Pro-Lifers To Cardinal O’Malley:  Stop Betraying Us

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Several prominent Massachusetts pro-lifers are criticizing Cardinal Sean O’Malley and other Catholic bishops in the state for what they call “betrayals” of the pro-life movement.

The pro-lifers cite examples of O’Malley acting chummy in public with politicians who support legal abortion. But they are particularly irked by the bishops’ decision in June to ban signature gathering on Church property — including for a petition drive seeking to put a ballot question to voters that would allow the state to ban public funding of abortion.

Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment need 64,750 signatures of registered voters by December 6 — which they describe as a difficult task that’s much harder if they’re not able to approach church-goers after Sunday Mass.

“Unfortunately, in recent years a disturbing trend has emerged. While there is still rhetorical and material support for the pro-life cause from Catholic prelates, too many of their actions belie their words, to the detriment of the Gospel of Life,” the pro-lifers’ statement says. “A recent such action is the ban on signature gathering on Church property, just as another effort to end state abortion funding gets under way.”

The chief signer is William Cotter, of Operation Rescue: Boston, who has prayed outside of abortion clinics for years and who in the early 1990s spent time in jail for violating a court order against blocking entrances to abortion clinics.

Other signers include Philip Lawler, a former editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the archdiocese of Boston, and current director of and editor of Catholic World News; and Robert Joyce, a Newton lawyer who serves as president of the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund. (Joyce signed as an individual and not in connection with the organization he heads. Lawler signed as editor of Catholic World News.)

A spokesman for Cardinal O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, could not be reached for comment. Spokesmen for the other three diocesan Catholic bishops in Massachusetts either declined comment or did not immediately provide comment when reached Friday.

O’Malley came to Boston as archbishop in July 2003 to near-universal acclaim, in the wake of the disastrous exit of his predecessor, Cardinal William Law, who resigned under pressure for his handling of clergy sex abuse cases.

O’Malley had gotten widespread praise for his handling of clergy sex abuse scandals in the Fall River and Palm Beach dioceses, where he served as bishop before coming to Boston.

Catholics who accept all Church teachings (sometimes called “orthodox”) hailed O’Malley as one of their own.

Progressive Catholics who don’t accept Church teachings on certain moral issues noted his longtime work with immigrants, his concern for the poor, and his practice of wearing a Capuchin Franciscan habit and sandals in imitation of St. Francis, the founder of O’Malley’s religious order.

Among O’Malley’s early supporters were pro-lifers who recalled his trips to the March for Life in Washington as bishop of Fall River (which continue in the present).

In 2008, the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund honored O’Malley at its annual dinner with its Thomas More Award.

But the bloom seems to be off the rose for some pro-lifers.

In addition to Joyce, among the signers of the statement criticizing O’Malley is Roy Scarpato, who like O’Malley is a past recipient of the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund’s Thomas More Award.

Brian Camenker, executive director of Mass Resistance, and C.J. Doyle, the executive director of the Catholic League of Massachusetts, also signed the statement.

Several prominent pro-life organizations in the state are not among the signers, including the largest, Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Also not included is the Alliance To Stop Taxpayer Funded Abortion, the organization spearheading the signature drive. (Thomas Harvey, the executive director, declined comment for this story.)

But Cotter, in an interview with New Boston Post, said he hasn’t heard opposition to the substance of the statement. He said that while some pro-lifers he contacted declined to sign the statement, no one he has spoken with expressed disagreement with what it says.

The statement includes sharp language criticizing O’Malley’s public appearances with politicians who have enthusiastically supported legal (and publicly funded) abortion such as former Secretary of State John Kerry, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and former President Barack Obama.

According to the statement, O’Malley gave the benediction at the Boston College graduation in May 2014 when Kerry was the keynote speaker, and posed for a photo with Kerry.

In October 2014, the archdiocese’s Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle gave its Cardinal Cushing Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity to Walsh, who has also been honored by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

This past May, O’Malley attended the Profiles in Courage award ceremony at the JFK Library in Dorchester, where the honoree was Obama.

“On repeated occasions, Cardinal O’Malley has been not merely amicable, but laudatory to those who promote abortion. This is corrosive to pro-life work and disheartening to those involved,” the pro-lifers’ statement says.

Cotter said he doesn’t question whether the archbishop is authentically pro-life.

O’Malley, for instance, often mentions the unborn in sermons. He is a frequent speaker at the March for Life in Washington. In his blog earlier this month he announced that he recently met with the head of a national pro-life group based in Washington. These are all activities he could avoid if he didn’t care about abortion.

But Cotter suggests some of O’Malley’s public actions are undermining the message he sends to Catholics and others.

Cotter points to a document approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2004 called Catholics in Public Life, and questions whether O’Malley is living up to it.

It says, in part:  “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” (emphasis in original).

Yet while Cotter is dismayed by some of O’Malley’s public appearances, it’s the recent signature-collecting ban that spurred the public criticism of O’Malley this week.

In the past, Catholic bishops in Massachusetts have left it up to local pastors to decide whether to allow advocates to collect signatures for referendum questions at their parishes. Where allowed, volunteers typically set up a table in the back of the church outside the sanctuary and ask church-goers to sign a petition as they are leaving.

Past examples include a petition drive seeking to overturn the 2004 ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court creating same-sex marriage and the first phase of signature gathering for the proposed abortion-funding amendment.

In parishes where there is a sympathetic pastor and willing parishioners, volunteers can often collect dozens of signatures at a time.

But on June 1 the bishops of the four Roman Catholic dioceses in Massachusetts released a statement banning signature gathering on church property.

The bishops said that pastors requested guidance from the bishops, and that parishioners who have spoken about it don’t like encountering petitions at church.

“The overwhelming feedback from parishioners over the past several years is that they do not like to be approached prior to or at the conclusion of Mass or other church activities for their signatures on a petition drive,” the bishops said. “We agree. … [C]hurch functions are a place to experience the fullness of community and parish life. In particular, Holy Mass is a place to encounter God through the reception of the Eucharist.”

The bishops noted that signatures may be gotten on sidewalks adjacent to church property, since they are public property.

But in many Catholic parishes with large parking lots the church building is far from a sidewalk. In some cases the church is close to a sidewalk but the ordinary flow of foot traffic after Mass is away from the sidewalk and toward the cars parked in back.

At stake is whether pro-lifers against public funding of abortion can get enough signatures in the next few months.

The petition drive is an attempt to ask voters three years from now to approve a constitutional amendment that would make it clear that the Massachusetts constitution doesn’t require the state to provide public funds for abortion, as the state Supreme Judicial Court said it does in a 1981 ruling.

Supporters need to get the signatures by early December 2017, then get approval from at least one-quarter of the 200 state legislators sometime in 2018 and again during the 2019-2020 legislative session. If all that happens, the petition will go on the statewide general election ballot in November 2020.

Pro-lifers running the petition drive say they are hopeful they can get the signatures they need, even without cooperation from the bishops. Chanel Prunier, chairman of the Renew MA Coalition, which is one of the sponsors of the petition, said early response from volunteers is heartening.

“I’m extremely encouraged by the response the petition has been getting from people of all walks of life, including Catholics and Catholic churches,” said Prunier, who has not signed the pro-lifers’ petition criticizing the bishops, in an email message.

“We’ve been instructing our volunteers to follow the bishops’ guidelines as their churches do petition drives. The Massachusetts General Laws define abortion as ‘knowing destruction of the life of an unborn child,’ and the more people who are educated that our tax dollars fund it, the more people sign the petition and otherwise flock to our cause.”