Catholics United Puts a Foot Wrong

Our friends at Catholics United issued a press release yesterday announcing that they had dropped off a petition at the chancery offices of the Archdiocese of Boston. The petition reads simply: “To His Eminence Cardinal Sean O’Malley, We, the undersigned, believe that every child should have access to a Catholic education. We respectfully ask that you ensure that Catholic schools within the Archdiocese adhere to this value, and do not discriminate based on children’s family backgrounds.” The petition was signed by 5,000 people.

The words are innocuous enough, but the petition drive is misguided and it made me think of the petition drives directed against Notre Dame’s Father Jenkins last year. I fear that the petition will not help achieve what Catholics United wants to achieve. Catholics United was founded in the wake of the 2004 election when many people were repulsed by the treatment afforded John Kerry by some conservative Catholics, including some prelates. They have helped provide a necessary counterweight to conservative Catholic groups like the Cardinal Newman Society, the American Life League and others who seem more concerned in carrying water for the GOP than applying Catholic social teaching to the nation’s problems. Catholics United’s critics would argue that they suffer from the same kind of problem, albeit from the other side of the ideological spectrum, namely, that they start with their politics, not their theology, and look for religious rationales to justify political positions already arrived at. It is certainly the case that anyone can use papal decrees or passages of Holy Writ to justify whatever stances they seek to defend.


But, the school case in Boston is not about politics. Better to say, the most important thing is to make sure that it doesn’t become about politics. I am sure that for every one of the 5,000 signatures Catholics United got for its petition, a conservative group can marshal an equal number of signatories urging Cardinal O’Malley to take the opposite course and ban the children of same-sex couples from attending catholic schools. A pastor has an obligation to keep his flock together as much as possible. I do not see how petition drives, the counter influences they elicit, or any of the accoutrement of contemporary politics will advance the cause of unity among the faithful.

In the statements from the Archdiocese of Boston, it has been clear that their objective is not to fight another round of the culture wars in this situation. As the Superintendent of Schools at first, and later Cardinal O’Malley when he got back to Boston, both stressed in their statements, the governing consideration should be what is best for the children. In the press release that announced the petition drive, Catholics United stated, “The archdiocese initially signaled strong opposition to such discrimination and promised to craft a policy to preempt future controversy. Recent statements from Cardinal O'Malley and other archdiocesan officials, however, appeared more supportive of the school's admissions decision.” This is wrong in two regards. First, the initial statement from the archdiocese explicitly did not overrule the local pastor, nor question his decision, but stated that they would help the parents find a different school and that a new policy would be forthcoming. Second, Cardinal O’Malley clearly felt the need to reaffirm his own confidence in the pastor and did so, without in any way prejudicing the policy that will be devised. But both the first and the later statements were at pains to emphasize that the good of the children would be the principal concern.

I confess that I do not understand how the pastor in Hingham came to the conclusion that it would be best for the child not to be in a Catholic school. Certainly, I can see that any student whose family lives at some variance from the Catholic faith in its fullness will feel challenged at school when he confronts that faith in its fullness. He or she will say, “Hey, that doesn’t sound like my family.” But, I am also quite certain that this sense of challenge comes to us all because there is no one who lives up to the fullness of our faith. That’s why we have confessionals.

I am also quite certain that there are many in the Church who tend to reduce religion to ethics, indeed that is the dominant historical quality of American religious expression. It derives both from the Calvinism of the mainstream culture and from a certain Jansenistic sensibility in Irish Catholicism which so dominated the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. The phenomenon exists on both left and right, with the left tending to reduce Catholicism to its social justice witness and conservatives tending to reduce the faith to its teachings on sexual morality. But the Church is not founded on its social progressivism or its sexual conservatism. It is founded upon the claim that the Crucified Lives. If the Church is going to admit the children of Jews or Muslims or Protestants to our schools, it makes no sense to me to deny admission to a child whose parents deviate from a moral precept of the Church. Our moral teachings flow from our dogmas not the other way round.

