|Same-Sex Marriage Debate a Sign of the Times
BOSTON, Massachusetts, 21 APRIL 2004 (ZENIT).
Ray Flynn thinks that
young Catholics have the ability to turn things around in a nation
grappling with challenges such as same-sex "marriage."
To that end, the former Boston mayor and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican
now serves as national president of Your Catholic Voice, a Catholic
grass-roots political and policy organization.
Flynn shared with ZENIT why Catholics need to demand respect for their
values and to get politically involved.
Q: The same-sex marriage debate seemed to erupt overnight in
Massachusetts, then San Francisco, then other places in the United States.
Is this part of a natural, democratic process, or did the activists do an
Flynn: For those of us who follow and understand what has been happening
in politics in this country today, the same-sex marriage issue that
suddenly burst on to the national scene did not surprise us.
Like the abortion issue in the early 1970s, radical feminists and liberal
activists were getting more and more involved in the political process,
while fewer and fewer traditional Catholics were paying much attention to
what was going on in Washington, D.C.
As the saying goes, all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good
people to do nothing. Catholics thought that they were in power in the
United States, so they sat back and did nothing. Instead of attending
civic and church meetings, Catholics were shopping in the malls or
watching athletic events on TV.
Even Church leaders fell into the trap of political apathy. By the time
they started to see attendance dropping and the political and moral
climate dramatically changing, it was too late to do anything about it.
Quite frankly, most of our Church leaders had no experience or
understanding in dealing with a growing, powerful media, so they didn't
know how to respond or what to do. This is not entirely their fault. This
was a new era and not the reason they wanted to serve God and our Church.
But it certainly is one they should begin to deal with today on a
professional basis, if they are smart.
Did these liberal activists do an end run? It's easy to do an end run when
nobody is paying attention. We didn't even have any players on the field.
Catholics have become spectators in American politics, not active players.
Q: What is at stake with so-called same-sex marriage? What are the
potential outcomes socially, economically and morally?
Flynn: Two things will happen politically. Catholics will say, "There is
nothing I can do about it. It's just the way things are." Or, Catholics
will say, "What's happening in America? How have so many positive
institutions, like family and raising children, gone so wrong?"
If people take the first road, be prepared to be governed by politicians
whose bottom line is getting elected at all costs, no matter what it means
to the country morally and ethically. If Catholics say, "I'm tired of this
and I'm not going to take this anymore," then we may be able to turn
We must be reminded that politicians are good in knowing how people feel
about things. They are human weather vanes. If they find out which
direction you are headed, they'll run to the head of the parade. But
they'll only lead if you let them know which direction to go.
Q: Is this an issue that will further divide the country, like abortion?
Or will it pull people together to defend marriage?
Flynn: Much to my surprise, young adults are getting involved more than
I've ever seen before. I've seen it in San Francisco, Boston and cities
throughout the United States.
I also see it on college campuses
like Harvard and the University of San Francisco. It's truly amazing
sense of commitment these young Catholics women and men have.
These are young people who have been positively influenced by the moral
leadership of Pope John Paul II and are not afraid to get involved. A
positive movement of young Catholics is building, not only in the United
States, but also in many parts of the world. I personally saw the impact
that Pope John Paul II has had on young people in my many trips with him
over the years.
Q: How do you see Catholic politicians responding, in general?
Flynn: Most Catholic politicians are afraid of this issue. They simply do
not want to be perceived as intolerant and against anyone's civil rights.
The gay and lesbian community is one of the most politically influential
and well-financed special interest groups in the United States today.
Elected officials are intimidated by them and reluctant to publicly oppose
legislation even if it is contrary to the traditional teachings of the
Following the clergy sex-abuse scandal, Church leaders have been reluctant
to speak out too strongly for fear of being labeled bigots and homophobes.
It is also a delicate tightrope to walk, given the Church's historic
opposition to any form of discrimination.
Catholics don't like to be called bigots, even if it is not true. It's
easier to say nothing and not get involved.
The media have also been afraid or unwilling to oppose the powerful gay
community. I have had several Catholic elected officials tell me
personally that if they vote against legalizing same-sex marriages and
civil unions, the well-organized gay rights movement
with the support of the liberal media
will help defeat them in the next election. Those elected officials are
not accustomed to this type of intense lobbying.
Catholics must begin to realize that our Church has some powerful enemies.
"Help wanted" signs in downtown office buildings reading "No Catholics
Need Apply" are no longer displayed, and convents and churches are not
burned down as they once were. But a more subtle form of anti-Catholic
bigotry is unfortunately still with us in the United States today just as
anti-immigrant sentiment is still with us.
