Ray Flynn on Politically Homeless Catholics
Same-Sex Marriage Debate a Sign of the Times
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BOSTON, Massachusetts, APRIL 21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Ray Flynn thinks that young Catholics have the ability to turn things around in a nation grappling with challenges such as same-sex "marriage."
To that end, the former Boston mayor and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican now serves as national president of Your Catholic Voice, a Catholic grass-roots political and policy organization.
Flynn shared with ZENIT why Catholics need to demand respect for their values and to get politically involved.
Q: The same-sex marriage debate seemed to erupt overnight in Massachusetts, then San Francisco, then other places in the United States. Is this part of a natural, democratic process, or did the activists do an end run?
Flynn: For those of us who follow and understand what has been happening in politics in this country today, the same-sex marriage issue that suddenly burst on to the national scene did not surprise us.
Like the abortion issue in the early 1970s, radical feminists and liberal activists were getting more and more involved in the political process, while fewer and fewer traditional Catholics were paying much attention to what was going on in Washington, D.C.
As the saying goes, all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. Catholics thought that they were in power in the United States, so they sat back and did nothing. Instead of attending civic and church meetings, Catholics were shopping in the malls or watching athletic events on TV.
Even Church leaders fell into the trap of political apathy. By the time they started to see attendance dropping and the political and moral climate dramatically changing, it was too late to do anything about it.
Quite frankly, most of our Church leaders had no experience or understanding in dealing with a growing, powerful media, so they didn't know how to respond or what to do. This is not entirely their fault. This was a new era and not the reason they wanted to serve God and our Church. But it certainly is one they should begin to deal with today on a professional basis, if they are smart.
Did these liberal activists do an end run? It's easy to do an end run when nobody is paying attention. We didn't even have any players on the field. Catholics have become spectators in American politics, not active players.
Q: What is at stake with so-called same-sex marriage? What are the potential outcomes socially, economically and morally?
Flynn: Two things will happen politically. Catholics will say, "There is nothing I can do about it. It's just the way things are." Or, Catholics will say, "What's happening in America? How have so many positive institutions, like family and raising children, gone so wrong?"
If people take the first road, be prepared to be governed by politicians whose bottom line is getting elected at all costs, no matter what it means to the country morally and ethically. If Catholics say, "I'm tired of this and I'm not going to take this anymore," then we may be able to turn things around.
We must be reminded that politicians are good in knowing how people feel about things. They are human weather vanes. If they find out which direction you are headed, they'll run to the head of the parade. But they'll only lead if you let them know which direction to go.
Q: Is this an issue that will further divide the country, like abortion? Or will it pull people together to defend marriage?
Flynn: Much to my surprise, young adults are getting involved more than I've ever seen before. I've seen it in San Francisco, Boston and cities throughout the United States.
I also see it on college campuses -- like Harvard and the University of San Francisco. It's truly amazing -- the sense of commitment these young Catholics women and men have.
These are young people who have been positively influenced by the moral leadership of Pope John Paul II and are not afraid to get involved. A positive movement of young Catholics is building, not only in the United States, but also in many parts of the world. I personally saw the impact that Pope John Paul II has had on young people in my many trips with him over the years.
Q: How do you see Catholic politicians responding, in general?
Flynn: Most Catholic politicians are afraid of this issue. They simply do not want to be perceived as intolerant and against anyone's civil rights.
The gay and lesbian community is one of the most politically influential and well-financed special interest groups in the United States today. Elected officials are intimidated by them and reluctant to publicly oppose legislation even if it is contrary to the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church.
Following the clergy sex-abuse scandal, Church leaders have been reluctant to speak out too strongly for fear of being labeled bigots and homophobes. It is also a delicate tightrope to walk, given the Church's historic opposition to any form of discrimination.
Catholics don't like to be called bigots, even if it is not true. It's easier to say nothing and not get involved.
The media have also been afraid or unwilling to oppose the powerful gay community. I have had several Catholic elected officials tell me personally that if they vote against legalizing same-sex marriages and civil unions, the well-organized gay rights movement -- with the support of the liberal media -- will help defeat them in the next election. Those elected officials are not accustomed to this type of intense lobbying.
Catholics must begin to realize that our Church has some powerful enemies. "Help wanted" signs in downtown office buildings reading "No Catholics Need Apply" are no longer displayed, and convents and churches are not burned down as they once were. But a more subtle form of anti-Catholic bigotry is unfortunately still with us in the United States today just as anti-immigrant sentiment is still with us.
