St. Helen’s Priest Outraged Over Addabbo Support for Same Sex Marriage

Heated debate over same sex marriage descended on Howard Beach after St. Helen’s parish priest, Father Rob Keighron, reacted to State Senator Joe Addabbo’s announcement that he intended to vote in favor of the measure in Albany.

Fr. Keighron made an impassioned plea to parishioners at the end of a mass in honor of St. Anthony on Monday to withdraw their support for the senator. “He is going against church teaching, the way we understand marriage and preserving what has been the history of marriage in this country for hundreds of years,” Fr. Keighron told The Forum in an interview on Tuesday.

But the priest stated that there were other important issues surrounding the vote. “I think it opens it up to all other problems,” he explained. “What’s next? Polygamy?” Fr. Keighron further contended that once you enact a law, you’re setting a precedent that can be argued. “Changing the institution of marriage to accommodate same-sex partners redefines marriage and opens up a whole new realm of unsettling possibilities. The ramifications of this one particular vote are monumental.”

In response, Addabbo said, “I respectfully disagree with him [Fr. Rob]. No one, not the Governor or anyone else, forgets that we must be mindful about the church and protecting its tax exempt status. And as far as polygamy is concerned, you can forget it. That plea would fall on deaf ears.” He added that the Brooklyn-Queens Diocese was “slow to react” when the push for same sex marriage began in earnest after Cuomo’s election.

Supporters of a constitutional ban on gay marriage are concerned whether the church would lose its tax exempt status for opposing same-sex unions signed into law. Those on the other side of the debate say fear mongering weighs heavily in that arguing and that challenges to a church’s tax exempt status based on its stance on gay marriage would most likely not hold up in federal or state courts.

Interestingly, the priest’s strongest contention does not rest in theological principal alone. He has serious objections to the fact that Addabbo maintains his vote is strictly a constituent-based decision, having resulted from the recorded responses of a significant portion of his district.

According to Patricia McCabe, a member of Addabbo’s Howard Beach staff, out of the 6,015 responses recorded as of June 17th ,  4,839 were in favor of same sex marriage and came in many forms. “All of our responses came from a collective pool of post cards, phone calls, e-mails, faxes and survey responses to a mailer sent by our office,” said McCabe. And she says the mailer was district-wide and covered three major issues: an Department of Education reform known as Last In First Out, Same Sex Marriage and a proposed MTA subsidy.

But Fr. Keighron says the way the material was distributed, collected and the data assembled is not a justifiable representation of such crucial information gathering.  “I have strenuous objection to the manner in which the data for the “poll” was conducted,” Fr. Keighron contended, “Who got the post cards? I did not get one, nor did any of my friends in the neighborhood.”

“We sent it to everyone,” Sen. Addabbo said on Wednesday. “This wasn’t just about registered voters and post cards. We used every method short of carrier pigeon and smoke signals–people who stopped me at the grocery, at civic meetings or walking into my home.” In addition he said there were robo calls from various groups, ads in local newspapers and church bulletins. “The thing is that both sides of this situation called for the people to respond and they did.” Most importantly, Addabbo said his office spent many hours verifying the correspondence that was sent in, no matter what the form.

At the end of the day, Fr. Keighron stands strong in his opinion and vehemently disagrees with Addabbo on the consequences of the bill and the integrity or accuracy of the data collection. Now Fr. Keighron says he hopes there will be some opportunity for the people to vote on a referendum. But as far as the senator is concerned, he says, “I will not vote for Joe Addabbo and I encourage our parishioners to follow that. I feel he has betrayed us. He betrayed the church.”

by Patricia Adams


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