Another straw on the camel’s back

Another straw on the camel’s back

Fr. Walter Cuenin of Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton, Mass., is at it again. In this week’s bulletin, he openly challenges Archbishop Sean O’Malley and the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and legal unions between same-sex persons.

Framing it as a matter of hospitality, he says that although the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, comprising the bishops of the four dioceses of the state, has asked every parish to request parishioners to sign a petition for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, he won’t allow the petitions inside his church.

I am placing at the doors of the church the forms the Archdiocese has sent for those who may want to sign and register their opposition to gay marriage. But we will not do any signing of petitions in our church as we follow that rule for all issues.

Apparently his rules remain in place regardless of the request of his archbishop. And in case anyone wasn’t aware of where he actually stands on the issue:

We have made a special effort to welcome gay and lesbian persons and their families. The parish is blessed to have many couples, some now legally married, as members of the community. They come on Sundays and are raising their children in the faith. Their marriage seems to have been a good experience for them. It doesn’t appear that anyone’s marriage has been threatened or compromised by the 1800 gay marriages that have already taken place in the past year.

This is directly contradictory to the Church’s consistent teaching on homosexuality and on so-called gay marriage, but is in line with Cuenin’s consistent dissent from the Church’s teaching, including his testimony before the state Legislature several years ago in which he said that an appeal to human rights and dignity demand special rights for gays and gay marriage.

This is a direct shot at Archbishop O’Malley’s teaching authority and the teaching of the Church. What will the archbishop do about it?

  • Just a couple quick points:

    (1) When Fr. Cuenin says, “we will not do any signing of petitions in our church,” does he mean that he belongs to another one than I do?  It sounds like a silly question, but I’m serious.  First of all, the parish church where he celebrates Mass as “parish priest” I think is clearly part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, in communion with the bishop of this particular see and with the bishop of Rome.  The rose only blooms in Newton if it is connected to the rose bush rooted in Rome.  Secondly, does he think that because he exercises authority there in his canonical status as pastor that therefore the church is his?  If so, I would seriously ask him to consider the presence and symbology of the Chair in the sanctuary of “his” church.  The “presider’s chair” is actually the local version of the cathedra from Holy Cross Cathedral, which is (as everyone knows) the bishop’s chair and symbol of his authority.  The authority and communion that allows Our Lady’s in Newton to be “catholic” resides in the archbishop—not in the local parish priest (or pastor, in American usage).

    Secondly, for Fr. Cuenin to express such a position—which even he agrees is contrary to that of his bishop and that of the universal church—should make him honestly confront the oath which he took when installed as parish priest/pastor.  The oaths may be found here:

    I call to your attention in particular the following paragraph:

    “With Christian obedience I shall associate myself with what is expressed by the holy shepherds as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith or established by them as the church’s rulers. And I shall faithfully assist diocesan bishops so that apostolic activity, to be exercised by the mandate and in the name of the church, is carried out in the communion of the same church.”

    Were I asked (and I have not been), I would strongly counsel Fr. Cuenin to review the oaths that he solemnly swore, and to scrutinize his conscience to see if his current statements and postures are fully in accord with his previous oaths, and then to act accordingly.

  • He needs a smackdown.  I hope Abp O’Malley gives it to him.  Did Abp O’Malley officially renew his contract as pastor of the church?

    What a beautiful church.  It’s a shame to have such a man leading its parishioners.

  • What will he do?
    Probably nothing.
    But he should do the same thing Olmstead did in Phoenix and ask for the pastor’s resignation.

  • On a side note, I’m wondering about having these petitions in church from a legal standpoint.  Doesn’t it violate separation of church and state?

    Neither a priest nor any other person can give partisan political advice from the pulpit if the church wants to remain tax-exempt.  Does this petition somehow fall outside of the separation requirements?

  • It’s not a “political” issue; it’s a public policy issue, on which every American citizen has an inalienable right to free speech.

    Have you not noticed the extent to which black churches and churchmen exercise this right?  Why should it be any different for Catholics?

  • Fr. Clark is right.  The Alliance Defense Fund has sent documentation that shows the churches and their pastors are well within their rights to speak on public policy.  The ACLU has trained us to flinch but we mustn’t.

  • ***UPDATE***

    From an article in this morning’s Boston Herald:

    “The Rev. Walter Cuenin, the Newton clergyman who organized priests who questioned church policies and called for the resignation of Bernard Cardinal Law, is expected to announce today that he is relocating.
        Cuenin did not return calls last night and a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston would not comment on his status at Our Lady Help of Christians. But a parish source yesterday said he is expected to announce that he is stepping down after a decade as pastor.”

    Wow.  That’s fast action by Abp. O’Malley.