America’s is a diverse society, and part of educating children is to prepare them to engage that diversity in a healthy way. Having a Muslim child in a Catholic school may be a challenge but it is also a great opportunity to teach everyone about respect for people who hold different beliefs. Having the child of gay parents certain could present challenges also but the Church is quite clear that gay people are to be respected and their dignity defended, so a decent teacher could certainly navigate those challenges and turn them into a profound lesson about the Church’s commitment to oppose bigotry even while we defend traditional marriage.

It is certainly unfair to the pastors of Boston or elsewhere to expect them to come up with policies on the fly and the officials in Boston and elsewhere are well advised to put a clear policy in place. But, they won’t do it because they got a petition. They will do it because they think it is the right thing to do. I just hope that the efforts from left and right to turn the Boston case into a culture war will be resisted and that, as the Cardinal stated, nothing but the good of the children will govern the policy that will be forthcoming. He and I may disagree about what the good of the child dictates, but I am confident that his focus, and that of the school officials, will be solely on that good. I apprecizate the good work done by our friends at Catholics United, but here they have put a foot wrong.


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Thomas Szyszkiewicz
8 years 7 months ago
Mr. Winters argues that groups like ''the Cardinal Newman Society, the American Life League and others'' are more concerned with ''carrying water for the GOP than applying Catholic social teaching to the nation’s problems.'' He apparently knows nothing of the people who lead these organizations, looks at all activity in the Catholic Church with that jaundiced American view that everything anyone in activist organizations does is based on American politics, or both.
The Cardinal Newman Society is concerned with the reform of Catholic higher education, that Catholic schools actually be Catholic, teach the teachings of the Church and not follow the secularist mantras of the day. How that equates to ''carrying water for the GOP'' is beyond me.
The American Life League is concerned for the lives of the unborn and other innocent and vulnerable people who could legally be put to death, which, if I'm not mistaken, is ''applying Catholic social teaching to the nation’s problems.'' It has apparently escaped Mr. Winters' notice that the Democratic Party is ''pro-choice'' - which means pro-abortion - and that the Republican Party, at least nominally in its platform and through most of the candidates it puts up for election, at minimum mouths support for a pro-life position. So if Judie Brown tends to show favor to Republicans, there seems to be good cause for that.
But Mr. Winters does not seem to believe that people like Patrick Reilly and Judie Brown are doing what they're doing, not because of politics, but because they believe God called them to do it and that the work to which God called them sometimes overflows into the political arena, especially when politicians cross over into the lines of their work.
I presume the people at Catholics United and groups of their ilk believe the same thing - maybe. I am less sure because their political ambitions and affiliations are clear. ''Applying Catholic social teaching to the nation’s problems'' for them appears to be bringing socialism to bear on the country. And the last I checked, socialism is not Catholic social teaching.
Stephen O'Brien
8 years 7 months ago
I agree with Michael Sean Winters on the immediate issue: Catholic orthodoxy does not demand that parish schools refuse admission to children being raised by same-sex couples.  Nor is this prudential decision “liberal” (as some might claim), for, in a parallel situation, allegiance to the Church’s teachings on marriage does not require excluding children being brought up by parents who have been remarried after divorce in defiance of the words of Christ in the Gospels.
On the larger issue of how to be advocates for the entire range of the Church’s socioeconomic teachings in our deeply troubled secular country, I believe that Catholics in the United States need an openly Catholic political party.  Such a party should fight for the most achievable political fulfillment of all the goals of the Church’s teachings without exception, transcending the truncated visions of both the “left” and the “right,” and arranging its platform planks in a sane hierarchy of values.  In such a platform, rolling back legalized abortion as fast as possible as well as doing everything that can be done to prevent nuclear war must be at the very top of the list, inasmuch as both are mass murder.  It is in not reacting urgently to the legalized killing of unborn children that groups such as Catholics United demonstrate their blatant inadequacy and confirm the need for a fully Catholic political movement.   
8 years 7 months ago
Can someone explain to me why homosexuals and their supporters would prefer to change the Church's teaching on homosexual acts than to leave the Church and join one of the other Christian denominations that is more in line with their sexual inclinations and liberal perspectives? If they question the Church's teaching on homosexual acts, then why are they inclined to respect the Church's teaching on, e.g., transubstantiation, the forgiveness of sins through confession, and other such teachings?

