Brooklyn's Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio writes a weekly column called "Put out into the Deep" - a title that expresses the high priority he places on the new evangelization.But when the bishop uses his column in his diocesan newspaper, the Tablet, to assail specific legislators, it doesn't help to build the plunging number of Catholics in his diocese. Social science research shows that churchgoers, especially younger ones, are prone to leave churches they perceive as too involved in electoral politics. Robert Putnam and David Campbell make a strong case for this in their carefully researched book "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us." They write: "Americans overwhelmighly disapprove of political persuasion by religious leaders." And, they say, "in a competitive religious market they risk an exodus of members." And: "Continuing to sound the public trumpet of conservative personal morality may be the right thing to do from a theological point of view, but it may mean saving fewer souls than it did a generation ago."DiMarzio assails three New York state senators - Carl Kruger, Shirley Huntley, Joseph Addabbo - who have decided (after being undecided) to vote in favor of same-sex marriage, and notes that Kruger is under indictment and Huntley under investigation. ("Sadly, this is the character of our elected officials who are essentially redefining `marriage.' ") "My hope is that constituents will hold these elected official accountable for their decisions," he writes, adding that they "have ignored their constituents and preferred the counsel of powerful and well-funded elites."The upper half of the diocesan newspaper's front page features a color spread with the three senators' photos, a "yes" box on "same sex marriage vote" next to each one's name. The headline is "Shame! Shame! Shame!" This front page is essentially a political attack ad.It was no doubt a stinging rebuff to the bishop that these senators from his diocese rejected whatever means of persuasion he brought on them. But there are many other state legislators in the diocese who have voted or will vote in favor of same-sex marriage (for example, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, for whom the bishop made robo-calls praising his help in preventing a change in the statute of limitations on sex-abuse lawsuits). It doesn't seem fair to single out these three in such a way and not to decry the "yes" vote already cast by Lopez (no stranger to law-enforcement investigation) and many others.I would expect church leaders to speak out on important issues, including same-sex marriage. But politicized attacks such as this one won't accomplish anything except to hasten the movement of young Catholics from the church.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.