Another Massachusetts Bishop Shifts Policy on Signature Gathering for Abortion-Funding Petition

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Roman Catholic churches in central Massachusetts are now allowed to host signature gatherers trying to put a referendum on the ballot that would enable the state to stop public funding of abortion.

Bishop Robert J. McManus, bishop of Worcester, released a letter Monday similar to a statement that Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, made last week. The new policy reverses the ban on signature gathering on church property that the four Massachusetts diocesan bishops announced June 1.

The new policy restores the ability of a pastor or administrator of a parish to allow signature gathering at a parish on a case-by-case basis, with a wrinkle – signature gatherers must be “away from the flow of parishioners approaching or departing Holy Mass.”

The Worcester diocese consists of Worcester County, which is in central Massachusetts.

The Archdiocese of Boston includes much of eastern Massachusetts, including Suffolk County, Middlesex County, Essex County, Norfolk County, and almost all of Plymouth County.

It was unclear as of Monday afternoon what the other two Catholic diocesan bishops will do.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, bishop of Springfield, is studying the matter.

“Bishop Rozanski will revisit this matter through discussions with his advisory councils over the coming weeks,” said Mark Dupont, a spokesman for Rozanski, in an email message.

The Diocese of Springfield includes Hampden County, Hampshire County, Franklin County, and Berkshire County in western Massachusetts,

Bishop Edgar da Cunha, bishop of Fall River, was on the road Monday and could not immediately be reached for comment, a spokesman said.

The Diocese of Fall River includes Bristol County, one town in Plymouth County, Barnstable County, Dukes County, and Nantucket County – which means the South Coast, Cape Cod, and the Islands.

Time is running out for supporters of the measure, who have only a few weeks to obtain 64,750 certified signatures of registered voters in Massachusetts. The deadline for getting signatures to town and city clerks is November 22, followed by a December 6 deadline to get certified signatures to the Massachusetts Secretary of State.

The proposed amendment states:  “Nothing in this constitution requires the public funding of abortion.”

It would overturn a 1981 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stating that the Massachusetts Constitution requires the state government to pay for abortions for poor women.

The four bishops jointly announced the ban on signature gathering on church property June 1, citing objections from some church-goers and a desire to remove the aura of politics from Mass.

The new policy announced by O’Malley and McManus cites the “importance” of signature-gathering efforts currently under way – an apparent reference to the proposed abortion-funding constitutional amendment. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that elective abortion is evil because it takes an innocent human life and that it should be illegal.

Read the letter:

Worcester by Evan on Scribd