Program #0141 for Thursday, September 22, 2011: Assisted suicide; ordained deacons; collateral damage; casino gambling

September 22, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Susan Abbott

Today’s guest(s): Antonio Enrique, editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston archdiocese; and Gregory Tracy, managing editor of The Pilot

  • The Anchor
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  • Some of the stories discussed on this show will be available on The Pilot’s and The Anchor’s websites on Friday morning. Please check those sites for the latest links.

Today’s topics: Cardinal speaks out on assisted suicide; 13 permanent deacons ordained; Fr. Roger’s editorial; Mass. bishops on casino gambling

Summary of today’s show: Scot and Susan discuss the news of the week with Antonio Enrique and Greg Tracy of The Pilot, including Cardinal Seán’s homily at last Sunday’s Red Mass for the Boston Catholic Lawyers Guild in which he spoke strongly against an assisted-suicide ballot initiative in Massachusetts; the ordination of 13 permanent deacons for Boston and Cardinal Seán’s admonition for them to care for their wives, in particular; Fr. Roger Landry’s newest editorial on preventing innocent priests from becoming collateral damage to false accusations; and the Massachusetts bishops’ statement on casino gambling in the state.

1st segment: Scot wished Susan a happy birthday today. She’s been working this week, getting ready for the new religious education year. They had a workshop for new catechetical leaders yesterday. Last Sunday was Catechetical Sunday. 150 catechists gathered on that Sunday at St. Rose of Lima parish in Chelsea. Last night she attended the Bl. John XXIII National Seminary’s annual lawn party. She said it was encouraging and hopeful to see these men who have second vocations. They’ve had such diverse paths to the seminary. Two seminarians spoke and did a great job. She said there was such hope.

Last night, Scot went to a screening of the new movie “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen and directed by Emilio Estevez, his son. It’s about a man who makes a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela in Spain. Tonight is the Celebration of the Priesthood dinner where 1,000 people gather to honor priests and raise money for the Clergy Funds to benefit the medical and retirement needs of the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston. This is the third year for the dinner.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Gregory and Antonio to the show. He said the Cardinal had a significant homily at the Red Mass this past Sunday at the Cathedral where he addressed the Boston Catholic Lawyers Guild. Greg said the Cardinal took the occasion of the Mass to speak out strongly against an assisted suicide petition initiative in Massachusetts. He dealt with a rational argument against assisted suicide, which should persuade even those who don’t subscribe to Christian morality that it’s wrong. He noted that where assisted suicide is legal, suicide rates as a whole go up. In many cases, people end up seeing suicide as the only option and even receive the message that it’s inconsiderate not to take it.

The Cardinal said:

A decade after Oregon’s law allowing physician assisted suicide took effect, suicide had become the leading cause of “injury death” in Oregon and the second leading cause of death among those between 15 and 34 years of age. The suicide rate in Oregon was in decline until legalizing physician assisted suicide. The suicide rate has been rising since 2000 and by 2007 was already 35% higher than the national average –without counting physician assisted suicides of seriously ill patients which Oregon law does not allow to be counted as suicides and without counting 1,000 failed attempted suicides each year.

We hope that the citizens of the commonwealth will not be seduced by the language: dignity, mercy and compassion which are used to disguise the sheer brutality of helping some kill themselves. A vote for physician assisted suicide is a vote for suicide.

Scot had never seen the stats, even though they don’t surprise him. Susan said the homily is so rich, you could talk about it for the whole hour. Susan said assisted suicide tells us that you don’t have to worry about working through a problem. Earlier this week, many in the Pastoral Center attended a national webinar on assisted suicide by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. Their site has more startling statistics.

Scot said his favorite part of the homily is:

When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert he based his arguments on passages from the Old Testament, which has given rise to the saying that even the devil can quote Scripture. Ironically those who advocate a strict separation of Church and State often quote Jesus words: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. What they often mean by that is “Let’s lock God in the sacristy and let Caesar call all the shots.” That can be very perilous, especially if Caesar happens to be a blood thirsty ideologue who likes to throw people to the lions.