As I see it, this inconsistency suggests that homosexuals are not interested in practicing Christianity as much as they are interested in destroying the Catholic Church, the most powerful organization that stands in the way of a secularist, moral-relativistic, even socialist society.

This what our Pope demonstrates that he is acutely aware of when he speaks of the insidious and dangerous threat of gay marriage. The Boston Archdiocese's decision is not and cannot be based solely on what is in the best interest of the child; it is and must also be based on what is best for the Church. For if there is no Church, what is left for the good of the child?

Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 7 months ago
"Can someone explain to me why homosexuals and their supporters would prefer to change the Church's teaching on homosexual acts than to leave the Church and join one of the other Christian denominations that is more in line with their sexual inclinations and liberal perspectives?"
Because Catholicism is not just a place to go to Church for homosexuals and their supporters, but it is a major part of our identity.  Catholcism is our family, how we came to know our place in the world.  We are part of the Catholic Church, and have a responsibility to bring who we are to the table.
Don't worry, Michael, this won't destroy the Church.  This is the way the Holy Spirit works.  No one of us holds the whole truth, but together we will find our way to truth.  We need each other, and we are each vitally important to the whole. The Catholic Church is big enough to include us all.  That's why it is called catholic.
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 7 months ago
However a "fully Catholic political party" would pretty much drive me away from publicly identifying myself as Catholic.  Ugh.
Bill Collier
8 years 7 months ago
I agree with Stephen O'Brien about the need for a political party premised on Catholic social teaching, often referred to as the Church's ''best-kept secret.'' However, while it should be made clear that the foundational principles of such a party are drawn from CST, I don't think the party name should include ''Catholic'' or that non-Catholics should be discouraged from joining. There are many non-Catholics who would also be drawn to the whole cloth of social doctrine that CST provides. Trying to find that whole cloth in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party is a futile exercise. My frustration with both of the major parties grew so great during the last presidential campaign that I couldn' bring myself to vote, on the lesser of two evils rationale I had used in the past, for either Obama or McCain. I wrote in the name of a local politician whom I believe truly embodies CST; she didn't have a chance, of course, but I felt good that I had finally voted my conscience.
So, Stephen, how do we get this party rolling?   
8 years 7 months ago
Hi Beth -

How do you know it's the Holy Spirit and not the Devil? And isn't that distinction one for the Holy Father to provide to us? I can see how the destruction is quite possible, notwithstanding your suggestion that my fear is unwarranted.

I'm not familiar with our "responsibility to bring who we are to the table," but to the extent that we have such a responsibilty, part of that responsibility as Catholics would be to respect what the Church teaches about who we are, which includes the responsiblity to recognize our sinfulness and make a willful decision to retreat from our sinful ways.