Catholic politicians feel they have to compromise their Catholic principles and values to get ahead. The popular line of the day for Catholic elected officials on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage is, "I'm personally opposed, but I don't want to impose my own values and beliefs on other people." Amazingly, this has become the political response that satisfies both Catholic voters and opponents to Church teaching.
Tragically, this political strategy is even supported by some Church officials, theologians, academics and journalists who identify themselves as progressive Catholics.
The Church hierarchy has a major problem on its hands with Catholic elected officials. So far they have been unwilling to take the issue head-on. Until they do, Catholic politicians will do what come naturally to them -- chase after the votes. It's called opportunism, but it could easily be called a government of special interests. Church leaders cannot ignore this problem any longer. They must establish a clear policy or lose credibility.
Q: Your party, that of the Democrats, has on the whole drifted toward the left since the late 1960s, embracing abortion, for instance. Can a practicing Catholic find a place, and a voice, in the Democratic Party today?
Flynn: Not unless Catholic voters decide to get politically involved once again.
Catholics have become politically homeless in the United States. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party represents the values and principles of the Catholic faith. At one time, the Democratic Party fought for social and economic justice and was the party of blue-collar, working-class Catholic families.
Today, the Democratic Party is controlled by wealthy left-wing activists whose extreme political agenda, for the most part, excludes loyal, faithful and patriotic American Catholics.
These political activists who now control the nominating process have forced Catholic politicians to change their positions on key moral and political issues, or they won't be recognized or appreciated in the party organization.
But it's not just the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has also not been willing to give working-class Americans a seat at the table, either.
When I was mayor of Boston, a reporter called me the Lech Walesa of Boston politics. I was also called a John Paul II Democrat. It's too bad they had to go all the way to Poland and the Vatican to define how many millions of American Catholics like me feel today.
Wouldn't it be nice to hear that voice of social and economic justice once again in the Democratic Party? So far, the Democratic Party has shown no openness to Catholics who believe in the values and principles of their faith.
Perhaps they ought to hoist a big banner outside where the Democratic National Convention will be held in July that reads: "No Catholic politicians who support Catholic values and principles welcome." Maybe the Democrats could loan the same sign to the Republicans when they host their national convention in New York City later on in the summer.
Q: You have a reputation as a successful politician. But you are also well known for defending your Catholic values even when it costs you support. Can Catholic politicians today and in the future be politically successful without compromising their principles?
Flynn: It will be difficult for a Democrat because the cards are stacked against pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor and pro-human rights candidates like me. That's the bad news.
The good news is there are a lot of like-minded voters out there, but neither party appears to be interested in rolling out the welcome mat for them.
As I have often said, "We didn't leave the Democratic Party, it left us." That's why many Catholics feel politically homeless in this country today. But we are not going to vote for Republicans just because they are not Democrats.
Q: The Democratic Party was traditionally the party of many Catholics. Can those days be recovered?
Flynn: Yes, but it will obviously take a lot of hard work, courage and sacrifice for Catholics to be respected in the Democratic Party once again. The first thing too many Catholics say is, "I'm not going to go where I am not wanted or welcome. No respect, no vote." Catholic voters should send that message to their Democratic elected officials today.
You can also send a message to the media and let them know of your frustration with the Democratic Party and politics in general. Tell them that you're not quitting and that you're fighting for respect for your values -- just like your immigrant parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did when they came to this country.
Give my message to at least 10 members of your family and your friends. Encourage your bishop and pastor to speak out more openly on civic issues that are important to not only our Catholic values and principles, but for the stability and integrity of our great nation. We should not take a back seat to anyone.
Change your media sources if they continue to put down your values and principles. Support the press that presents your point of view and offers fair and balanced coverage.
We don't expect special attention, but we're no longer going to tolerate second-class coverage. We're hardworking, patriotic, law-abiding citizens who are tired of being ignored and taken for granted politically. If Church leaders don't want to lead us out of this political malaise, we need to find and recruit politically sophisticated, effective lay Catholics to speak for us in the civic arena.
Some Catholics will say, "I'll pray for you." That's certainly very important, but in politics, so are organization, money and the media. There are areas in which every one of us can make a difference in helping to build a better country and a stronger Church.
The most important thing to remember through all of this is: Our Catholic faith is not Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, but Catholic.