From ................ National Catholic Reporter
December 20, 1996
ALBANY BISHOP DEFENDS RIGHT TO SPEAK OUT
By FRANCIS W. RODGERS Special to the NCR
ALBANY, N.Y.—Bishop Howard J. Hubbard was given a front-page Sunday sermon in the Dec. 1 Albany 'Times Union' by a newspaper columnist who vigorously objected to the position taken by the bishop and six other religious leaders on welfare reform.
Hubbard and the others, in a Nov. 26 news conference at the state capitol, urged Gov. George Pataki to apply for a federal waiver on welfare reform laws that would reduce food stamps for the poor.
"The reality is that whatever the justice of their cause in any given instance, clergypeople get into a dicey business when they dabble in politics," wrote columnist Dan Lynch. "There's something profoundly unsettling about the leaders of tax-exempt institutions instructing government on how to spend tax dollars they don't pay."
The columnist was inclusive in his critique. He would prefer a ban on clergy mixing religion and politics "whether we're talking about clergy calling for a more charitable stance toward the poor, for a ban on abortions, for prayer in schools or for the Joan of Arc-style public burning of homosexuals. I don't care whether you're talking about Dan Berrigan or Jerry Falwell. If you don't pay, you shouldn't try to play."
Hubbard, bishop of Albany for the past 19 years, responded Dec. 4 in the paper's op-ed section.
"If Mr. Lynch is suggesting that religious leaders have no right or responsibility to address issues in the public debate, I strongly disagree. Clergy are teachers. In regard to public issues, they must exercise their teaching role by defining the content of moral principles and by indicating how these principles apply to specific problems. Mr. Lynch's colleagues also must disagree with him because hardly a day goes by when a reporter does not solicit comment from my office on a wide range of public policy issues. These reporters seem obliged to cite a 'no comment' if we do not voice an opinion."
Hubbard also noted that religious "pay taxes on [their] incomes and on a bevy of other transactions that are assessed by government."
Lynch sarcastically relegated the clerics' involvement to warmed-over 1960s sentiment. "It was the sort of political spectacle that warms the hearts of people who hoard old Joan Baez albums. Here was the activist, left-leaning clergy beating up on the Republicans, whose concern for the poor these days seems limited to having the sidewalks swept so the homeless can enjoy clean beds," he wrote.
Hubbard, however, said the
"inclusion of explicitly religious moral values into the public debate is a delicate and demanding task. Members of religious communities bear a twofold responsibility: to keep the moral factors central in the public argument and to set an example of how this can be done with sensitivity, rationality and courtesy."
"In other words, we religious leaders must demonstrate pragmatically that we can keep our deepest convictions and still maintain our civil courtesy; that we can test others' arguments but not question their motives; that we can presume goodwill even when we disagree strongly; that we can relate the best of religion and the best of politics in the service of each other. This my colleagues and I will strive to do."
Lynch ended his column asking,
"But whose God should we listen to — Jimmy Swaggert's or Cardinal O'Connor's? Different people apparently hear God saying different things. Jesus had it right. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, he said. And unto God that which is God's. As I recall, Jesus wasn't enrolled in a political party."
In concluding his response, Hubbard wrote:
"Those who appeal to the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state as a means of denying to religious leaders or bodies the right to participate in the public debate fail to grasp the fundamental vision of our Founding Fathers, who established the separation clause not to silence the religious voice, but to strengthen it; not to fetter religious communities, but to free them to contribute to the public life of our nation."
"So, Dan, comment freely, disagree vehemently, but please do not tinker with the First Amendment, which guarantees our freedom and yours."
Lynch's attack on the bishop was unusual, since Hubbard has not been a controversial figure here. On the contrary, he has been fairly popular in civic circles.
The former street priest was working with the poor in Albany before being named bishop. His has been a moderate administration, but he has regularly voiced opinions on public matters. An outspoken critic of abortion, he also led an unsuccessful fight last year against the restoration of the death penalty in New York. The legislature passed the measure and Pataki, a Republican and a [Roman] Catholic, signed it.
Prior to the last election, Hubbard addressed an executive session of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the dangers of the Christian Coalition. He was recently named to serve on the 40-member National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, based in Chicago.
Dan Lynch is a former editor of the Hearst 'Times Union.' His columns usually are on politics, state government and local issues.
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