Bishop Olmsted defends policy of speakers in Catholic churches

.- Calling the Church’s policy one of justice, and a much-needed voice for the voiceless, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted recently defended his decision not to allow certain speakers in Catholic Churches who oppose Church teaching on fundamental life and sexuality issues. Bishop Olmsted’s words appeared in the Sunday “My Turn” editorial section of the Arizona Republic newspaper.

In it, he cited a 2004 statement from the U.S. Catholic bishops which said that, "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

Bishop Olmsted has been put under some public fire recently for a decision not to let Arizona governor Janet Napolitano speak in a Catholic Church because of her fundamentally anti-Catholic views on issues like abortion.

In a letter issued last December, Bishop Olmsted said that Catholic churches who invite politicians who disagree with fundamental Church teachings, like abortion, could be providing a platform “which would suggest support for their actions.”

Pointing out that, “The right to life is indeed an inalienable one,” Bishop Olmsted stressed the responsibility--particularly of the Church--to stand up for and defend human life, especially in its weakest stages. 

He said that speaking out “against intrinsic evils such as abortion, euthanasia, racism and sexual acts outside of marriage is a service that God requires of us on behalf of all persons, not only members of our own faith.”

He noted that the words and actions of the Church should underline the seriousness of this commitment and said that “One such action is to prohibit the giving of honors or the provision of a platform in Catholic institutions for those who support actions contrary to these core moral principles.”

“I trust”, the bishop said, “that this position is not that difficult to understand. Why would we honor or give a platform to someone who radically disagrees with our fundamental teachings? We should instead be criticized if we allowed such things to happen.”

He quickly pointed out however, that the Church’s policy does not negate his commitment to prayer and dialogue with and for civic leaders with differing views than those of the faithful.

“There are a variety of appropriate forums for this dialogue to occur,” he said, “beyond public events at church facilities.”

Bishop Olmsted also pointed to historical precedent for the policy citing the 1962 excommunication of Judge Leander Perez by New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel, when he tried to block desegregation of Catholic schools during the height of the civil rights movement.

“Was this bishop imposing his sectarian views on a public official?” Bishop Olmsted asked. “Was he meddling in politics or impeding freedom? Or was he defending the human dignity of all children, no matter the color of their skin?”

He said that more than anything else, the adopted 2004 policy of the bishops “arose out of a concern for the rights of the most vulnerable members of our society, persons who have no way to raise their own voices because of their age or physical condition.”

“It also arose”, he added, “out of a conviction about the destructive nature of intrinsic evils, for individuals, for the family, and for the whole of society.”

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