I read Cardinal Sean’s excellent short blog post critical of the current healthcare legislation this morning and if you scroll 2/3 of the page down, you can see a painting of St. Patrick and listen to his homily of St. Patrick’s Day that gave the inspiration for today’s post. I was struck by the Cardinal’s comment in the blog and homily about the painting of St. Patrick–depicted with the symbols of the bishop and the symbol of snakes. The symbolism of the snakes is especially the reason for me writing this post, which I have also sent via email to the Cardinal, Fr. Hehir, and Papal Nuncio, in the interest of full transparency and openness.
I see where Fr. Hehir, one of the key advisors for important decisions in the Archdiocese of Boston, is on the Board of some organizations who sponsor speakers that dissent from Catholic Church teachings. I remain confused. Why would the Archdiocese of Boston, which should maintain adherence to the faith, trust decision-making advice and input by someone who is has a long history of dissent in the Church and who is still today sponsoring and supporting speakers who dissent from Church teachings? This priest may be viewed by some people as a bright person in other matters, but this does not make sense to me and my wife.
Here are just two examples:
Fr. Hehir is on the Advisory Board of the Boisi Center at Boston College:
From their website, they say, “The Boisi Center does not seek to advance any ideological agenda…While based in a Jesuit university, it will not take sides in competing groups of Catholic theologians, nor will it defend a specifically Catholic viewpoint against non-Catholic ones.”
Hmm. What’s wrong with this picture? Why would the Archdiocese want one of it’s most senior and apparently influential cabinet members using the credibility of his Archdiocesan official status to advance an agenda that specifically does not defend Catholic viewpoints?
This April 8, they are sponsoring a talk by Fr. James Keenan on “What Has HIV/AIDS Led Us To Understand about Global Ethical Challenges?” This is the same notorious Fr. Keenan who testified to the Massachusetts Legislature in 2002 against a measure to ban gay marriage “because it is contrary to Catholic teaching on social justice”. His testimony is posted on the website of gay rights organization, Mass Equality.
They said he and others had “mischaracterized the teaching of the Catholic Church” and neglected to share the following statement from the U.S. Bishops:
we [the Bishops] wish to make it clear that the institution of marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, must be preserved, protected, and promoted in both private and public realms [our emphasis]. . . .Thus, we oppose attempts to grant the legal status of marriage to a relationship between persons of the same sex. No same-sex union can realize the unique and full potential which the marital relationship expresses. For this reason, our opposition to “same-sex marriage” is not an instance of unjust discrimination or animosity toward homosexual persons.
In April of 2004, in the midst of the heated “gay marriage” debate in Massachusetts, Fr. Hehir was on the Boisi Center Boarrd that approved Fr. Keenan talking on the subject of “Virtuous Sexual Ethics.” A report on the event says “He critiqued the current discourse on sexual ethics as focusing too narrowly on specific issues such as abortion, gene therapy, or abuse” and said it was a problem that “chastity is often raised in this discussion as a chief virtue.”
It feels scandalous (isn’t it?) that an Archdiocesan official is today on the Board of any institution currently backing and putting forward this speaker. Why do we feel it is OK having Fr. Hehir on the senior leadership team of the Boston Catholic Archdiocese giving advice and making recommendations on public policy decisions, matters of archdiocesan leadership, education/schools, parish closings, fund-raising, hiring and staffing, and communications when at the same time, he sits on the Board of a think-tank and supports presentations by people who have viewpoints totally against Church teachings–on something as fundamental as the definition of marriage, as just one example?
Fr. Hehir also sits on the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Catholic Studies at the Univ. of Southern California
They sponsored a talk by Peter Steinfels last October 21, 2009 titled, “A Catholic Approach to American Public Life.” Steinfels is known for a long time for his criticism of Church teachings as well, so the talk must have been interesting. Let’s see, where do I start? Here are just two examples:
Steinfels has questioned basic teachings and beliefs about abortion in “Abortion, Religion, and the Constitution”:
Both positions reflect a sad fact about our culture–the belief among too many that our deepest values cannot be challenged and reformed and affirmed by reasonable discussion.
He acknowledged “scientific fact about conception marking the beginning of a genetically distinct individual” but then said this position reflects “a sad fact about the state of our culture” and he criticized pro-lifers (or anti-abortionists) for refusing “to perceive that the question of fetal life is simply not so clear, particularly in its earlier stages.”
Maybe I’m totally wrong with my thinking. But, that Fr. Hehir sits on the boards of these organizations and endorses them having such speakers present strongly indicates that he shares and supports their viewpoints, and/or that hes’ supportive of having people who publicly dissent from Church teachings present their dissident and critical viewspoints at Catholic institutions to Catholic students. Is this OK? Isn’t that kind of a scandal for the Boston Archdiocese, to have that situation?
I forgot something. My wife just reminded me that Fr. Hehir himself said at a 2003 BC forum with Mr. Steinfels that we have to work through doctrinal issues and consider women priests in the future.
“The ordination of women embraces doctrinal questions that have to be worked through in a Church that takes doctrine seriously.”
So, given Fr. Hehir’s history and these facts above (and in my last post), does anyone feel I am wrong in thinking that his opinions should not be accepted and valued in important decisions in this Archdiocese? I know he is viewed by some people in the archdiocese to be a very smart man from Harvard and all, but why would we listen to what he has to say about people, organization of the leadership of the archdiocese, education, public policy, and other important areas and push aside orthodox Catholics doing good work in the Archdiocese in favor of Fr. Hehir’s agendia and recommendations?
This situation of an influential person having one foot in an Archdiocesan Cabinet role and another foot as Board member and sponsor of dissident Catholics as speakers reminds me of Luke 16:12-14. “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
I thank you, Cardinal Sean, for your comments on the terrible healthcare legislation and also for the example of St. Patrick with the snakes. It is powerful symbolism–the bishop and snakes. By the way, what did St. Patrick end up doing with the snakes?