By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press
God has spoken! Or at least those who presume to speak for God, and in Massachusetts, that’s the difference between what’s real and imagined.
In a throwback to 1075 when Pope Gregory VII (on right, no relation) dominated church and state—raising armies, levying taxes, deposing kings and condemning souls—the Archdiocese of Boston and its splinter sects (a.k.a. Council of Churches) intensely lobbied the State Legislature in recent weeks in a holy cow, come-to-Jesus spin campaign that bore the good fruit of a one-sided 147 to 3 margin last week in the House on a bill that would have mandated religious organizations to file annual financial reports with the state.
The resurrected strength of the Catholic Church in Boston
A sure sign of the resurrected strength of the Catholic Church in Boston, the vote was more about power, politics and a twinge of old fashioned Irish guilt, fear and distortion than it was about separation of church and state, as opponents of the measure had attested in letters, sermons and sub rosa calls to lawmakers who finally did the math: churches equal loyal parishioners, who show up in the thousands on reelection day. No political upside here on a “yea” vote that would have placed needed checks and balances on an institution that collectively has operated behind closed doors, often at the peril of the faithful. Even Gov. Mitt Romney, a devoted Mormon, had vowed to veto it, noting the bill’s “onerous reporting requirements, oversight and intrusion in religious practice.”
Onerous intrusion, ironically, was the reason Martin Luther in the 1500s pressed the concept of separation of church and state on grounds of financial accountability, objecting to the Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences—spiritual get-out-of-jail cards. Citing scripture, Luther drew a sharp distinction between the “laws of creation” and the “natural laws” the government has charge to enforce. Ask any accountant today and he or she will tell you that bean counting—an annual reporting of finances and real estate holdings—is as “natural” as it gets.
A New Joan of Arc
The Joan of Arc in all this is Senate Assistant Majority Leader Marian Walsh (on right), vilified by church authorities for her role as chief sponsor of the disclosure bill.
Throughout her political life, Walsh has always endeavored to do the right thing, regardless of the political consequence. Raised in Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury, a lawyer, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and an outspoken advocate for the disenfranchised, Walsh was the first public official in the state in 2002 to call for Bernard Cardinal Law’s resignation and possible prosecution over the church’s sex abuse scandal. Months later, she proposed landmark and initially controversial legislation—The Reckless Endangerment Act (ultimately approved in the House and Senate)—making it a crime for anyone directly or indirectly to put children in physical or emotional risk.
“They told us (in church) to spread the Good News and stand up for the little guy,” she said in a recent interview in the Boston Irish Reporter.
It’s time now for the legislature to stand up for the little guy, and take another look at the disclosure issue.