Program #0306 for Thursday, May 24, 2012: Catholic HHS mandate lawsuits; Parish threatened by gay activists; Church closing appeals rejected

May 24, 2012

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Summary of today’s show: Our usual Thursday panel of Scot Landry, Susan Abbott, Fr. Roger Landry, and Gregory Tracy consider the news headlines of the week, including the lawsuit filed by 43 Catholic organizations against the Department of Health and Human Services universal healthcare mandate; the attack on a parish in Acushnet for the pro-marriage message on its sign; the Vatican’s rejection of appeals related to closed parishes; the death of the dean of Boston historians; and more.

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

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Roger Landry, executive editor of The Anchor, the newspaper of the Fall River diocese; and Gregory Tracy, managing editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston archdiocese

Links from today’s show:

  • The Anchor
  • The Pilot
  • 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: Catholic HHS mandate lawsuits; Parish threatened by gay activists; Church closing appeals rejected

1st segment: Scot and Susan discussed that there are many offices moving within the Pastoral Center this week, including Susan’s. Scot said the building has been occupied by Central Ministries for 4 years and now some entities related to the Archdiocese moving the Pastoral Center and also moving people who work within the same secretariat so they will be working in close proximity.

Scot also said the graduation ceremony for the Master of Arts in Ministry program at St. John Seminary was last night. It was the 10th graduation and they had one DRE who received a Master’s degree. Bishop Arthur Kennedy gave the commencement address and focused on St. Augustine. Cardinal Seán presented the diplomas and gave his blessing to the 10 graduates.

2nd segment: Scot said this past Monday 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services for the Obamacare mandate. The most prominent dioceses are New York and Washington, DC, as well as St. Louis.

Fr. Roger said the Church has been negotiating with the Obama administration since last year to find an accommodation for religious conscience. Despite many attempts for compromise, the administration gave a phony accommodation. After a year of work, it became obvious that the Administration is obstinate in violating the First Amendment and federal law. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said they had to reluctantly file suit. Fr. Roger said Catholics should step up to support the Church in this matter. This was the last resort of the US bishops. Scot said the expectation is one of these suits will end up before the Supreme Court.

The Pilot has an editorial this week called “Stop the HHS mandate”:

The decision of a wide spectrum of Catholic institutions to join together in a lawsuit against the Obama administration should not come as a surprise. The HHS mandate that would force most Catholic institutions to provide contraception. sterilization services and abortive pills to employees is an unprecedented attack on the freedom of conscience and religious freedom. Furthermore. enacted in an electoral year to. reportedly. mobilize the more liberal segment of the electorate. this decision is an insult to Catholic voters.

The issue at stake is not accessibility to contraception. which is widely available at very low cost. The issue for Catholics. and all people of good will, is that the government feels compelled, for no compelling reason, to force individuals and institutions to act against their conscience. If this mandate becomes effective, those advancing the most secular agendas will have a precedent to claim that, in fact, religion does not belong in the public square, opening the door to other restrictions on religious freedom.

The Obama administration should make no mistake. Catholics of all political persuasions will be united on the need to defend individual freedom of conscience in front of an intrusive and unnecessary government mandate. That is at the core of Christian beliefs and even those currently nor practicing their faith know that freedom of religion is intrinsic to who we are as a people. In our opinion, the apparent political calculation that forcing this issue will benefit the president in November is risky and will backfire.

Mr. President, there is still time to stop the HHS madness.

Scot said the key idea is that the government feels compelled for no good reason to compel the conscience of individuals. Greg said people may not be familiar with how the government passing a law that infringes on freedom of religion will affect them. The government can restrict the practice of religion when there is a compelling public need and must be done in such a way as to have the least possible impact.

Scot said in many ways, this lawsuit is unprecedented. Susan said the implications of this reaching the Supreme Court will be huge. Scot said there has been some media coverage and some prominent Catholics have come out with key reminders of why we’re doing this as a Church. Fr. Roger said one of those points is that the Department of Health and Human Services has come out with an unprecedented definition of religious groups that qualify for exemptions, which is that if we serve those who aren’t Catholic, we don’t qualify. Fr. Roger said the service of those who aren’t Catholic is a key element of our faith. The definition goes against what President Obama himself said at the National Prayer Breakfast in February in which he lauded religious groups serve others. Fr. Roger said either Obama was talking about of both sides f his mouth or HHS Secretary Sebelius violated the president’s own principles.

