has been an outspoken advocate of the Church's teaching supporting marriage between a man and a woman in his diocese. In 2008, Soto, then coadjutor bishop, shocked an audience at a National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries dinner, where he delivered a keynote address confirming the sinfulness of homosexual conduct and encouraging chastity outside of marriage.

The bishop told LSN that he and other bishops “are concerned about particularly the young Catholic voter” who does not understand marriage, and thus cannot grasp why the Church opposes homosexual “marriage.”

“The common perception of marriage is adrift,” said Soto. “The murky confusion about sexuality in general is what has placed the question of marriage and what a marriage is into doubt, and so I feel as a pastor that we have to really focus on the broader question of how to clarify the dignity of human sexuality overall.”

One important solution, he said, was to bring nominal Catholics not only to a deeper participation in the sacraments, but a greater appreciation for and pride in their own faith identity. Soto noted that the Catholics Come Home advertisement campaign, which  prompted a large number of Catholics to return to practicing the faith in his diocese, also caused them to feel more affirmed in their Catholic faith – something the bishop considers vital to the moral issues besetting California.

“Catholics need to have a certain sense of confidence that their beliefs are not just religious preference, but that in fact serve the common good,” said Soto.

“And that's an important disposition for Catholics to have: to realize that their faith is not an imposition either on themselves or on others, but that their faith is a gift, and that it makes common sense and serves the common good. So I think that's a message that has to be repeated over and over again.”

Soto said it was “heartening” that, of the diocese's 20 counties, 19 voted in favor of Proposition 8 – something he said “spoke to this not just being just a religious disposition, but that people did have a sense that marriage as we have traditionally understood makes common sense.”

Nonetheless, he said, Catholics often “get caught in the polemic trap” of being called discriminatory against homosexuals, and the Church's teaching on marriage becomes portrayed as a mere negative – when in fact the opposite is true.

“In my efforts to speak about this, speak of the Catholic faith as a 'yes,' as an affirmation about what is good and what is hopeful about human nature and about humanity,” said Soto. “I'm sure that there are people that may disagree with me, but it's hard to disagree with a hopeful message.

“Oftentimes as Catholic, we get caught in the polemic trap that we're against same-sex unions, or that we're discriminating, rather than saying: no, we're holding for the position that California law always had, and to speak about the beauty of marriage and what marriage is meant to be,” he said.

“Generally, I think people appreciate that, and even opponents get thrown off by that – in some sense, I'm not playing by the rules,” he noted. “I'm supposed to be the 'no' church. But we're the 'yes' church. We say yes to the culture of life, yes to human dignity, and that's what we promote.”