Cyrus Habib and the Jesuits: Birds of a Feather?

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Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State followed in the steps of New York and California to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, effective March 24, for a period of two weeks. In the midst of a complete shutdown of economic and social life and the rising number of cases and deaths in the state of Washington, Catholics of the Evergreen State were greeted with breaking news of a much different nature on the morning of March 19. In a statement published in America magazine, Washington’s lieutenant governor, Cyrus Habib, announced his decision to forgo re-election to join the Society of Jesus.

Mr. Habib converted to the Catholic faith at the age of twenty-five while studying at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. His political career began with his first election win as a state representative in 2012, followed by state senator in 2014, and reached the office of lieutenant governor in 2016. On reflecting how his Catholic faith shaped his political life, he writes in America magazine: “My reasons for running for those positions and my priorities in office were firmly rooted in Catholic social teaching, which places the poor, the sick, the disabled, the immigrant, the prisoner and all who are marginalized at the center of our social and political agenda.” He specifically highlights his sponsorship for the Washington Voting Rights Act and other legislations promoting the works of social justice as evidence of his fidelity to Catholic social teaching in the public square.

In the spirit of “trust, but verify,” objectively reviewing his voting record of the past eight years proves his purported claims of faithfulness to Catholic social teaching to be undeniably false. According to a March 23 report by Catholic News Agency’s Ed Condon, the lieutenant governor (then a state senator) voted “Yes” on two House Bills in 2013 and 2014 which mandated health insurance plans to cover abortions. This consistent pro-choice voting record earned him a “B” rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Furthermore, in 2016, he opposed Senate Bill 6443, which would have reversed Washington Administrative Code 162-32-060, a public accommodations law that allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex. During the bill’s debate, Mr. Habib argued that the transgender law protects “a civil right.”

 

On the national level, he was one among twenty-five party leaders and elected officials appointed by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz and the DNC Executive Committee to serve on the Platform Committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. His unwavering support for the Democratic Party continues: he played an active role in Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign to become the Democratic nominee of the upcoming presidential election and now endorses Joe Biden’s candidacy.

Given this track record, the Catholic laity have reason to be confused on why the Society of Jesus accepted Cyrus Habib’s application, absent any personal renunciation of the grave errors and sins he promoted and defended as an elected official. Mr. Habib had every opportunity to rectify his political past with his religious future in the interviews and statements given to America, the Seattle Times, the Jesuits’ Western province website, and on his Twitter account.

Notwithstanding, the Society of Jesus’s leaders implied a serious ignorance of Mr. Habib’s voting record. Tracey Primrose, their Secretary for Communications and Vocation Promotion, recently told LifeSite that “she had no idea if either the Jesuit provincial or vocations director were aware of his voting record.” (My own attempt to contact the Society’s leaders was prevented by the office closures of all five provinces due to the COVID-19 health crisis.)

Still, one is hard-pressed to believe that all ranks of the Jesuit Order simply are not aware of the scandalous voting record of a high-profile candidate for seminary. In a statement to America, Fr. Scott Santarosa—the provincial of Jesuits West, where Habib’s religious formation is to occur—said: “I am greatly impressed and moved by the quality of candidates to the Society of Jesus that God is sending us. Cyrus Habib is no exception. I am sure that his vast experience will enrich his entrance class.” His vocations director, Fr. Christoper Nguyen, stated, “For the last few years, I’ve come to know Cyrus Habib and have witnessed his deep desire to know Christ and to serve him as a Jesuit priest.”

What has become of the Society’s strict doctrinal entrance standards? Can a man serve our Lord in His holy priesthood without renouncing his past service in the culture of death? If not, it would speak to the marked decline of this once noble order—herald of Catholic higher education and divine truth. The Jesuits must recognize that their decision would denigrate not only their own image but that of the whole Church.

If Mr. Habib has embraced the cause of life and abandoned radical gender ideology, the Jesuits could protect the laity from scandal simply by saying so. Mr. Habib could win a great victory for the culture of life, too, by publicly repudiating his own voting record. If he has not, the Jesuits have no choice but to reject his application to seminary.

Matthew 18:15 reads, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.” I pray that our heavenly Father grants Cyrus the grace to reconcile his political past with what the Church professes to be true, publicly and unequivocally. Recognizing that no man is without sin, it is our Christian duty—especially in this season of Lent—to aid our fellow Catholic brothers and sisters to the light of Christ, in all the splendor of its truth.

Image: Mr. Habib addressing a Defend DACA rally, Seattle, September 5, 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)

R.M. Fields

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R.M. Fields is a nom de plume.

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