One of the topics we’ve wanted to get to for a while is the role Fr. Bryan Hehir’s had in hiring many of the senior staff people in the Boston Archdiocese, and how the hiring of people not committed to the truths of the faith undermines the Catholic Church. Boston Catholic Insider has reported on how Fr. Hehir approved a conflict of interest in letting the PR firm drive hiring the Communications Secretary who would manage them, as well as letting the PR firm on the hiring committee for the Chancellor. Fr. Hehir also led the search team that hired Edward Saunders as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. The Mass Catholic Conference is the public policy voice of the Catholic Church and for some odd reason reports into Fr. Hehir. Here are some excerpts from their blog post, the reasons for concern when Saunders was hired, then our own take on what has happened since Fr. Hehir hired him. (No video or audio clips today).
Excerpted from the Boston Catholic Insider post on Saunders:
Edward Saunders, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, holds another of those six-figure jobs that does not appear in the archdiocesan annual report. Saunders was hired in 2005 by a search committee headed by Fr. Bryan Hehir. Nobody had ever heard of Saunders before he was hired, and people familiar with the search inform us his name appeared from out of nowhere near the end of the process while qualified candidates tell us they were unable to get an interview. When his hiring was announced in mid-July of 2005, it was sufficiently controversial that the announcement article in The Pilot mentioned objections as well as a statement by Terry Donilon defending Saunders as being a strong candidate for the position. The highly experienced associate director for public policy at MCC and interim MCC director, Maria P, did apply for the job, but was rejected and took “early retirement.”
Reasons for concern. “Sufficiently controversial” as stated in the post is an understatement. The Mass Catholic Conference represents the interests of the Catholic Bishops to the legislature, and the previous Executive Director, Gerry D’Avolio along with Maria Parker and Daniel Avila did a pretty good job at it—testifying on key legislation, talking to legislators, communicating what they were doing ,and telling Catholics when their outreach to legislators was needed via the Pilot, email alerts, and through parishes. When people looked at the background of Saunders, they were concerned. Here’s why.
In July of 2005 when Saunders was announced, The Pilot said, “Some local Catholics have voiced objections to Saunders’ appointment saying they are concerned about his past personal contributions to politicians who have consistently opposed the Church’s position on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem-cell research
The Boston Globe (July 13, 2005) went much further:
The new lobbyist for the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts has in the past given money to lawmakers who support abortion rights and same-sex marriage, causing concern among some conservative Catholics. The mini-controversy…reflects a larger debate within Catholicism over how the church hierarchy should relate to the sizable fraction of Catholic laypeople who disagree with or act against church teachings. Some conservatives have criticized the appointment to church panels of Catholics who support abortion rights or gay marriage, and a few bishops, although none in Massachusetts, have suggested that they would deny Communion to such Catholics.
Saunders, a registered Democrat and a longtime lobbyist on Beacon Hill, declined to discuss his personal views on social issues, saying only, ”Whatever the position of the church is, that’s my position….I’ve been around the State House for close to 20 years, and if you go back through the years, you can see the relationships I’ve developed, and many of them are personal friendships,” he said. ”But I was wearing a different hat, representing the credit union industry, and I’m wearing a different hat now.”
We have checked and double-checked the contribution records–these were personal contriutions, not contributions from the organization Saunders was lobbying for at the time. Saunders said he had not discussed political contributions with the Massachusetts bishops who hired him. Why wouldn’t the Catholic bishops and Fr. Hehir have discussed his past political contributions? Did they not think to ask? The Globe continued:
According to records on file with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Saunders gave $200 in 2002 to Treasurer Shannon P. O’Brien, who was a candidate for governor; $100 in 2003 and $200 in 2004 to Senator Robert E. Travaglini of East Boston, now the Senate president; and $100 each in 2001, 2003, and 2004 to state Senator Marian Walsh of West Roxbury. Those three Catholic Democrats all support same sex marriage or civil unions, both of which are opposed by their church. O’Brien and Travaglini also support abortion rights. Walsh, a longtime legislative ally of church leaders who became critical of the diocese because of the clergy abuse crisis, was unsuccessfully targeted for defeat by the church last year, when the Catholic Conference issued a scorecard on same-sex marriage in which she and 75 other legislators ranked last.
Under Massachusetts state law, each year lobbyists can give no more than $200 to a candidate.
Saunders also gave $100 to Boston City Council President Michael F. Flaherty Jr. last month, four days before Flaherty marched in the city’s gay pride parade. .
Marie Sturgis, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said the group is ”investigating” Saunders’s background. ”I realize lobbyists do what they have to do, but we’re talking about principles here, and strong beliefs in some fundamental human rights. ‘There’s a side of me that wonders, if there are personal contributions given to lawmakers or political candidates who are not in synch with what the church teaches, then doesn’t that call into serious question the motives of this individual?”
