The Catholic church is finding its lost voice

Most everyone over the age of 30 remembers a time when the Catholic Church was a dominant force in social, cultural, and political issues, especially here in Massachusetts.

Richard Cardinal Cushing regularly wined and dined with the politically mighty on Beacon Hill and was often consulted about how legislation would impact the church or how Catholic leaders viewed certain bills. Bernard Cardinal Law, before his exile to the Vatican for covering up clergy sex abuse, was front and center on a number of issues in the state, from abortion to the death penalty. The baseball schedule was arranged so starting times would not conflict with people attending Mass on Sundays. There are still households around the state where a picture of President John F. Kennedy hangs among family portraits not just because he was a native son but because of his Catholic roots.

But over time, the church lost its voice and its authority for a variety of reasons: Strict adherence to church teachings over such things as birth control, women’s place in the church hierarchy, and gays. The fallout was enormous. Mass attendance fell, as did giving. Alternatives to Catholic schools began eating into enrollment. Most of all, many Catholics were repulsed by the clergy sex abuse scandal that exploded here in Boston in 2001.

But it seems the Catholic Church is starting to reassert itself in a number of areas and impose its doctrinal teachings once again in public and social policy. Witness the recent dustup between the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Obama administration over the new federal policy that took effect this week and mandates coverage for a variety of preventive care measures, including birth control. While the administration backed off requiring churches to provide coverage, it mandates their insurance carriers to cover the items and does not exclude church affiliated institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, or schools.

Locally, the emerging force of the church’s insistence to dogmatic fealty is also being felt. The Chelsea Collaborative has returned a $40,000 grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an anti-poverty arm of the US Bishops group, because officials feared some of their work may conflict with Catholic teachings. Gladys Vega, the collaborative’s executive director, told the Globe that a representative recently spoke to the group about making sure their work did not violate Catholic doctrine, including activities that “support the gay lifestyle.”

Vega, who was recently honored by MassEquality for speaking out against an attack on a transgendered woman at a Chelsea bar, said questions about whether health coverage for same sex spouses and whether advocacy for gays who were discriminated against would put the grant in peril were not answered to her satisfaction. So she returned the grant and withdrew an application for next year.

While the director of the group that issued the grant lamented the decision, a spokeswoman for the bishops’ conference said the Chelsea Collaborative “took appropriate steps under the circumstances.”

CommonWealth recently ran a story about the church insisting on restrictions on land sales of unused property that forbid their use for anything that contradicts Catholic teachings, such as abortion and birth control counseling, stem cell research, and euthanasia counseling. The restrictions caused the town of Wellesley to initially back off a planned purchase of church property until changes were made that dropped the restrictions.

In Quincy this week, the city’s Licensing Board is reconsidering a liquor license for a themed restaurant that features waitresses in scantily clad uniforms. The pastor of a nearby parish has protested that he was not consulted as required by law. The state law says any business proposing to sell alcohol must notify any schools or churches within 500 feet of the establishment. The proposed Tilted Kilt is 443 feet from St. John the Baptist, in the same building that housed an Outback Steakhouse that drew no opposition from the pastor.

It may not be the voice of God you’re beginning to hear in public debates, but his spokesmen are finding their voices.

                                                                                                                                                    –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Like high school students pulling an all-nighter to finish a semester’s worth of assignments on the last day of the term, the Legislature gets very busy on its final day of formal session. The flurry of bill-passing does not include, however, a measure that would extend the statute of limitations for filing claims of child sexual abuse, legislation that may nonetheless make it through during informal sessions in the months ahead.

Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is seeking pay increases for his security staff, claiming his department lags well behind pay for similar positions in other sheriffs’ departments around the state.

State Rep. Mark Cusack’s campaign paid a $750 fine for violating campaign finance laws by having a public employee serve as his campaign treasurer.

