National Catholic Register

Commentary

Boston Martyrdom

BY JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE

April 23-29, 2006 Issue | Posted 4/24/06 at 10:00 AM

 

The word martyr conjures up images of Christians being thrown to the lions in the Colosseum and Nero burning Christians for torches at his garden parties.

But it is possible for us to give compelling witness to the faith without blood being actually shed.

In this sense, Catholic Charities in Massachusetts was martyred last month, when the bishops decided to stop offering adoption services, rather than deny the faith. While no one was killed, the Church suffered publicly: world-wide negative publicity, mass resignations by the lay board members of Catholic Charities and lost opportunities to serve the children of Massachusetts.

The press would have us believe that the Church is simply being her old mischievous, medieval self, and that there is no principled reason for her “discrimination” against homosexual couples. But Cardinal O’Malley left no doubt that there is a very important principle at stake: Children need mothers and fathers, married to each other.

Some reply that children are better off with same-sex couples than “languishing in foster care.” This retort tacitly admits that homosexual couples are not the first choice, but that the first choice, heterosexual, stable, married couples, are simply too few in number to meet the needs of all the children. But this claim, even if true, does not justify the policy being promoted.

The law of Massachusetts does not permit adoption agencies to line up prospective adoptive parents in order of desirability, and then work its way down the list, until all the adoptable children have been allocated. The law instead insists that neither marital status nor sexual orientation can even be considered as a factor in placing children with adoptive parents.

Disregard for the moment the fact that the social science research so far has not been able to investigate the long-term impact of same-sex “married” couples raising children. We already know that children do better with married couples than with single parents or cohabiting couples. But the law requires adoption agencies to suppress even this well-established social knowledge.

This is the principle for which the state of Massachusetts has suppressed Catholic Charities: favoring heterosexual married couples over other couples or over individuals is unlawful “discrimination.” The principle for which the Church suffered publicly is that children need married mothers and fathers. Favoring families that can provide children with married mothers and fathers is justifiable “discrimination” because, based upon reason and evidence, we believe that it better serves the interests of children.

Contrary to what the press would have us believe, the Church is behaving nobly. By being herself, by standing up for what she believes, the Church as an institution is being true to itself, just as the martyrs of old did. The Archdiocese of Boston shut down its adoption program rather than betray the Church’s core beliefs about marriage, gender and sexuality.

We can imagine the pragmatic minds of the Roman Empire posing similar questions to the ancient martyrs. “Come on, Lawrence. Don’t go lipping off to the magistrates that ‘the poor are the treasures of the Church,’ when they ask you to reveal the Church’s income. You won’t be able to help anybody if you get yourself killed. Just do what they are asking of you. It isn’t such a big deal.”

But because Lawrence did die rather turn over the treasury of the Church to the Roman authorities, people had to take him and his position seriously. Then, as now, the issues are the independence of the Church, the freedom of the Church to be herself and to do her work.

The Church sought a religious exemption from the state’s anti-discrimination law, but the homosexual rights lobby would not accept a compromise. An exception for Catholic Charities would not have harmed either the children of Massachusetts or homosexual couples seeking to adopt. In fact, children were harmed by Catholic Charities ending its adoption program because Catholic Charities in Boston had a reputation for being particularly skilled at facilitating the adoption of hard-to-place children.

Same-sex couples seeking adoptions would not have been harmed because Massachusetts has plenty of other adoption agencies that are willing to work with them. In fact, the Massachusetts Diocese of Worcester had a policy of referring homosexual couples to other agencies. A religious exception would only have allowed Catholic Charities to continue to do its business as it had done for more than 100 years.

The tide is slowly beginning to turn. A person doesn’t have to agree with the Church that homosexual acts are sinful and homosexual orientation is disordered, to see that children benefit from having mothers and fathers.

People are realizing that the recalcitrance of the homosexual rights lobby limited the options available for children in need of homes. Nationally syndicated columnists such as John Leo, Jeff Jacoby and Kathleen Parker emphasized this point. So did Deborah Saunders writing about the comparable situation in San Francisco.

This recognition and respect for the Church could not have come about if Cardinal O’Malley had chosen to “go along to get along.” No one would have known what we think and why we think it.

Flailing around and eventually conforming is not the way to attract support. His calm, masculine clarity will ultimately prove more attractive than caving in to the enormous political pressure arrayed against him.

Political pressure is, in many ways, simply a grown-up version of playground peer pressure. The kid who buckles invites more bullying. The kid who doesn’t crumble is the kid everybody respects.

The only way to take ground in the culture war is to articulate your beliefs and offer reasons for them. By standing his ground, the cardinal made the Church’s position clear.

By suffering rather than surrendering, Cardinal O’Malley will nourish the Church, just like the martyrs of old.

Jennifer Roback Morse

is the founder of Your Coach for the Culture Wars.