Over the past week, Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix has made some waves.
He had issued the decision – to ban abortion and gay-marriage supporting politicians from speaking at Catholic institutions – last December, but it surfaced again this past week, as described in this linked article.
One Arizona online news source ran the Republic article with the headline, “Bishop’s ban targets Napolitano.” The paper then reported that last week some members of a group of poverty activists voluntarily bowed out of a memorial service for homeless people in a Phoenix Catholic church on the grounds that their views on abortion clashed with the Catholic teaching.
Representatives of the diocese of Phoenix have said that the Arizona Republic’s characterization of the story as a case of an ‘archconservative’ Catholic bishop issuing “edicts” to suppress freedom of speech is unfair. The paper further confused the issue, says Ron Johnson, Executive Director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, by giving the impression that there was a double standard at work in which only public figures were “targeted.”
Johnson said in an interview with LifeSiteNews.com, “There’s no double standard. The prohibition does not apply to those who may privately disagree or hold a confused position. The point is not to ‘target’ anyone. So if you are a public figure whose support for abortion is a matter of public record, we have to prevent confusion or misunderstanding about what the Church teaches.”
In a follow-up email, Johnson said, “The clear inference from this headline seems to reduce the importance of Bishop Olmsted’s policy to a mere personal attack.”
In December 2004, Bishop Olmsted wrote a letter to priests stating that those public figures who supported the killing of unborn children by abortion and the normalization of sexual immorality must not be given a public forum in Phoenix parishes or other Catholic institutions. It was a follow-up of the decision taken the previous June by the entire US Conference of Catholic Bishops to have individual bishops implement measures to protect the Church from misrepresentations of its teachings.
“Bishop Olmsted’s policy on politicians supporting abortion is not a personal attack directed at any single person,” said Johnson, “but primarily an effort to protect the Church from being used by politicians at odds with core Church teachings.”
Of course, the op-eds and letters have come fast, furiously and with, oh so much "sadness:"
Olmsted’s right to speak to Catholics on matters of faith and morals does not extend to abrogating our rights to free speech and association. I hope our non-Catholic brothers and sisters will continue to work with us to further the issues on which we agree.
As a well-educated Catholic, I am both saddened and embarrassed by Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s speaking ban against Gov. Janet Napolitano and others he is unable to influence.
The bishop mistakes his calling to teach the church’s flocks as a mandate for the mind control of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
"My way or the highway" isn’t exactly the kind of sentiment you’d expect to see on a holy card. But the church has every right to be that way, as we’ve said.
But when things on which people differ prevent them from getting together to talk about things on which they agree, it doesn’t seem like much of a victory for anyone involved.
Bishop Olmsted’s unwelcome mat does, however, illustrate the wisdom of keeping church and state distinctly separate.