The Convention Center Authority approves plans for a $33 million eminent domain taking, as part of the authority’s South Boston expansion.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A power struggle between the Plymouth selectmen and the Plymouth Redevelopment Authority has emerged over plans for the historic 1820 Courthouse in downtown Plymouth.

Haverhill’s police chief tried to discipline the head of the patrolman’s union for raising concerns about crime-fighting efforts at a City Council hearing, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A state ruling that a $22,000 water bill for a Brockton landlord was “excessive” could lead to reductions in other disputed bills from the city’s beleaguered water department.

Lynn police officers receive a 10 percent pay hike, their first increase in six years, the Item reports.

The Dudley Vision Task Force looking at the new Boston Public Schools headquarters in Roxbury hears that a tech training and education center won’t get a long-term lease in the planned building. They aren’t happy.

CASINOS

A federal Appeals Court has reinstated a suit by a developer challenging the state’s tribal set-aside in the casino law.

Greater Boston takes the pulse of Taunton residents about having a casino in their midst.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The victory of Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz is a victory for reshaping the Senate in the image of Jim DeMint, the Club for Growth, and the Tea Party. Bonus: Cruz won’t let the UN take golf away from Americans. The Daily Beast reports on the Tea Party’s next great hope.

ELECTION 2012

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and state Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan call on Sen. Scott Brown to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons.

Rep. Paul Adams, who is running for a state Senate seat, is facing questions about his past jobs, or whether he even had any, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

President Obama, campaigning in Ohio, slams Mitt Romney’s tax plans and tries to align himself with the middle class, NPR reports (via WBUR).

US Sen. Scott Brown, at a ceremony attended by his colleague Sen. John McCain, is promoted to the rank of colonel in the Army National Guard, NECN reports.

A Boston Herald editorial attacks Elizabeth Warren’s recent call for infrastructure spending, saying the candidate shouldn’t envy China, a country that isn’t even free or anything.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Hubway bike rental program expands to Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, WBUR reports.

Muncipalities and states, including Massachusetts, are exploring lawsuits in the wake of the Libor scandal, Governing reports.

Supporters of Chick-fil-A and its stand against gay marriage turn out, NPR reports (via WBUR).

Friendly’s emerges from bankruptcy with plans to go back to an old school menu and that’s a good thing, The Republican finds.

EDUCATION

The former Boston school headmaster whom Superintendent Carol Johnson backed despite a domestic assault charge was also chronically absent from his job, the Globe reports.

HEALTH CARE

CommonWealth analyzes new Steward ads that promote the hospital chain’s “new health care.”

TRANSPORTATION

Metro Atlanta voters reject a 1 percent sales tax to fund the region’s transportation system, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The Christian Science Monitor unpacks the complexities of the vote.

Finally! The MBTA’s Framingham-Worcester line will see additional service beginning in the fall.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A New Bedford heating oil company was fined more than $40,000 for failing to report a spill that caused 275 gallons of oil to flood a residential basement.

The Cape Cod Times looks at the exploding  seal population in the region. Meanwhile, Cape tourists aren’t too worried about what that means: more sharks.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Level 3 sex offender is dismissed from a sexual abuse and treatment program in Lynn, prompting concern by other participants, the Item reports.

The Salem News follows the story on the former faculty member at the Landmark School in Beverly who is being accused of sexual abuse.The Gloucester Times also has a story, since the former faculty member is now working as a guidance counselor at a middle school in Rockport.

A Boston priest is arrested on child pornography charges.

A rabbi pleads guilty to child sexual abuse charges resulting from his time working at a Brookline private school in the 1970s.

MEDIA

Pollsters beware: Twitter launches the Twitter Political Index.

Jim Aloisi recalls what was great about Gore Vidal in a Voices piece for CommonWealth.

Dan Kennedy reviews BU professor Chris Daly’s book on the history of American journalism for the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The Phoenix and Stuff magazine are combining this fall into a new glossy monthly to be named The Phoenix.

The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz analyzes the fight between Mitt Romney and the Associated Press over the Republican’s remarks about Palestinians in Israel.