Scot said assisted suicide opens up the possibility for some bureaucrat to decide which lives are inconvenient or expensive and should be terminated. It also leads people to feel like they should just kill themselves off. Antonio said it creates two kinds of human beings: those who deserve to live and those who don’t. It creates a burden on someone to make them feel like a burden. We are supposed to be the guardians of our brothers and sisters. But we could be saying life isn’t worth living unless you have a particular quality of life. He noted that in the Netherlands where assisted suicide is legal, the amount of money devoted to palliative care (reducing suffering) has been decreased with the expectation that people should kill themselves instead.

The Cardinal also said:

In the eyes of the world those who are in the last stages of life are somehow diminished in their humanity and should be eliminated. We must see them through God’s eyes and recognize that each and every person is created in his image and likeness and that we are all connected to God and to each other. We are our brothers keeper and our sister’s helper. Cain who forgot he was his brother’s keeper ended up becoming his executioner. “Thou shall not kill” is God’s law and it is written in our hearts by our Creator.

We are call upon to defend the Gospel of life with courage and resolve. Your very profession [the legal profession] invests all of you with an even greater responsibility to ensure that our laws are just and that they protect the weak.

The Cardinal made both a natural law argument and a scriptural one. He ended by saying don’t forget we’re Catholics and we treasure life. Greg said the Cardinal also quotes Pope Benedict XVI as saying that natural law and faith go hand in hand and we need to see these things through the eyes of faith, to defend the weakest and poorest. The Cardinal particularly mentioned that it is the role of those in the legal profession to defend the weak and poor who need just defense the most. Antonio said its important that emphasize to non-Catholics that this is not just a religious ideal, but that it’s a universal morality, like the argument against murder.

Scot said the Cardinal also said the foundational principles of our country is that our human rights come from God, not government.

Our Country’s democracy is based on the conviction that human rights come from God. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our Creator with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In declaring this nation independence the signers of the Declaration stated that the rights cited in their claim were not simply a matter of opinion or even of belief. Rather they were God given rights that could not be taken away by any person or any government. These rights are self evident and those words were unanimously adopted. On this moral foundation, America has staked its claim for liberty.

Why would we want a government that didn’t protect our right to life? Susan noted that the Cardinal then said that American Catholics weren’t trying to establish a theocracy. We are simply seeking to protect the morality of country.

3rd segment: Scot named the 13 permanent deacons ordained for the Archdiocese last Saturday. He said the Cardinal had some interesting remarks for the men in his homily. Greg said the Cardinal emphasized that deacon means “servant”. He added that deacons should never be high-maintenance.

Susan said two of the deacons have connection to the religious education office and they are wonderful men. Susan liked his words: “Receive the Giospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” Scot said one of his favorite lines in the homily, reminding the men that deacons cannot marry if their wife dies and so the cardinal admonished them to “take good care of your wives,” to great laughter from the congregation.

Antonio appreciated how the cardinal implored them to remember that they have particular obligations of service and they must continue to also serve their wives and families.

Scot noted that two of the altar servers were the sons of Deacon Chris Connelly and were able to be part of the ordination ceremony. Deacon Dan Burns of the Permanent Diaconate Office said he felt like a father marrying off 13 of his children on one day.

4th segment: Last week, they discussed the first of a two-part series of editorials by Fr. Roger Landry in The Anchor, the newspaper of the Fall River diocese. The editorials talk about balancing justice for children who have been abused and protection of those who have not with the justice due to innocent priests, whether accused unjustly or not accused.

This week, Fr. Roger focuses on one practical balancing act by Cardinal Sean in August in releasing the names of priests who had been publicly accused in Boston.

On August 25, Cardinal Sean O’Malley released the names of 159 priests from the Archdiocese of Boston who were found guilty by Church or state of sexually abusing a child, laicized before or after having been accused, publicly accused of sexually abusing a child (while Church proceedings still need to be completed) or deceased after having been publicly accused of sexually abusing minors but against whom criminal or canonical proceedings were not completed. Cardinal O’Malley intentionally did not release the names of living or deceased clergy against whom allegations have not been made public, a move that has brought intense criticism from some victims’ groups.

Scot noted that you need the wisdom of Solomon to strike the right balance. The pendulum has swung from not protecting the rights of the accuser to not protecting the rights of the accuser.

