When New York’s Governor David Paterson ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex “marriages” performed outside the state last month, the New York State Catholic Conference was quick to respond with justifiable anger.
“No single politician or court or legislature should attempt to redefine the very building block of our society in a way that alters its entire meaning and purpose,” Conference director Richard Barnes told reporters.
The reaction was appropriate and praiseworthy, but probably not very effective. It’s easy to imagine Paterson scoffing at Barnes’ bravado — and with good reason.
In Albany just a few weeks earlier, on May 10, the Catholic College of Saint Rose publicly honored Paterson as its commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. This despite protests from the Cardinal Newman Society that the pro-abortion governor received a 100 percent rating from NARAL while serving in the state senate and was awarded the 2004 “Margaret Sanger Award” from Family Planning Advocates of New York State. Paterson proposed a bill providing $1 billion in taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research, and he has endorsed cloning stem cells for research purposes.
At best, Paterson’s honorary degree displays Catholic educators’ ambivalence about his horrific views and policies. That’s bad news for Catholics like Barnes who are on the front lines, trying to translate Catholic principles into public policy.
Such honors from Catholic institutions must reassure every pro-abortion, pro-embryonic stem cell research, pro-same-sex marriage politician across the United States that opposition from the bishops on life issues and sexual morality are but a minor threat. Catholic honors to such politicians — with little discernable outrage from the Catholic leadership and laity — are stark reminders of the fact that large numbers of Catholics disagree with the Church on legal recognition of same-sex “marriage,” stem cell research, and contraception. Catholics who attend Mass regularly are with the bishops on abortion, but less faithful Catholics support abortion rights.
In 2004, the U.S. bishops grappled with these concerns. In the statement “Catholics in Political Life,” they issued a clear mandate:
The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.
In February, a coalition of Catholic organizations issued a similar statement urging Catholic institutions to “refrain from all activities that provide a public platform to, or imply support or even neutrality toward, political leaders and candidates who advocate positions on serious moral issues that are clearly contrary to Catholic teaching.”
Nevertheless, last month Regis College in Massachusetts awarded an honorary degree to its commencement speaker, Massachusetts State Rep. Lida Harkins, who supports same-sex “marriage” and abortion rights.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the pro-abortion former lieutenant governor of Maryland, was the commencement speaker at Mount Mercy College in Iowa.
Saint Ambrose University, also in Iowa, awarded an honorary degree to Margaret Tinsman, a former state senator with a pro-abortion voting record.
The number of scandalous commencement speakers at Catholic colleges is rapidly declining: from 24 in 2006, to 13 last year, to just eight this spring. That’s great news.
But in the meantime, Governor Paterson has taken a significant step toward dismantling American society. What makes him think that he can do that without vocal opposition from New York’s bishops?
He can’t. He knows the bishops oppose his action, but — finding comfort in the accolades received from a Catholic college named for a virgin saint, and Catholic educators’ apparent complacency about his long history of immoral politics — Paterson doesn’t care.