BOSTON — If you are Catholic and live in Massachusetts, the former mayor of Boston has a message for you: You need to be involved in civic life.
That's what Raymond Flynn is saying in his new job assisting the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
“If you don't vote, you have no voice,” said Flynn, who recently stepped down as president of Your Catholic Voice, an outreach of Catholic activists. “And if you have no voice, you will be ignored. … Our votes have been ineffectual, and, as a result, Catholics are being ignored and taken for granted by both political parties.”
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference asked Flynn, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton administration, to assist it in spearheading a statewide, nonpartisan, public-policy education campaign called Catholic Citizenship.
“The great challenge exists in society today for Americans to become more informed about the many important public issues of the day,” said Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley in a statement. “This is especially the case with the Catholic faithful.”
The 2000 presidential election voting results showed that about four out of every 10 Catholics did not vote — even though they made up almost 48% of the population. And only 1 out of 6 Catholics was registered to vote.
Daniel Avila, associate director for policy and research for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said the recent same-sex “marriage” debate in the state showed the efficiency of those who advocate for issues that go against the Church's teachings.
“They have done a very effective job of mobilizing their supporters and getting them to continually be active in the public-policy arena to the extent that legislators have certainly felt their presence,” Avila said.
Massachusetts legislators voted in March to amend the state constitution to ban homosexual “marriages” while also legalizing civil unions — a defeat of the Church's position.
“We began to achieve a similar level of presence and effectiveness toward the end of the marriage debate,” Avila said.
Archbishop O'Malley called Flynn an “effective and compassionate political voice in America for social and economic justice” and said he would have “the Church's complete cooperation.”
Flynn said he will be speaking at parishes across the state and holding voter-registration drives before the primary elections Sept. 14 and the general election Nov. 2.
He said one of the keys to the success of the voter-registration effort will be the cooperation of the pastors in the 717 parishes across Massachusetts. He plans to speak to various churches in the different regions.
“We can't go to places I'm not invited,” he said, adding that he will also continue to speak at churches and rallies across the country whenever he's invited.
He said there are other “committed” Catholic speakers whom he can call upon to speak, including Robert Quinn, the state's former attorney general, and Mary Ann Glendon, the prominent pro-life Harvard law professor who was recently appointed by Pope John Paul II to lead the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
At one recent parish meeting, Flynn spoke to about 100 people at St. John the Evangelist Church in Canton, about 30 miles from Boston.
The church's pastor, Father Michael Doyle, announced the meeting in the bulletin, reminded parishioners about it during Masses and put an ad in the local paper, Flynn said.
Flynn predicted that, if he got that kind of cooperation from other pastors, Catholics would become “energized and involved and engaged” in their community and their church.
Father Doyle, however, noted that many of the people in attendance were from different pro-life and pro-family organizations who were not members of his church.
“I would've hoped for a better response from my parishioners,” he said. “That shows there's still work to do.”
Meanwhile, Flynn's group, which is not officially part of the Church, has faxed pastors, asking for volunteers to help with the drives. A booklet from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, titled “Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility” (at www. usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship), and a poster that says, “In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation” have also been distributed to the churches.
Flynn acknowledged that his mission is not an easy one. Many American voters are turned off because politics are dominated by money, the media and special interests, and he said people feel that “no one cares.” Many Catholics, in particular, are “dispirited” by the sexual-abuse scandal, he said.
He said some of the key issues Catholics need to better understand during the upcoming elections include abortion, same-sex “marriage,” education and health care.
“The average Catholic has never been talked to about what the difference is between a brain cell and a stem cell,” said Larry Cirignano, executive director of Catholic Citizenship.
The group will produce voter guides to help Catholics understand the issues better, but Catholic activist Laurie Letourneau, founder of Massachusetts Voices for Traditional Marriage and president of the Life Action League, said she hoped the guides will conform to the teachings of the Church and that the pro-life issues are highlighted. Flynn worked for the Clinton administration, which was pro-abortion, and managed his campaign in Massachusetts, she pointed out.
Flynn said the guides will “be consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the values and the principles of the Catholic Church.” He also added that he's a registered Democrat and pointed out that during the 2000 election he supported George W. Bush, who is more pro-life than Clinton.
Letourneau added that educating Catholics with voter-registration guides and voter guides is a step that is overdue. She said most Catholics are “woefully and inadequately educated” and form their opinions from poorly formed consciences. She said many priests don't speak out about the major issues.
Avila said he hopes Flynn's group, in conjunction with the conference, will make Catholics and the average citizen appreciate the Church's “special insights into the common good and that people will be inspired to be involved and to allow the gifts God has given them to be employed to the purpose of making this a better world.”
Michael Galloway, the founder and chairman of Your Catholic Voice, said Flynn was supposed to be on board for his organization only during its first year, which just ended. So he fully supported Flynn's mission with Catholic Citizenship.
Galloway said he “prays they're very successful.”
Carlos Briceño writes from Seminole, Florida.