Antonio said he was still new at the Pilot in 2002 when the crisis first broke. He believes the Church has done more than any other institution to fix this problem and restore trust. Hopefully there can be found better ways of dealing with these problems. No one can dispute that there are very few new cases today.

Some in the Church today — including some victims’ rights groups — seem to have become desensitized to the harm of false accusations against Church leaders in an analogous way to how many were once insensitive to the evil and harm of the sexual abuse of minors. False accusations, some victims’ advocates say, are relatively rare; in the United States, historically less than ten percent of accusations have been demonstrated to be false. When someone is accused, they imply, there’s a 90% chance that he or she is guilty, and therefore the good obtained by releasing all names outweighs the evil that might come to a few. Such proportionalistic reasoning, however, fails to consider adequately the harm done to the ten percent or more who are falsely accused of something as hideous as child abuse. No one would ever want to see the reputation of a living or deceased father, mother, beloved teacher, coach, athlete, actor, president or other public official destroyed by the actual or posthumous reporting of an untrue allegation of sexually abusing kids. A good reputation earned by a lifetime of virtue should never be able to be annihilated simply by the bringing of an accusation, because the accusation may be false or frivolous; with people we care about, we would justly demand that before such an allegation be publicized it would need to be substantiated. The same principle of fairness must reign within the Church. This isn’t a lack of sensitivity or concern for victims of sexual abuse, but a just principle to prevent making another class of victims.

Some in our society have begun to awaken to the reality of false accusations of the sexual abuse of minors and the often irreparable harm that comes through them. In a powerful June 15 Boston Globe article entitled “Collateral Damage,” columnist Brian McGrory wrote about the case of Boston priest Fr. Charles Murphy, who was falsely accused not once but twice of sexual abuse.

Scot said Fr. Murphy “died of a broken heart.” Susan said she knew people who were heartbroken for Fr. Murphy when he was accused twice. She said she doesn’t know the answer here, but it seems the presumption of innocence is being trumped by concerns for child safety. She said it seems we should find a better way. A quicker process would seem to be the way to fix it.

As the Church prepares in 2012 to mark the tenth anniversary of public part of the sexual abuse crisis and the Church’s response to it in Dallas, it is time for Church faithful and leaders to begin to achieve a yet unrealized Solomonic balance between the rights of accusers and accused. This will ensure that in the Church’s understandable zeal to bring healing to those who have suffered sexual abuse and prevent children from suffering similar harm in the future, we not lump the good in with the bad by treating all accusations, both true and calumnious, as worthy of publication until at least a minimal standard of veracity and substantiation has been established.

Antonio said the fear of scandal was what brought us to the scandal in the first place. The Church even in the 90s tried to fix this problem to avoid scandal when it became public. Unfortunately, it created this explosion despite the good intentions behind it. In order to solve these problems, the Church settled with victims but required them to be quiet about it. He noted that after 1993, priests who had credible accusations were not put back into parishes. Nevertheless when it did become public, trust was shattered. Maybe as we approach the 10th anniversary and people regain confidence that the Church is not hiding anything, we can modify our approach.

Scot said with 10 years experience we should see how unfair it is for a press release to go out on any accusation, no matter how credible. In some places in the world, it’s not just the priest’s reputation which would be in danger, but his very life. Susan noted that there is difference between transparency and trumpets.

5th segment: Scot, Susan, and Antonio discussed the details of the Mass. bishop statement on casino gambling legislation. Susan noted with humor that the bishops spent some time distinguishing between bingo and casino gambling, but it is true that people lose much more at casinos than in church bingo.

Scot said he was startled by the crime statistics about how violent crime rises in a 50-mile radius around casinos when they open.

Naturally, the state is searching for new ways to increase revenue and create jobs aimed at meeting these difficult challenges and to bring about economic stimuli. However, expanded gambling in the form of slot parlors and casinos is an illusory solution to this complicated problem. If anything, expanded, predatory gambling will only add to the need for state assistance in the Commonwealth.

The gambling industry can threaten local business and change the entire make-up of communities. If Massachusetts were to pass the proposed gambling legislation and open the door for casinos and slot parlors in our state, it could diminish our rich heritage and history as a Commonwealth. There is too much at stake for Massachusetts to open the door to expanded gambling.

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