Fr. Roger also said any exemption being talked about doesn’t protect Catholic business owners. This mandate also fits a larger pattern of the US government forcing Catholics to violate their religious beliefs on many issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage.

Scot noted the story this week that Franciscan University of Steubenville dropped its requirement for student health insurance and won’t provide it for those who want it.

Scot said Cardinal Seán will host a live town hall meeting for the Fortnight for Freedom on Monday June 25 at 8pm on CatholicTV and simulcast on WQOM. He asked listeners to make an appointment and spread the word.

Also in the Pilot this week is a poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus. It found that 74% of Americans value religious freedom even when it conflicts with laws. Greg said people support this principle even if the religious freedom conflict doesn’t affect them. Whether or not they personally believe, they support the right of people to live their faith as they see it appropriate.

Susan said she thought the questions people could choose from were very clear cut.

“This survey reveals that the American people are fundamentally dedicated to protecting the First Amendment conscience rights of everyone.” said Carl A. Anderson. supreme knight of the New Haven-based Knights of Columbus.

“Allowing people to opt out of these procedures or services – which violate their faith – is the right thing to do.” he added. “It is also key to protecting the First Amendment rights of all Americans and enjoys strong public support as well.”

Fr. Roger said he wants to attribute good intentions to people like Kathleen Sebelius, but it then shows the deeper problem that they believe that we can’t survive if the government doesn’t give us certain things for free. On the other hand, we could presume a cynical political motive designed to ignite a political base that hadn’t been excited about a re-election campaign.

3rd segment: Scot said the Anchor editorial is called “Lessons from Acushnet”:

Prior to last Tuesday, the beautiful town of Acushnet was known mainly to residents of the southcoast of Massachusetts. Most in other parts of the Commonwealth – not to mention outside its boundaries – would have had to use atlases or the Internet to locate this charming place of bogs, farms and a world-famous golfing equipment company. That all changed on May 15 with six words placed on the rectory lawn sign facing the city’s main intersection, “Two men are friends not spouses,” placed there by the parish director of Pastoral Services in response to President Barack Obama’s May 9 newly announced support for the redefinition of marriage to embrace two men or two women. The phrase was meant to express in a succinct way the Church’s teaching that those of the same sex not only can but are called to love each other, but that that love is not meant to take on the form of romantic or spousal love (what the Greeks called eros) but rather the deep love of friendship (philia) consistent with the self-controlled and -sacrificial love (agape) that Christ Himself gave and called us to imitate.

For Jesus and those who follow Him, love and truth are always united. Christ very clearly spoke about the truth of marriage when He said (Mt 19) that in the beginning God made them male and female (not male and male, or female and female) and for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (not two fathers or two mothers) and cling to his wife (not to whomever he is sexually attracted) and the two shall become one flesh (which refers not merely to the ephemeral physical contact involved in sexual activity but to the fusion of the flesh of a man and a woman in a child, a fruit of which those of the same-sex are obviously incapable). Jesus also said that what God has joined, man must not divide, and this can be interpreted not just with regard to a particular man and a particular woman in a particular marital bond, but also to the marital communion intended in general between man and woman: The union of man and woman in marriage cannot be rent asunder to make marriage a husbandless or wifeless union. To believe in Jesus means to believe in what He taught. To follow Jesus means to seek to imitate the way He showed us how to love. St. Francis Xavier Parish was giving witness to its authentically Christian faith in the public square by reiterating the particular type of love to which those with same-sex attractions are called.