What I'm seeing from the homosexual advocates is not a plea to the Church for change, but a demand to force the Church to change with the backing of secular political power and whatever other evil forces that are willing to join in their cause.
Stephen O'Brien
8 years 7 months ago
In response to Bill Collier’s post, I do envision a Catholic Social Democratic Party or a Catholic Labor Party, but I do understand his reservation.  This reservation can taken into account by emphasizing that an explicitly Catholic party can enter coalitions with our Protestant brothers and sisters to defend the lives of the unborn and the sacrament of Matrimony, and with our brothers and sisters on the “left” to prevent both nuclear wars and morally unjustified conventional wars.  I suggest that “Catholic” should be in the party’s name to make clear that we cannot compromise any of our “foundational principles” precisely on the level of moral principle.  At the same time, I acknowledge the regrettable need to tolerate deeply flawed legislation under pressure in accordance with Pope John Paul II’s counsel in *Evangelium vitae* 73, and in keeping with the new catechism’s mention of “political prudence” (section 2109).
And how do we start?  Well, posting here and in similar forums is a good beginning.  Through such posts and such conversations, we must first accustom U.S. Catholics to trying to escape from the dead end of the so-called two-party system as well as from the false “left-right” dichotomy.
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 7 months ago
Michael, the criterion I use to discern between the Spirit and the Devil are along these lines:
1.  Does it cause people harm or suffering?
2.  Does it advance a personal (ego based) or political agenda?
3.  Does it lead me, personally, to more humility?  Am I asked to let go of strongly held convictions?
4.  Does it lead to more dialogue, or less?  Am I able to listen to the other side of the story and see that point of view?
Obviously, this is tricky territory, the Devil being quite tricky.  Usually if I am absolutely sure about something, I'm on the wrong track. 
My sense of the responsiblitity to bring truth to the table probably comes from my lifelong immersion in the writings of Thomas Merton and the quest for authenticity.  Yes, it definitely involves recognizing our sinfulness and letting go of those ways.
In the Gospels, Jesus never had anything to say about sexual "sins".  In fact, his words were harsh for those who condemned the woman who was a prostitute.  Like Jesus, I choose to not condemn sexual "sins". 
The Bishops talk a lot about sexuality and how awful it all is.  Not just homosexuality, but masturbations is terrible, according to the Bishops.  I think that this is misguided, at best, and I suspect it has something to do with power and control.
Bishops, whether teaching individually or collectively, are not endowed with infallibility.  (Canon 1326, cic 1917)  The 2nd Vatican Council echoed that wisdom.  The best that the Bishops can give us, with these complicated moral issues for which there are a many honest differences, is their humble guidance, not an "obey us or else" dictum.  You really can disagree with these guys; and when they are wrong, it is a good idea to do so.
Even the Cardinal Ratzinger taught that the one's own conscience must be obeyed over ecclesiastical authority. 
It's not as easy as just obeying the rules.
8 years 7 months ago

I think you are mistaken. The abolition of the death penalty is not a ''non-negotiable'' issue for Catholics. We need to rarely if ever resort to the death penalty. Some would say that the death penalty is rarely used for capital crimes already. Others would say that it needs to be even more rare. Either way Catholics can debate this issue. Legal abortion is never acceptable.
Brendan McGrath
8 years 7 months ago
I too have often wished there were a party that was "Catholic" - right now I'm sort of a lapsed, non-practicing Democrat.
If we start a Catholic political party, can our animal symbol be a lamb?  (I.e., Jesus as Lamb of God; also we as His flock and the flock of the bishops and priests, etc.  Though being a member of the flock with regard to the bihsops should, when necessary, involving "baah-ing" loudly.)
Brendan McGrath
8 years 7 months ago
The following is meant seriously, but clearly has elements of parody:
About the death penalty: "Roma locuta est, causa finita est."  Holy Mother Church and the Holy Father have condemned the use of the death penalty in today's world.  Let us pray that all Catholics who obstinately dissent from the Magisterium's teaching on this matter may, through the intercession of Our Lady, return to the bosom of Holy Mother Church and adopt a filial obedience towards her teachings, and not resort to prudential judgement!  It's time for Catholics to stand up and be strong, not hide behind the "personally opposed, but" stance of so many so-called Catholic politicians who cause grave scandal by their support of capital punishment!  The cafeteria is closed!  We will never succeed in abolishing abortion unless we strive to end the culture of death in its entirety.
Prayer for an End to the Death Penalty (Based on a prayer for an end to abortion at
Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of my life, And for the lives of all my sisters and brothers.
I know there is nothing that destroys more life than capital punishment, Yet I rejoice that you have conquered death by the Resurrection of Your Son.
I am ready to do my part in ending the death penalty. Today I commit myself Never to be silent, Never to be passive, Never to be forgetful of those on death row.
I commit myself to be active in the anti-death penalty movement, And never to stop defending life Until all my brothers and sisters are protected, And our nation once again becomes A nation with liberty and justice Not just for some, but for all.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen!
Stephen O'Brien
8 years 7 months ago
In my comment #9 above, the Devil himself (who wishes to sabotage any decisive, united political action by American Catholics) filched a word from the following statement: “This reservation can be taken into account by emphasizing that an explicitly Catholic party can enter coalitions with our Protestant brothers and sisters [. . .].”
As for capital punishment, the Church’s teaching authority has not excluded, and cannot exclude, the possibility of resorting to it-as should be clear from a careful reading of section 2267 of the new catechism.  Just as it is crucial to preserve the traditional Catholic distinction between noncombatants and combatants in discussions of war, so, too, it is imperative to retain the Church’s traditional distinction between the innocent and the guilty in discussions of the state’s using, or refraining from using, its right to inflict the death penalty to defend the social order against unjust aggression committed by criminals.
Still, the Catholic Social Democratic Party would be well advised not to take an official position for or against capital punishment.  Many issues should be left to the judgments and consciences of the party’s members and candidates, as long as unity is maintained on all essential points.  Condemning the mass murder involved in legalized abortion and nuclear warfare is one of those essentials.  It is intrinsically evil to attack directly an innocent human life.
8 years 7 months ago