A spokesman for Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley defended the appointment. ”Ed Saunders is personally and professionally committed to advocate the full range of Catholic social and moral teachings,” said the spokesman, Terrence C. Donilon. ”On that basis and his many qualifications, he was a strong candidate for the position for which he was hired.”
When the archdiocese has to come out with a statement defending a controversial hire, you generally know something is wrong. Was Saunders the strongest candidate? Who did he know? Why did some strong candidates find they were unable to get an interview with Fr. Hehir and the committee?
Before landing the MCC job, Saunders worked as SVP and legislative counsel for the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island Credit Union Leagues. He is a Boston College alumnus, class of 1971. As Boston Catholic Insider reported, “his name has rarely been seen or heard in communications to rank-and-file Catholics since 2005, and most of the time when his name is published or appears on legislative testimony, it is because it has been added to a statement or testimony that was actually prepared by loyal assoc director of policy and research, Dan A.”
Let’s look at what has happened since Saunders was hired. Here’s what pro-life leader, RT Neary said:
Back when Mr.Ed Saunders came aboard, apparently to succeed Gerry D’Avolio in representing the Archdiocese, he was conspicuous in his absence of any testimony at State House hearings. While we had a vibrant panel on Opt-in bills put together by ProLife Massachusetts, and organizations such as Mass Resistance also gave moving examples of abuse in Sex Ed classes, one Ed Saunders was comfortably seated in a back row of the hearing room. He never stirred. While we have been in to testify on other bills, he seems to be a loner, totally without any leadership skills or personality. Also, he never introduced himself to any of us, leading our group to express wonderment as to where he ever came from. Yes, Maria was a dynamo who, unfortunately, left their employ. Further research should be done on how this individual was ever selected and whom he lobbied for prior to being hired. I repeat: He is totally unimpressive!”
Here’s a little more about before and after Ed Saunders. Before Ed Saunders and Fr. Hehir, the Catholic Conference used to distribute non-partisan voter guides in all parishes every election season, and they mounted a huge campaign against same-sex marriage in 2004 with live parish information sessions throughout the state, pulpit announcements, bulletin notices, and even a million copies of a special newspaper sponsored by the KofC mailed throughout the state with messages from the Catholic bishops. Because we are criticizing Ed Saunders and Fr. Bryan Hehir’s oversight of the Catholic Conference since 2005 and someone from the Archdiocese will probably come alone to criticize us, let us even further specifically define what we mean about the before/after with an example. (Credit goes to team members Marilyn and Mike for the research)
Immediately after the SJC’s November 2003 decision that banning gays from marrying was unconstitutional, polls shows 48% of voters polled supported legalizing gay marriages, while 43% were opposed. Two months later, after an intense campaign by the Catholic bishops, Mass Catholic Conference and other opponents of same-sex marriage, there was a massive shift in public opinion—only 35% supported legalizing gay marriage and 53% were opposed, and there was a 19% increase in opposition to gay marriage by Catholics. Here’s what the Boston Globe reported at the time (February 22, 2004):
A majority of Massachusetts residents said they oppose legalizing gay marriage, a significant increase since the state’s highest court ruled three months ago that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, according to a new Boston Globe poll. The poll also found that an overwhelming majority of those surveyed wanted the voters, not the courts or the Legislature, to define marriage in Massachusetts, through a statewide ballot question to amend the constitution.
The survey, taken by phone Wednesday and Thursday, indicated opposition to gay marriage has jumped 10 percentage points since a Globe survey done just days after the Supreme Judicial Court’s Nov. 18 ruling legalizing gay marriages.
Then, 48 percent polled supported legalizing gay marriages, while 43 percent were opposed. In the recent poll, 35 percent supported legalizing gay marriage and 53 percent were opposed.
The 10-point increase in opposition to legalizing gay marriage came after a strong campaign by the Catholic Church and other opponents, who have denounced the SJC ruling and lobbied for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Among Catholics, the percentage of those who oppose gay marriage increased from 47 to 66 percent.
