Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Two Bishops
by Kevin John Sowyrda

When Beacon Hill starts to resemble an episode from Monty Python's Flying Circus you know that all is not well in the province which gave birth to America. But there he was, His Excellency The Part Time Governor Mitt Romney joining hands with the Catholic Church Cardinal Sean O'Malley on June 28th, in an effort to promulgate a populist movement of support defending marriage against what must be the inevitable perils of Gay marriage. I'll say this from the start; beware of any pair of bishops whose proposals are hypocritical and laughable.

Let's gently place on our back burner the oh-so-obvious points of logic; that divorce rates haven't skyrocketed since the Marshall Court ruling and that they could hardly be higher anyway; and that bigotry shrewdly shrouded by moralistic hyperbole is nonetheless bigotry, even when the hyperbole emanates from a Church of Mormon bishop and a poorly dressed one of Catholic ilk as well. What was striking about this television event, which had a John Stewart comedic quotient to it, was the pure irony - the Roman Catholic church, through it's local potentate, lecturing anyone on a moral issue of any measure. This is the institution that sanctioned the rape of literally thousands of children, and I say this as a beleaguered member of the institution; who knows, just as anyone who can read, that endless court documents prove that Cardinal Bernard Law "punished" pedophile priests by nonchalantly transferring them to other parishes, rich with naive and unaware victims to be. It was obstruction of justice at the very least and my primary reason for urging friends to boycott Attorney General Tom Reilly in his increasingly ridiculous pursuit for governor is the fact that he let the cardinal take a walk on this cardinal sin, something history will not pardon him for. Much more on that in weeks to come.

You'd think public relations 101, or for that matter decency 101, would motivate the Boston Catholic Archdiocese to keep a low profile on high profile issues; atleast for a few years as the dust settles around their scandal plagued glass house. They are sadly not so motivated and the utter arrogance of this institution was so transparent last week that I'm convinced the state-wide belly laugh could be heard in Iowa, which is where Romney basically resides these days anyway.

But the story behind the story here is the utter fallacy of two sanctimonious bishops engaging in the art of political persuasion when they are so ignorant as to the actual pulse of Massachusetts politics. They are therefore destined, thank the Mormon and Catholic God, to fail miserably in their cause celebrant.

Here's what Massachusetts voters care about right now - jobs and the price of bread. What they don't care about, what does not blip on their radar screen, is what occurs in the bedroom between consenting adults.........just as the Catholic Church never cared about what occurred in the bedrooms and confessional booths between priests and minors.

So, viewing Cardinal O'Malley deliver his homily last week with Bishop Romney faithfully by his side like a loyal cocker spaniel - for a moment I thought it would turn into a Broke Back Mountain moment - reminded me of what it would be like to observe other such absurd ironies, for example;

O.J. Simpson writing a book on the epidemic of domestic violence, or,
Mayor Menino teaching English at Harvard, or,
Tom Cruise giving a lecture on the country's need to embrace those who seek help for mental illness, or,
Mike Barnicle preaching the evils of plagiarism, or,
Diane Wilkerson filing legislation for tougher campaign finance laws, or,
Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole telling other cities how to cut down their murder rates, or,
Bill Clinton talking up the virtues of celibacy, or,
George Bush giving his weekly radio address on the importance of respecting freedom of the press.

I think you sense not my outrage, but my intellectual inability to take this big press event of last week at Beacon Hill with any level of seriousness beyond that which I would subscribe to Monty's Circus.

Finally, a few important thoughts on the politics here and how this plays out in a critical state election year. Massachusetts voters, for that matter Americans in general, tend not to embrace the lobbying efforts of religious leaders. There's something that simply goes against our national grain when we see church leaders telling our elected ombudsmen how to vote and, therefore, the rest of us how to behave. I suppose one could call it the spirit of Henry VIII inside us; a natural disdain for both spiritual and temporal authoritarianism, but an inclination to prefer the temporal authority should we have to chose between which dimension governs our daily lives and patterns of behavior.

For my money, the Romney press conference was a political anomaly the likes of which I've never witnessed in many years of covering Massachusetts state politics. Governor Romney is quite literally the only one of fifty governor's in the country who simultaneously serves as a bishop of a significant religious organization. To my knowledge we haven't seen anything like this in domestic politics since the days of Congressman Drinan, who was also an ordained priest while serving as a Democrat in the House. He was compelled to sacrifice his congressional powers at the behest of his Pontiff. That's probably the last time we witnessed such a visual example of spiritual and temporal offices so obviously overlapping; and truth be told, Americans find it distasteful in any case, whether thought to be malevolent or benevolent.

Do I hear separation of church and state, anyone?

But the anomaly is this. Here's Bishop and Governor Romney creating a political alliance with the embattled Catholic hierarchy on an issue that was always polarizing and is increasingly dissipating in interest to moderate Americans. Romney should know that if he's to be a national player he can't be perceived to be the Pat Robertson of the 2008 primary. His out-of-touch demeanor helps to explain national polling numbers showing Romney to be gaining little traction as an aspiring presidential contender. The political reality is this; despite what a few charlatans political advisors may be whispering into Romney's ears in the corner office, the issue of Gay marriage is not political manifest destiny for the majority of voters. People are looking for more gravitas than just cheap attacks on a given minority.

But From what I'm told and from what I see it doesn't matter what those advisors say, because Romney just honestly thinks and feels this way regarding Gay couples. I suppose that's the saddest commentary anyone can offer on the man himself.

As for O'Malley, I would simply ask him precisely what Joe Denucci, now state auditor, once asked his colleagues in the Massachusetts House when they considered the first legislation protecting the rights of Gay citizens; "Why should I hate these people?"

Kevin John Sowyrda is a political writer and commentator.

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