I am not personally opposed to the death penalty. It would serve you well to read the Catholic Catechism on this issue. The Catholic Church does NOT teach that capital punishment is an intrinsic evil. It teaches that in current times we should strive to use it ''rarely if ever''.

What percent of capital crimes would you consider rare? 1%, 0.1%, 0.01%?

It is not stated in the catechism. Our current pope has said that good Catholics can disagree on this.

You are certainly within the teaching of Catholic Church to abolish capital punishment but so too is a Catholic who would like capital punishment to be rare.
Chuck Colbert
8 years 7 months ago
This may have beens said before, but I find it utterly astounding that Cardinal O'Malley had the gall to suggest that somehow the children of gay and lesbian parents are to be compared to the child of a madam.  So should we concluded that children of gay parents now have what is tantamout to brothel babies?
Also, one must keep in mind that the pontiff has said that lesbian and gay parents are actually doing ''violence'' to their chidren.  Hello.  One needs more than a stiff drink to swallow that contaminated cool-aid.
One wonders just who is doinng violecne to whom. 
Let me suggest that so-called Church teaching has done more than its share of spiritual violence to all kinds of Catholics who are not in accord with the currrent program of of total pelvic purtity.   It's as if on the one hand Rome feels the need to protect a fertitility cult and on the other hand to resurrect the purtity codes from Leviticus and apply its  new form —  but only in the strictest sense to gay people.
Why is it that the so-called sins of gay folks are held out to ridicule and a special standard, while the so-called sins of straights are overlooked?
What are these transgressions, everything from masturbation to contraception to fornication to adultery.   And don't forget about all those divorced, not anulled, divorced, remarried and still-going-to-communion Catholics. Why is there no Roman jihad against their so-called sexual immorality?
There is plenty of hetersosexual pelvic impurity and — more than enough in the clergy, the very bonemarrow of the RCC — for B-16 to devote his entire papacy.
Please, let gay people alone. 
You have already driven some of the best and brightest out of the Church.  Just look around and see who remains.
Finally, the RCC's conversation on all things pelvic and sexual will remain utterly impoversished as long as all the gay preists or homosexual priests or those clerics with homosexual inciinations — whatever you call them — remain closeted - and some of whom dare to advise from their very own clerical closet.  Tell me, what is that all about?
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 7 months ago
Joe Kash - if you believe that the evil of abortion lies in the deliberate killing of human life, then Capital Punishment falls under the same moral demand: Thou Shalt Not Kill.
What crime was committed is irrelevant.
The only time the Death Penalty is permitted is when it is necessary to keep the criminal from more killing.  With maximum security prisons, that is never.
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that continue the barbarity of cold, methodical killing in the name of the people.  It is pure revenge and barbarity.
Supporting the abolishment of abortion without including the death penalty turns the whole effort into a political agenda rather than a moral one.
Pieter Peeperkorn
8 years 7 months ago
As an american catholic, i am horrified at the idea of a faith-based political party in this country.
8 years 7 months ago
It doesn't matter much what I think.  What matters is what the Church teaches which is that in modern times we should only use capital punishment rarely if ever. 
We can debate on what would be "rare".
Vince Killoran
8 years 7 months ago
