When we left D.J. Bettencourt, the majority leader of the New Hampshire House was sticking to his guns, but late yesterday came the news that he had sent a letter to Bishop John B. McCormack apologizing for calling him a pedophile pimp. “Upon humble reflection,” he’d decided that the characterization had been “at best undiplomatic and a better choice of words was both warranted and appropriate.” Sunday will do that for you–Sunday and perhaps the reflection that you don’t want to turn the New Hampshire budget battle into a mano-a-mano between your 27-year-old self and the Catholic Church.

The letter itself is an impressive rhetorical performance. It’s more than plausible that a young New England Catholic, coming into adulthood in the midst of the worst scandal ever to afflict his church, should have burst into an angry denunciation of one of the men in authority responsible for causing it.

My comments emanated from the deep hurt brought forward by the damage caused by the sex abuse scandal that engulfed our church, which has resulted in thousands turning their back on the church, particularly for those of my generation. Unfortunately, your role in that scandal has, in my opinion, hurt the Church in ways that will take decades to repair…

My comments were in no way were intended as an attack on the Catholic faith, the Church, or on the position which you hold. I remain a committed member of our church and am proud to be so. They also had nothing to do with your message of caring for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Yet while apologizing for his choice of words, Bettencourt adamantly defended the funding cuts voted by the House that McCormack along with other state religious leaders–not to mention Gov. John Lynchdenounced as draconian. Members had “poured their hearts out to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society were not disproportionately hurt by our work to have the state live within its means.” I get it: Fairness means that the most vulnerable get hurt as much as the rest us.

The Church long ago decided (cf. Donatism) that the efficacy of the sacraments could not be impaired by the prior misbehavior of a ministering priest or bishop. Similarly, church teachings ought to be taken seriously regardless of who is delivering them. In criticizing cuts to services for the poor as well as defending the right of workers to form unions (against a provision of the House bill that would limit government worker bargaining rights), Bishop McCormack was doing no more than delivering long-standing Catholic social teachings. One can hope that, upon some more humble reflection, Majority Leader Bettencourt will decide to take them seriously too.

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