BOSTON, Mass. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishops of Massachusetts are backpedaling on their ban on signature drives on church property.
After a scathing condemnation from a coalition of pro-life advocates, Boston's Cdl. Sean O'Malley and Worcester's Bp. Robert McManus have both issued policy modifications to their earlier ban on signature drives on church property, which would've impeded the work of pro-lifers. Church Militant has learned that the other two bishops of Massachusetts are likely to follow suit.
Signed on October 26, Cdl. O'Malley issued a partial reversal of the ban, only allowing signature drives for "certain issues" between November 6, 2018 and November 3, 2020. "While maintaining the basic principles and integrity of the original policy issued in June, the archdiocese of Boston will allow signature gathering to be conducted on church property for the purpose of assisting the advocates of the petition drive," it states.
Church Militant also learned that Bp. Mitchell Rozanski will "revisit the issue." Mark Dupont, secretary of Catholic Communications for the diocese of Springfield, told Church Militant Bp. Rozanski will be revising the policy: "As you know, the bishops all agreed to one stance and now that's changed in Worcester and Boston. He's going to meet with his advisors over the next week and see if they can come up with a new policy."
Church Militant spoke with John Kerns, junior director of communications for the diocese of Fall River, to inquire if Bp. Edgar da Cunha would also issue a reversal. Kerns told Church Militant that Bp. da Cunha is planning to "meet with his advisors in the coming weeks" to discuss the details for a policy revision.
In June, the four bishops of Massachusetts signed a joint statement enacting the ban. Citing the "overwhelming feedback from parishioners" that they "do not like to be approached," they said, "We agree." While saying they "believe in the Democratic process," they had decided to ban signature drives, stating, "We hereby direct that what has commonly been referred to as 'signature drives' to enact or repeal a law or amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts not take place on church property."
In response to the ban that was seen as a slam against pro-life efforts, the Massachusetts Ad Hoc Pro-Life Coalition, a group of prominent pro-life organizations, started a petition against Cdl. O'Malley, accusing him of having a permissive attitude towards pro-abortion politicians. The petition also called out Cdl. O'Malley and the 19 times since 2014 when pro-abortion politicians were given accolades or speaking occasions with the "personal participation of or authorization by Catholic bishops."
Church Militant spoke with C. J. Doyle, executive director of Catholic Action League, who said, "While it may be difficult to quantify the exact impact of the CitizenGo petition to Cardinal O'Malley ... I believe it did have an effect."
He said it "was a leading indicator of the unprecedented breadth, depth and intensity of anger and outrage expressed in the pro-life community in Massachusetts towards the Catholic hierarchy, something we have never seen before since the beginnings of the pro-life movement here in the 1960s."
Although the 2002 revelations of the molestation of minors by homosexual priests — referred to by the generic term sexual abuse — provoked widespread condemnation of the Church in the secular media and much disaffection and disgust among ordinary Catholics, I think you would have to go back to the 1974 decision by Humberto Cdl. Medeiros to effectively endorse court-ordered busing in the Boston Public Schools to find a similar sense by faithful, orthodox Catholics that they were betrayed by their own spiritual leaders.
Church Militant also reached out to William Cotter of Operation Rescue, who noted, "Cdl. O'Malley did get over 1,400 emails" generated by signing the petition. Cotter sees it as "a victory, even though it's couched in these caveat terms."
Cardinal O'Malley's modification gives sole discretion to the pastor of the church to allow signature drives, and the petition must be "in accordance with the teachings of the Church." The pastor must also designate a location "away from the flow of parishioners approaching or departing Holy Mass." Cotter says the choice to limit the issues is a prudent one and noted that "pastors of good will" can decide on a location that would be advantageous to signature collectors.
Church Militant obtained a copy of Bp. McManus' statement, signed on Monday, and which is identical in substance to Cdl. O'Malley's. Cotter said when they first put the ban up in June, it sounded like they already knew about the initiative to drop mandated state funding for abortion. However, Cotter said, Bp. McManus' statement "read like he just found out about it."
Doyle explained, "The lobbying arm of the Catholic bishops in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, was, most certainly aware of the initiative petition drive to stop the public funding of abortion, as they did everything in their power to discourage it in 2015 and sabotage it in 2017."
"The party line propagated by the conference and the Boston chancery was that the petition drive would distract from the efforts to oppose physician-assisted suicide," Doyle said.
Cotter explained that the lack of continual preaching from the pulpits on "substantive issues" such as chastity and abortion showed by the response parishioners showed to the petitioners. Cotter said, "It was no surprise when we were out gathering signatures ... we were often met by people coming out of Mass saying, 'no, I'm pro-choice,'" adding, "other people walked by like you weren't even there."
Cotter also said the capitulation to pro-abortion politicians by Cdl. O'Malley "seems to be accelerating." He noted that Cdl. O'Malley is in the news every week with some scandalous person, noting that "even on his blog, he had a picture of himself with Karyn Polito, the lieutenant governor, who is a long-time, hard-core, 100-percent NARAL, pro-abortion woman."
Doyle summed up the problem: "Pro-life activity, such as the initiative petition against the public funding of abortion, disturbs the comfortable accommodation which the archdiocese has achieved with the state's pro-abortion financial, political and media elites."