Given our nation's political structure and its history of church-state relations (not to mention anti-Catholicism) a "Catholic" political party would be a bad idea.
I know that many conservative Catholics hang on to that clause about the possibility that the death penalty is still valid but the conditions limiting the use makes it unimaginable in the USA today.
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 7 months ago
There is no debate in the Catholic Church about the Death Penalty.  The practice should be abolished.
The Death Penalty certainly is not "rare" in the United States today.
There are now 8 executions scheduled to take place in the United States in June 2010, 3 of these in Texas alone.  In fact, there is a killing almost every week in Texas.
I have friends, Dale and Susan, who minister to death row inmates, the families of these inmates, and the families of the victims of murder.  Preparing a person for execution is very, very different from preparing a person who is suffering from disease for death, Dale says.  He is preparing a healthy person who wants to live, to be killed by other human beings.
Many times, when a man is executed, the family comes to the prison a week ahead of time.  There are no services provided for these families.  On the day of the execution they are allowed, after a thorough body search, to have a contact visit with the inmate to be executed.  Then 5 hours before the execution they are required to leave the premises. Susan provides a quiet place for these people to be during the actual execution, many times a Catholic Church. Susan asks: “what do they need?”  – which is mostly to be together.
It is clear that the ministry to death row inmates and their families – that of Susan and Dale – is one ministry. 
I ask Dale and Susan:  How do you keep from falling into the abyss of darkness?  There is a deeper abyss, Dale says, the abyss of God’s love for all of us.  You have to discover that abyss.
Prayer will sustain you, Susan says.  You continually open yourself to what is being asked of you, moment to moment.  “I see that God is asking us to come closer in this ministry, to show us who God is.”
Dale asks: “who is the killing for?”
We say that it is for the victim’s family, but even when the family of the victim insists that they do not want the murderer to be killed, the law does not allow them to interfere.
Dale names the darkness of the death penalty: the system of attorneys, judges, and politicians who profit monetarily from the business of Capital Punishment.
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 7 months ago
If we're going to talk about a Catholic political party, could we at least get abolishment of the Death Penalty right up there at the top of the list of issues that are non-negotiable?  It bothers me that it is so often omitted from the pro-life agenda.  Abortion and the Death Penalty are 2 sides of the same coin.  State sanctioned murder.
8 years 7 months ago
I applaud you and your friends for working to make capital punishment rare!
8 years 7 months ago
I do believe if one takes a close reading of the Catechism regarding the death penalty, as well as other Church documents on the subject, the appropriateness of that penalty relies not strictly, or even as much, on the crime itself as much as the alternatives available (i.e., permanent imprisonment).  The death penalty is to be used only when such alternatives do not exist, which in the U.S. would be very, very rare, indeed.
Further, the death penalty is indeed an intrinsic evil, just as death in a just war is an intrinsic evil.  Killing someone is an intrinsic evil.  However, the conditions in which the killing occurs determines the graveness of the act.  As a further example, lying is always an intrinsic evil.  A 9 year old lying about an altercation at school is less grave than someone lying about financial dealings that cost innocent people their livelihood. 


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