Based on the media attention the six-word message garnered, however, one might have thought that instead of reiterating the Church’s teaching on the meaning of marriage and the love of friendship, St. Francis Xavier had put up a message calling for the condemnation of all those with same-sex attractions. One young woman started a Facebook campaign calling the message “hateful,” as if the six-word message had been, “The Church hates gays and lesbians.” Soon a blast got out to the wider gay community. A few picketers showed up. Others started bringing other posters. Many started calling. And, curiously, within hours all the major television stations in Boston and Providence were coming to Acushnet to do interviews and live reports about the protests to putative Catholic hate-mongering. It’s worth noting – as a commentary on the media’s coverage of the Church as well as the issues concerning gays and lesbians – that five days a week, 240 students attend St. Francis Xavier School to learn the Church’s teaching on truth and love in classrooms and on Sunday more than 800 worshippers come to hear it from the pulpit. These activities garner no media attention at all. Yet when as few as three people come to hold protest placards on the city sidewalk near a parish sign – even after the message had been changed the following day to announce the Ascension Thursday Mass schedule – television from all the major news affiliates of the two closest metropolises somehow show up.

To the media’s credit, however, once journalists had arrived to cover a hyped-up story on homophobia and anti-gay hatred, they recognized, in talking with pastor Msgr. Gerard O’Connor and director of Pastoral Services Steven Guillotte, that not only was that animus totally absent, but another type of hatred – one of the most underreported forms of uncivility and bullying in our culture – was. And they reported it. They were shown various posters that had been left on the property. “Jesus freaks, come to your senses. Jesus freaks, pray for death,” said one. Another went straight after the Blessed Mother in a mockery of the angelic salutation, “Hail Mary, Virgin Whore.” Facebook and verbal messages referred to both pastor and parishioners as pederasts – a facilely-employed and relatively ubiquitous ad hominem used against Catholic ministers and believers today, especially whenever the Church speaks on human sexuality. The message that captured the journalists’ attention most was a voicemail left by an unidentified woman. In the span of 54 seconds, she somehow managed to employ 16 expletives while threatening, “Seriously, your Church should be burned,” insisting “God isn’t real,” and saying that the town of Acushnet, St. Francis Xavier Parish, and the Catholic Church and her teaching should nevertheless all go to hell. Apparently, God doesn’t exist but hell does. It didn’t take advanced degrees from Columbia school of journalism for reporters to figure out that such messages were hardly consistent with a side admonishing the Church to “Spread love, not hate,” as one poster left on the property declared.

What is the larger lesson to be learned from what was really going on in Acushnet? It’s about the verbal nuclear attack that the gay movement regularly employs against the Church for her opposition to the redefinition of marriage. Whenever the Church expresses its principled objection to the redefinition of marriage – not only out of fidelity to Jesus’ teachings but out of concern for the future of our nation, because of the importance of the marriage between one man and one woman for the procreation and education of our nation’s future citizens, teachers, defenders, and leaders – she is accused of “homophobia,” “gay-bashing,” and “hatred.” This is part of a strategy directed against the Church and Christian believers that has been publicly described by various gay leaders. Notice that when President Obama, up until the “evolution” he announced on May 9, stressed his support for marriage as the union of one man and one woman, he was never accused of an irrational fear of those with same-sex attractions or of despising gays. When President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, passed overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate, they weren’t accused of collective antipathy toward gay fellow citizens. It’s only when Christian believers defend marriage as the union between one man and one woman that we begin to hear the accusations of hatred and homophobia. Why? The reason, gay strategists have declared in interviews, is because with politicians and citizens in general, the gay movement is trying to persuade them patiently to abandon the wisdom of the centuries about marriage and redefine its meaning as the crowning achievement of the social normalization of same-sex behavior. But since those who truly believe in Jesus and His teachings will never be persuaded of the same-sex ideal of marriage as a husbandless or wifeless institution with no intrinsic connection to children flowing from that privileged bond – and the Catholic Church in particular is seen as a bulwark against this revolution in social and sexual mores – what needs to be done is demonize and marginalize believers’ convictions altogether. Nobody, after all, likes to associate with “bigots,” especially in the politically-correct milieus of education and media that mold public opinion.

