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Boston Catholic priest apologizes for ‘right to choose’ statements

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by Christine Rousselle

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 28, 2020 / 10:30 am MT (CNA).- A Boston priest has apologized for a social media post in which he said he believes in the “right to choose” and endorsed former vice president Joe Biden. The post, made Sunday, received widespread media attention and prompted a statement from Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

“Please accept my apology for the confusion and upset caused by the Facebook post concerning the presidential election and expectant women carrying their children to birth,” wrote Monsignor Paul Garrity, pastor of the Lexington Catholic Community parish, on Facebook the evening of August 27.

In his original Aug. 23 Facebook post titled “I AM PRO-LIFE AND SUPPORT JOE BIDEN,” Msgr. Garrity wrote: “I am pro-life and I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I will vote for Joe Biden for President because I believe that Joe Biden is pro-life like me.”

Garrity added that he believes “any woman who becomes pregnant should have the right to choose to give birth to her baby.”

“I am pro-life and I believe that every woman who becomes pregnant deserves to have the freedom to choose life. This is what I believe Joe Biden believes and is one of the many reasons that I will vote for him in November,” said Garrity Sunday. The priest urged “Catholics and others” of similar viewpoints to vote for Biden as well.

In a subsequent statement to CNA on Tuesday, Garrity said that that he has considered himself “Pro-Life” since he was ordained a priest in 1973, despite his support for legal protection for abortion.

“I believe that it is a tragedy when a woman of any age decides to end her pregnancy prematurely,” said Garrity in an email to CNA Aug. 25. The priest added that in his view, Catholics “are also told that we should not be ‘single issue’ voters” and that the Church is “neutral” on the issue of voting.

On Thursday, Garrity clarified that he is “totally against legalized abortion.”

“I am committed to upholding Church teaching regarding the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until natural death,” he said in his most recent Facebook post. Garrity added that he was “not prepared for the uncharitable responses” to his earlier post, and that “the last thing that I would ever want to do is hurt anyone with my words.”

Garrity’s original statements sparked a series of responses from archdiocesan officials, both publicly and privately.

On Thursday, Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, issued a statement saying that Catholics have “the right to expect the priests of the Archdiocese and those entrusted with handing on the faith to be clear and unequivocal on the Church’s teaching concerning respect and protection for life from the first moment of conception to natural death.”

“This teaching is of the highest priority for the Church,” he added.

That public statement followed an Aug. 25 letter from Francis J. O’Connor, general counsel of the Archdiocese of Boston, to priests and archdiocesan employees warning them against politically-charged social media posts.

The memo focused on the tax implications of political endorsements. O’Connor encouraged clergy to “refrain from expressing those opinions which will draw negative attention regardless of ideology as well as possible unwelcome attention from the IRS,” adding that “the tax exemption issue is an increasing priority with the IRS.”

Federal law provides that 501(c)(3) organizations cannot “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

“One’s presence on Social Media, even beyond an organization’s page or website, can be associated with the organization,” wrote O’Connor.

“Blurring the lines between an individual’s personal thoughts and opinions and the appearance of a connection to the Church or a Church related entity to which those personal thoughts or opinions can be attributed to presents unacceptable risk and jeopardy to the Church’s tax-exempt status.”

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