Church speaks, but who’s listening?

Did you note take note of the strong call last week by the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops for Gov. Deval Patrick to veto the casino bill now on his desk?  Didn’t think so.

When it comes to its ability to influence the public agenda, the power of the Catholic church has not just waned dramatically over the decades; one wonders whether its stance on issues has practically become a liability to efforts to further whatever the cause of the day might be.  

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s four dioceses, sent Patrick a letter on Friday urging him to veto the expanded gambling bill. The argument that casinos are a regressive means of generating state revenue, with money disproportionately coming from the gambling losses of lower-income residents, seems like one that can be delivered with some authority by an institution with a social justice commitment to those with the least among us. But could anyone read that the Catholic Conference deplored the impact of “predatory” gambling without cringing just a bit at the use of that word? Which all but explains why the church stance on many issues is barely even accorded a passing acknowledgement in many circles.

While the Friday letter barely registered in blip in the news, many more people no doubt read the Globe’s lengthy Sunday story following-up on the Boston archdiocese release earlier this year of a list of all priests who had been accused of sexual abuse of minors. Sunday’s story focused on the continuing anger among victims and their advocates over the omission from the list of any priest who was serving here but was originally affiliated with another diocese or priests who members of religious orders not directly under the auspices of the archdiocese.

“It’s heartbreaking to think the church has all this information about accused religious order priests and priests from other dioceses and isn’t releasing it,’’ Terence McKiernan, the founder of, a group that tracks clergy accused sexual abuse, told the Globe. “O’Malley’s list is just one pretty obvious example of a concerted effort to appear transparent and pastoral while trying to make sure that a lot of this goes back under the radar,’’ he said, a reference to Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

Thirteen years ago, after weeks of of back-and-forth with his wary gatekeepers, I was given a sit-down interview with then-Cardinal Bernard Law for this CommonWealth profile. The story looked at the church’s declining influence in the public square. In one of the rare moments of true drama in the Legislature, the death penalty had recently been defeated in the House of Representatives. The church lobbied heavily against capital punishment. Though it was unclear whether Law had swayed lawmakers’ votes in the way that his predecessors could, the church still seemed to have a measure of moral authority on such issues.  

“Polls are not the way we determine our teaching,” Law said in our interview. “What influences my life are the teachings of the church — the conviction that the church’s social teaching, the social doctrine, is a very rich resource for the common good.”

As we learned in graphic detail in the years that followed, Law, who the Vatican announced today is stepping down from his post as archpriest of a Rome basilica, may have done more than anyone in recent church history to undermine the force of that social teaching.

                                                                                                                                                 –MICHAEL JONAS


A Worcester Telegram editorial urges the governor to veto the gambling bill, but that’s unlikely. Once the bill is signed into law, the next step will be the appointment of a five-member commission with sweeping powers to regulate the industry, the Telegram reports (via AP).
The Springfield Republican calls for “due diligence” in selecting a western Massachusetts site for a casino. Banker & Tradesman columnist Scott van Voorhis predicts Connecticut and Rhode Island will retaliate by ratcheting up their own gambling operations: Mohegan Sun is putting a stalled expansion back in play, and Foxwoods is looking to poach business meeting and convention business from Massachusetts.

Another eyebrow-raising Tim MurrayMichael McLaughlin connection.

Jon Keller and Craig Sandler, general manager of State House News Service, discuss what was accomplished on Beacon Hill this year.


In court briefs seeking to recoup $150,000 in taxes paid to the town of Scituate, the Boston Archdiocese claims the seven-year occupation of the shuttered St. Frances X. Cabrini church qualifies as religious activity.

A plan to rebuild Charlestown’s Rutherford Avenue has set off a good old-fashioned neighborhood brawl. According to Eric Moskowitz’s story in the Globe, it pits Townies against “Toonies,” with social engineering, do-good transportation planners and the neighborhood congressman with a Ivy League degree and chip on his shoulder thrown in for good measure.

A proposal to redevelop the US Army barracks at Devens into apartments stirs concerns in Harvard, the Lowell Sun reports. For an in-depth look at the tension between Devens and its municipal neighbors, check out this CommonWealth story from earlier this year.


The debt super committee looks to be a super bust, the Washington Post reports. Sens. John Kerry and Jon Kyl appear on Meet the Press. One reason  for failure was that there was posturing, rather than real working taking place, on both sides. To wit: Mitt Romney blames Barack Obama for the committee’s failure. The Herald speculates about what the failure means for Kerry’s political fortunes, since the Bay State senator had reportedly hoped to use the committee to demonstrate his, ahem, diplomatic skill set, should any jobs requiring a diplomatic disposition come open anytime soon.

Two University of California Davis police officers were placed on paid administrative leave for pepper spraying Occupy protesters who were peacefully sitting and linking arms, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich slams the Occupy protesters, telling them: “Go get a job. Right after you take a bath.” The Wall Street Journal looks at the constitutional issues underlying the Occupy protests.

New York magazine puts both major political parties on the couch. David Frum, who birthed the Axis of Evil, wonders why he’s the only sane Republican left, while Jonathan Chait accuses Democrats of hating themselves and success.


William Kristol in the Weekly Standard says the constantly changing dynamics of the GOP field make Mitt Romney’s nomination “evitable.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reports that President Obama has as much support from his Democratic base — white liberals and African-Americans — as any modern president seeking a second term. Hispanic voters appear to be getting on board, too.

Two pollsters argue in The Wall Street Journal that President Obama should step aside for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Blind Item: Which sudden GOP presidential front-runner was offered a do-nothing consultancy with an agency reviled by the right, just so the agency wouldn’t have this pol carping about how the agency in question should be wound down?


New Census data show more than 7.5 percent of the housing units in the South Coast region are vacant, a marked increase from 2000, due to the battered economy and increased foreclosures.

The FHA mortgage limit was raised to $729,750 but U.S. News & World Report wonders if it will spur the housing market or get the government deeper in debt. And at the same time that it’s subsidizing homeownership for the wealthy, Congress is cutting housing funds for poor people; those two things don’t look so great when they’re in print next to each other.

Along with the housing market bust has come a big slowdown in the production of badly needed affordable housing, reports the Globe.


Metro Washington area college presidents look at the lessons from the Penn State scandal.

Nashville students can check out books from the library and have them delivered to their schools as part of an innovative program that is attracting interest in Boston, the Tennessean reports.

A new grade school in Afghanistan has been named in honor of Sgt. Robert Barrett, a Fall River soldier killed in that country last year.

The Berkshire Eagle says if the Bay State wants community colleges to do a better job it has to stop underfunding them.


Massachusetts has fallen from first place to ninth place in health care premiums costs, and The MetroWest Daily News says that lawmakers are going to have to work next year hard to keep them down.

A fascinating look inside the thinking of New Hampshire residents who are resistant to the new federal health reform law.

A shortage of ADHD drugs has parents and doctors scrambling, WBUR reports.


The New York Times magazine takes a close-up look at natural gas fracking in rural Pennsylvania.


All you’d ever want to know and more about Whitey Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

An FBI mole tells Newsweek about his work infiltrating the white supremacist movement.

The Cape Cod Times looks at suicide, high divorce rates and other issues plaguing police officers.