A radical group that sent emails to MPs saying they were "on the road to hell for all eternity" if they voted in favour of the Marriage Amendment Bill has been told to stop claiming to be Catholic - but the Catholic Church admits it has no power to enforce the ruling.
The Catholic Bishops Conference has told the Catholic Action Group it doesn't have permission to use the church's name. But Archbishop John Dew told the Sunday Star-Times he could not excommunicate the group's leader, Whangarei man Arthur Skinner, if he ignored the ruling. Skinner says he will defy them because he believes the bishops have abandoned the church's true teachings and should resign.
Catholic Action's track record includes vandalising a poster at the Auckland Anglican church St Matthew in the City and leading protests at Te Papa when it exhibited the sculpture Virgin in a Condom.
"We have made it known to them and to others that they haven't sought permission from the bishops to use the name Catholic, and we've told them not to use it," Dew said, "but there isn't actually anything else we can do. It would have to be something heretical to be excommunicated."
Catholic Action's submissions on the Marriage Amendment Bill were not heard by the select committee as they were deemed inappropriate.
The group sent follow-up emails to MPs, including Green MP Kevin Hague, that said homosexuality was "an abomination crying out to Heaven for vengeance", and accused Hague and Labour MP Ruth Dyson of having "an agenda promoting abominable perversity". The emails also said homosexuality was a mortal sin that would see people "cast into hell to suffer eternal punishment".
New Zealand Catholic reported MPs' outrage: Labour MP Clare Curran called the emails "objectionable and ugly" and colleague Darien Fenton said "this kind of nasty email has zero chance of changing my vote".
Hague said that although it was an internal matter for the church, if it was unable to act against Skinner, then people would assume his group spoke for Catholicism.
But he noted the church, like Catholic Action, had taken a vigorous opposition to the bill.
"It's interesting whether the Catholic bishops are effectively saying the same thing, but in a more genteel way," he said.
"Do the Catholic bishops also believe I am going to burn in hell for eternity? Actually, they probably do, they just don't take the trouble to mention that when we are chatting . . . If they don't, they certainly haven't gone out of the way to say so.
"It's probably incumbent on the bishops to say where the substantial differences are between their position and that of the Catholic Action group."
Asked how much Catholic Action's view diverged from the church's own teaching, Dew, who didn't see the group's submissions or emails in advance, said: "We try and say whatever is done should be done in charity, and so using language which is inflammatory is not charitable language, not a part of who we are as gospel people."
Dew said he'd had no response to his letter to Skinner and didn't expect one. It was the first time he'd been aware of a group using the church's name without permission.
An unrepentant Skinner said the bishops should resign and leave church property because they "don't have a mandate any more because they have abandoned the Catholic faith . . .
"Basically they have become politicians, and as a result of that we are having to take this [issue] on. We have to come in and do their job, which we don't want to do."
Skinner said he would act again if necessary. "If these political issues come up again where the Catholic faith has to be affirmed . . . we will be in there, boots and all. I would like to think I would get to heaven one day, but you don't fall into heaven, you climb up - you've got to do things that are unpleasant sometimes."
Meanwhile, Dew said the church was taking legal advice on one consequence of the Marriage Amendment Bill, which meant churches that usually hired out facilities to the public would breach the Human Rights Act if they refused hireage to same-sex couples seeking to be married.
"We want to clarify that," Dew said.
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