10 point increase in public opposition to gay marriage in two months and nearly a 20-point swing among Catholics. Sounds pretty good to us. When have we seen anything like that since then? Instead, a bit more than a year later after Ed Saunders arrived on the job and Fr. Hehir assumed full responsibility for the Catholic Conference with Maria Parker gone, their visibility largely stopped, especially on any social/moral issues important to Catholics. Voter guides in parishes have been banned. Yes, banned. They will not distribute even the Catholic Answers “Voters Guide for Serious Catholics” favored by Cardinal O’Malley, let alone guides listing the positions of local candidates on issues important to Catholics. Catholic activists and grassroots activist organizations cannot work with pastors and parishes. We reported on the total silence of the Catholic Conference on funding gay programs in public schools with tax payer dollars. Most of the initiatives are stomped out quietly behind closed doors. Most people will not hear publicly how Fr. Hehir has blocked the “40 Days for Life” campaign from being rolled out in Boston parishes. But at least before the Boston Globe was in the back pocket of Rasky Baerlein and Terry Donilon, they used to cover this kind of stuff—like when they reported how the Catholic Conference opposed an effort to gather signatures in churches for a referendum that would have barred out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts. It was an important measure, to prevent exporting gay marriages outside of the state. The Cardinal even signed the petition. But then Fr. Hehir and MCC squashed the initiative from proceeding in parishes. In the good old days of Michael Paulson reporting on religions, The Boston Globe reported on October 11, 2008 in “Archdiocese at odds with gay marriage foes:”
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, although staunchly opposed to gay marriage, is declining to support an effort to gather signatures at Masses for a referendum that would bar out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
Here is an excerpt from MassResistance’s report on the issue.
On Wednesday, October 8, Brian Camenker received a phone call from Ed Saunders, director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC). Saunders ordered us to “cease and desist” any efforts to communicate with parishes (an order which, of course, has no legal standing). He said that the Archdiocese had just sent out an email to all the churches in the state (see below) instructing them not to participate in the petition effort.
Saunders said that the letter by Catholic activists was “disrespectful” (you can judge for yourself). He said that the Cardinal signed the petition “in a moment of weakness” and that he did it “privately” – even though he signed it at a public event in front of several people.
We asked Mr. Saunders why the Archdiocese opposed the petition effort. He gave two reasons, both rather strange:
- He said the Archdiocese opposed petition drive because the Legislature could simply overturn it. But that’s been true of everything involving petitions — including the Marriage Amendment — since the Massachusetts Constitution was ratified in 1780. That’s the way the system works. Do they thus oppose all Referendum Petitions, Initiative Petitions, and Constitutional Amendments? That’s absurd. This sends a strong message. Look at Proposition 2 1/2, which has stood solid for over 25 years!
- He said that the Archdiocese is instead trying to elect a majority of Legislators so good legislation can be passed. Well, we’ve all seen how difficult it is to unseat an incumbent. This is obviously a very long-term project. And how legal is it for the Church to be pushing candidates for public office? In any case, doing this doesn’t exclude supporting the petition drive.
Catholics across the state had planned to collect signatures at church this Sunday (as they had done for the Marraige Amendment). Many pastors were supporting the effort and said they’d be welcome, but now have told them they can’t come. Hundreds of petition sheets are at churches, having been signed by parishioners over the last few weeks, but now we don’t know if we’ll get them back.
Catholic activists react to “failure of leadership” in Archdiocese
Catholic activists, hundreds of whom have been collecting signatures, have reacted with shock and outrage. It’s been quite overwhelming. For example, C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, which has taken a leadership position in this effort, issued the following statement yesterday:
“I urge all Catholics to support the petition drive to hold a referendum on the repeal of the 1913 law. This is a vitally important effort in the critical struggle to defend traditional marriage, upon which the future of our civilization depends. We must prevent the Goodridge decision from being exported to the rest of the country.
“Given the fundamental moral issues at stake, one would hope that those in positions of authority in the Church would support this laudable endeavor, which so many dedicated orthodox priests have already endorsed. Sadly however, faithful Catholics are all too familiar with the culture of betrayal which afflicts our Church. With less than a week to go, we must not be distracted by the failure of leadership, the institutional weakness, or the treacherous influence of liberal clerics in high places in the Archdiocese of Boston. Let us redouble our efforts in the face of this lamentable, but not unpredictable, abdication of responsibility by the hierarchy.”
“This was the last thing we expected to happen!”
MassResistance’s closing comment is indicative of the current state of affairs:
It boggles the mind that the Archdiocese of Boston would openly oppose this effort. They should be in the front lines supporting it (and many pastors want to be). Something is very wrong. People expect the Church to be the moral compass on these issues. Just a few years ago the Catholic Church was a leader in the fight for the Marriage Amendment, and championed the signature gathering effort in the churches.
So, that’s what we have for public policy under Fr. Hehir and Ed Saunders. Hehir is known for having said back in 1974 that the Church could regard contraception “as an issue of private morality that the church continues to teach for its members, but not an issue of public morality on which it seeks to affect public policy” (Theological Studies, March 1974). 30-35 years later, the Mass Catholic Conference under his tutelage has been behaving the same way on important social and moral issues of our time. We are aware that pro-life activists had their request to introduce the “40 Days for Life” campaign in parishes in the Archdiocese stomped out last year. Let’s see how Fr. Hehir responds this year.