In Acushnet, this strategy backfired. The real bigotry at play – against Catholic teaching and faithful Catholics- was exposed. The Church loves and welcomes those with same-sex attractions and defends them against all unjust discrimination. But the Church’s – and society’s – defense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is not unjust discrimination, because gays do not have the right to change what marriage means and is. The “right to marriage” is not the unlimited right to marry anyone one wants. Laws rightly discriminate against certain types of attempted “marriages” in order to protect what marriage is and thereby serve the common good, and to affirm that those of the same-sex do not have the right to marry each other is not unjust discrimination any more than to say that people do not have the right to marry kids, or siblings, or another person’s spouse. It’s not hateful or homophobic to say this; rather, it’s the common sense and wisdom of the centuries, even from before the Church was founded. The truth about marriage as the union of one man and one woman, however, is also part of what the God of love has revealed. This is a message that all Catholics should confidently, charitably, and courageously proclaim from their rooftops, belltowers and parish lawns.

Fr. Roger said this is bigger than just one parish, but points to a pattern being faced by Catholics. He said the parish was subjected to a Facebook campaign and received death threats; there were pickets outside that accosted parish employees and parishioners; and vile attacks. Every single major news station and media outlets provided blanket coverage. However, almost all of the media coverage ended up contrasting the parish’s passivity and calmness against the hatred they encountered. Fr. Roger said the only people who are called hateful toward homosexuals are Catholics and Bible-believing Christians. That’s because the activists recognize they aren’t going to change Christians’ minds so they will marginalize and demonize them so no one will want to identify with them. Fr. Roger said this was exposed by one little parish in a little town in Massachusetts.

Scot and Greg discussed how the secular media did a good job and was not biased against the Church in any way. Scot said if you want to see the kind of venom that is spewed against the Church, go on to a newspaper website when any article about the Church is posted and read the comments.

Scot said another story concerns the Vatican’s rejection of the appeals regarding six churches in closed parishes. The appeals had opposed the relegation to profane use of the buildings. He said there has been predictable responses from the group Council of Parishes that has been riling up people across the country. Greg said in last week’s show we discussed what relegation and profane use mean. He those fighting the Archdiocese in this regard have dropped accusations that the Vatican gave Boston special treatment because of the influence of Cardinal Seán in Rome. Scot said the Archdiocese encourages people to join their fellow parishioners in their new parishes. Greg said Terry Donilon, archdiocesan spokesman, said the protesters are grasping at straws. Scot said Peter Borre of Council of Parishes threw out the rumor about Cardinal Sean throwing his influence around.

“We feel we did it right procedurally, we did it right on the substance, we provided an enormous amount of information with the Vatican to back up the decision that was made, and I think they are grasping at straws and I think they are trying to create a conspiracy theory that does not exist,” [Donilon] said.

Susan said the property of St. James the Great church in Wellesley has an agreement from the town of Wellesley to buy it, but that sale can’t go through until the appeals are finished. Greg said thinks the appeals will be exhausted eventually and thinks if the town does purchase the property they will be less sympathetic and merciful toward those occupying the building. He wonders how the media will cover that.

Also in the Pilot this week is an obituary for Thomas O’Connor, the dean of Boston historians, who died this week at 89. He wrote several books on the history of the archdiocese. Scot said the books helped him understand so much of the background for the current issues in the archdiocese today. Fr. Roger said O’Connor helped people like us understand the roots of the trees that spread throughout this region.

His funeral Mass was earlier today at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Braintree. Susan said she’s read several of his books and he spoke several times to gatherings of directors of religious education. He was really a storyteller. Greg said that as a convert to Catholicism, he found the books to be very accessible. Scot reiterated that O’Connor brought the characters he wrote about alive.

Greg said the Pilot this week also covers the workshops going on around the Archdiocese for the doctor-assisted suicide education campaign.

Fr. Roger said the Anchor profiles several priests of the Fall River diocese who have served the Church for many years. Susan highlighted the family retreat going on at the Family Rosary Retreat in Easton next month. More information will be on the Pilot’s website on Friday. We will interview organizers of the retreat on The Good Catholic Life next Wednesday. Scot highlighted a moving testimony from a Catholic chaplain serving with the 101st Airborne as we head into Memorial Day weekend.

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