Catholic politicians feel they have to compromise their Catholic
principles and values to get ahead. The popular line of the day for
Catholic elected officials on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage
is, "I'm personally opposed, but I don't want to impose my own values and
beliefs on other people." Amazingly, this has become the political
response that satisfies both Catholic voters and opponents to Church
Tragically, this political strategy is even supported by some Church
officials, theologians, academics and journalists who identify themselves
as progressive Catholics.
The Church hierarchy has a major problem on its hands with Catholic
elected officials. So far they have been unwilling to take the issue
head-on. Until they do, Catholic politicians will do what come naturally
to them —
chase after the votes. It's called opportunism, but it could easily be
called a government of special interests. Church leaders cannot ignore
this problem any longer. They must establish a clear policy or lose
Q: Your party, that of the Democrats, has on the whole drifted toward the
left since the late 1960s, embracing abortion, for instance. Can a
practicing Catholic find a place, and a voice, in the Democratic Party
Flynn: Not unless Catholic voters decide to get politically involved once
Catholics have become politically homeless in the United States. Neither
the Democratic nor the Republican Party represents the values and
principles of the Catholic faith. At one time, the Democratic Party fought
for social and economic justice and was the party of blue-collar,
working-class Catholic families.
Today, the Democratic Party is controlled by wealthy left-wing activists
whose extreme political agenda, for the most part, excludes loyal,
faithful and patriotic American Catholics.
These political activists who now control the nominating process have
forced Catholic politicians to change their positions on key moral and
political issues, or they won't be recognized or appreciated in the party
But it's not just the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has also not
been willing to give working-class Americans a seat at the table, either.
When I was mayor of Boston, a reporter called me the Lech Walesa of Boston
politics. I was also called a John Paul II Democrat. It's too bad they had
to go all the way to Poland and the Vatican to define how many millions of
American Catholics like me feel today.
Wouldn't it be nice to hear that voice of social and economic justice once
again in the Democratic Party? So far, the Democratic Party has shown no
openness to Catholics who believe in the values and principles of their
Perhaps they ought to hoist a big banner outside where the Democratic
National Convention will be held in July that reads: "No Catholic
politicians who support Catholic values and principles welcome." Maybe the
Democrats could loan the same sign to the Republicans when they host their
national convention in New York City later on in the summer.
Q: You have a reputation as a successful politician. But you are also well
known for defending your Catholic values even when it costs you support.
Can Catholic politicians today and in the future be politically successful
without compromising their principles?
Flynn: It will be difficult for a Democrat because the cards are stacked
against pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor and pro-human rights candidates
like me. That's the bad news.
The good news is there are a lot of like-minded voters out there, but
neither party appears to be interested in rolling out the welcome mat for
As I have often said, "We didn't leave the Democratic Party, it left us."
That's why many Catholics feel politically homeless in this country today.
But we are not going to vote for Republicans just because they are not
Q: The Democratic Party was traditionally the party of many Catholics. Can
those days be recovered?
Flynn: Yes, but it will obviously take a lot of hard work, courage and
sacrifice for Catholics to be respected in the Democratic Party once
again. The first thing too many Catholics say is, "I'm not going to go
where I am not wanted or welcome. No respect, no vote." Catholic voters
should send that message to their Democratic elected officials today.
You can also send a message to the media and let them know of your
frustration with the Democratic Party and politics in general. Tell them
that you're not quitting and that you're fighting for respect for your
just like your immigrant parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did
when they came to this country.
Give my message to at least 10 members of your family and your friends.
Encourage your bishop and pastor to speak out more openly on civic issues
that are important to not only our Catholic values and principles, but for
the stability and integrity of our great nation. We should not take a back
seat to anyone.
Change your media sources if they continue to put down your values and
principles. Support the press that presents your point of view and offers
fair and balanced coverage.
We don't expect special attention, but we're no longer going to tolerate
second-class coverage. We're hardworking, patriotic, law-abiding citizens
who are tired of being ignored and taken for granted politically. If
Church leaders don't want to lead us out of this political malaise, we
need to find and recruit politically sophisticated, effective lay
Catholics to speak for us in the civic arena.
Some Catholics will say, "I'll pray for you." That's certainly very
important, but in politics, so are organization, money and the media.
There are areas in which every one of us can make a difference in helping
to build a better country and a stronger Church.
The most important thing to remember through all of this is: Our Catholic
faith is not Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, but