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Catholic Lite for Chris Matthews

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by Loredana Vuoto

Protesters stood outside the iron gates of Holy Cross College this past Friday, as alma mater, Chris Matthews  addressed this year's graduating class. Mr. Matthews invitation to be commencement speaker at the college sparked a controversy that revolves around what it means to be Catholic. Debate raged as to whether Mr. Matthews should be disinvited as commencement speaker since he is pro-choice.

The question created a buzz on campus and in Catholic circles. Catholic World News reported that the Jesuit institution had been attacked by its alumni and other members for inviting Mr. Matthews, the liberal populist commentator of MSNBC's Hardball, who is described as a Catholic and "supporter of legal abortion." As is well known, abortion is antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Among the chief opponents of Mr. Matthews presence on campus, was the school's Cardinal Newman Society and Charles Millard, the former chairman of the board of trustees. They believe that Mr. Matthews is not a good Catholic role model for the graduating class. However, despite the protests, the president of Holy Cross, Father Michael McFarland, supported the college's choice. Contrary to Catholic doctrine, Father MacFarland claims that "abortion is allowable in Catholic thought" and that the college's alumni "have no authority over what is 'Catholic.' "

Father McFarland's remarks reflect a growing trend among Roman Catholics who consider themselves Catholic despite not accepting the major tenets of its teachings. This is seen both among lay and consecrated members of the Church. Most of these nominal Catholics support euthanasia, abortion, divorce and contraception, all of which are incompatible with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. This is a fundamental rejection of the objective moral principles of the Catholic faith. One cannot claim to be Catholic while still not believing in its major suppositions, just as one cannot claim to be a practicing Muslim without adhering to the teachings of the prophet Muhammed. Such reasoning is absurd.  Catholicism is not a supermarket where a person can pick and choose "items" that suit him and disregard the rest. This version of "Catholic lite," as George Weigel calls it, is nothing but a watered down version of two thousand years of tradition, considered by Catholics as true and authoritive.

This espousal of moral relativism is not new to Mr. Matthews. In fact, in his book, "Now let me tell you what I really think," Mr. Matthews reveals that he is not a principled Catholic, but a permissive liberal who has embraced the cultural radicalism of the 1960s. On abortion, he chooses to have it both ways. Although he believes abortion should be limited, he believes it should be made legal, safe and constitutionally protected. Mr. Matthews also champions homosexual rights, affirmative action and the benefits of "safe sex" -- most notably in the fight against AIDS in Africa. It is ironic, however, that he fails to support the one approach that would dramatically curtail the spread of the deadly disease on the African continent: abstinence.

Yet, if Mr. Matthews wants to advance his liberal agenda, then that is his right. But he does not have the right to present himself in a public forum as a "Catholic." Public figures who profess to be Catholics have a duty to bear witness to the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church. This also holds true especially if they have positions of prominence in the media or in government.

Mr. Matthews is not the only liberal Democrat who portrays himself as a practicing Catholic, but supports positions that are anathema to the teachings of the Church. Most recently, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was asked by Bishop Robert Carlson on hehalf of  Mr. Daschle's home diocese of Sioux Falls, to stop identifying himself as a Catholic due to his pro-abortion stance. As stipulated by a document, "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics," issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Both as Americans and as followers of Christ, American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition."

Abortion is the taking of an innocent life; and Pope John Paul II is right when he denounces the barbarous practice as the most egregious example of our society's culture of death. Hence, the Church has every right to ask Mr. Daschle to stop calling himself a Catholic and should continue to call out others such as Mr. Matthews, who are not faithful to the Church's teachings. John F. Kennedy set the ominous precedent for separating private faith from public morality during his election campaign in 1960 when he declared: "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens to also be a Catholic."

This is false. An individual's religious beliefs goes to the verycore of his moral character. The attempt by liberal Catholics to separate their private and public lives by insisting that the Church's teachings will not affect their positions on hot-button social issues such as abortion, euthansia and homosexuality shows that they do not take the basic tenets of their faith seriously. It is an attempt to bow to the fashions of our secular age, while still claiming membership in the church. They are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Religion is the disciplined pursuit of God. The Catholic Church rightly demands that its followers be in conformity to the doctrines of the faith. If liberals such as Mr. Matthews insist on supporting abortion rights and gay marriage, then they have an ethical obligation to speak at public functions as a private citizen -- not as a Catholic. In his commencement speech, Mr. Matthews did not address the controversy, nor did he acknowledge the protesters who lined the iron gates of the college who clamored for the dignity and sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception.

Should Mr. Matthews have been disinvited as commencement speaker at Holy Cross College? Although I have nothing against Mr. Matthews personally, if he was speaking as a journalist, then by all means, why not. But since Holy Cross is a Catholic college, representing Catholic beliefs, then the answer should have been yes. The road less traveled by practicing Catholics who try to live the principles of the faith, is arduous and requires discipline and virtue. It should not be belittled by those who talk the talk but can't walk the walk. In sum, it takes courage to be Catholic.


The Washington Times DC, US
Loredana Vuoto - Editorial Writer, 202 636-4867



Chris Matthews

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