Editorial: Time for a 'Bishop Joseph Martino, Defender of Life, Fan Club'


Deacon Keith Fournier

  CHESAPEAKE (Catholic Online) - One of the ways that human beings sometimes show admiration for individuals is the formation of what are called “fan clubs”. We all remember various stages in our own childhood when such clubs, often developed around superheroes, celebrities, political leaders or sports figures, may have seemed attractive to us. We had such an enthusiasm for the character or respect for the commendable accomplishments of the person whose identity became the name of the club that we may have joined one or considered doing so.

Perhaps we do not want to admit it all these years later. In the increasingly unbalanced approach to celebrity in the West, many of the most popular “fan clubs” now bear the name of Hollywood celebrities. Their near idolatrous attraction to so many has birthed a virtual cottage industry. Seemingly adult men and women can become so obsessed with a particular Hollywood celebrity that they spend much of their time keeping mementos, statistics, or passing on the “news” (read gossip) of the day.

Oh, I know, this notion of “fan clubs” could easily be used as a foil of sorts with which I could easily critique the contemporary culture which is so devoid of true heroes that it is seduced by substitutes. Perhaps for some, contemporary living is so lacking in authentic community and solidarity that it makes identifying with others around a celebrity figure attractive in an age of nihilism. But, I will not go there. Instead, I suggest today that the idea of a “fan club” actually appeals to a nobler and compelling human need, the desire to hold up heroes and role models. And, in doing so, it deserves another look. That is why I am proposing the formation of a new fan club, the Bishop Joseph Martino, Defender of Life,Fan Club.

I have written regularly concerning the fidelity and courage of Bishop Joseph Martino who stands so forthrightly on behalf of our first neighbor, the child in the first home of the whole human race, the child in the womb. Insisting, as every Catholic Bishop should, that those who bear the name Catholic embrace the truth revealed in the natural law and confirmed by revelation that every single human person from conception to natural death - and at every age and stage in between – has a human dignity which must be respected and protected in the law.

During the last US Presidential election Bishop Martino showed extraordinary courage in exposing Catholics in public life who failed to stand up for life. Recently he called one of his own parishioners, Senator Robert Casey Jr., to task for his treacherous failure to defend the Mexico City Policy which precluded the use of U.S. funds to promote the export of the evil of abortion on demand and the contraceptive culture. Senator Casey ran for the U.S. Senate seat professing to be a Pro-life Catholic. The Bishop showed pastoral concern for the son of the deceased Pro-Life hero, former Pa. Governor Bob Casey, whose steadfast defense of human life is legendary.

He also acted out of concern for the scandal that occurs among the faithful every time any Catholic politician betrays the teaching of the Church on this foundational issue. After all, any claim to be concerned for social justice is dependent upon the foundational recognition of the dignity of every human person. Our obligation to care for the poor is rooted in the fact of their human dignity. Our concern for economic justice issues such as the family wage is rooted in our recognition of basic human dignity. Our reticence to engage in military action is rooted in our recognition of the human dignity of our adversaries.

Just this week, the good Bishop once again showed his mettle by standing up and speaking out when a Catholic College in his own Diocese, Misericordia University, provided a platform for an outspoken advocate of ‘homosexual marriage’, Keith Boykin. The University succumbed to the “dictatorship of relativism” warned of by our Holy Father Benedict XVI in his first words after assuming his Office as the successor of Peter. Oh, I know this University did the “academic freedom” shuffle for the Press in their post defiance Press releases, but they knew exactly what they were doing. Their open defiance of their Bishops clear request not to host this advocate for the new Cultural Revolution was scandalous and wrong. If nothing else, Catholic Colleges should be, well, Catholic. The Bishop in a formal statement called some of Mr. Boykin’s public positions "disturbingly opposed" to the church's moral teaching and "antithetical to Catholic teaching", which they are. He also publicly corrected the University for "…seriously failing in maintaining its Catholic identity."

Now, Bishop Martino is making news again. Out of concern for the upcoming festivities and fanfare surrounding the celebration of the great Saint Patrick, he sent a letter to the President of the “Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County”, Mr. John Keeler. This association is one of three Irish-American Organizations which is responsible for the entire St. Patrick’s Day event. The letter begins “Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton plays no small role in the local annual observance of St. Patrick’s day. It has been the practice to offer Holy Mass there prior the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and on the Feast day itself”. The Bishops concern is that Catholic politicians who are in open defiance of the Church’s teaching on the fundamental right to life will be featured at these events, honored, and worse than both of those, may then present themselves for the reception of Holy communion at Mass even though their behavior places them outside of the full communion of the Church until they repent and receive absolution.

The Letter, made public, is signed by Auxiliary Bishop John M. Dougherty who reports that Bishop Joseph F. Martino is “determined to prevent scandal,” which would be caused if the organizations “in any way” should “honor pro-abortion officials” and “the Catholic Church is seen to be involved in this honoring.” Under its Section on the “Dignity of Human Persons” the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the meaning of “Scandal”: 2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense. 2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Mt 18:6; cf. I Cor 8:10-13.) Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing. (Cf. Mt 7:15.)”

The letter further states: “Bishop Martino has already publicly disclosed that, in accord with the law of the Catholic Church, elected officials who vote so as to further the killing of the unborn are to be denied Holy Communion if they present themselves for the Sacrament in the Diocese of Scranton.” He goes on to tell the leadership of the event “that if the prevention of scandal requires it, he may take the further step of closing St. Peter’s cathedral or any catholic Church in the Diocese for Masses which are in any way associated with the St. Patrick’s Day celebration and which include the honoring of pro-abortion elected officials.” Well, to use a popular acclamation “You go Bishop!” I know that I speak for many Catholics, other Christians and many, many people of good will in affirming your courage, your consistency and your leadership in this great human rights struggle.

For my readers, perhaps now you see why I am suggesting it is time for a new fan club, the “Bishop Joseph Martino Fan Club.” I would be a charter member. How about you? Let me know. BTW: I think the wonderful Saint of all the Irish, among whom I am included (lets face it everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day) the great St. Patrick, would happily serve as the Club's Patron.